LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Kentucky and Indiana froze the vehicle registrations of nearly 124,000 drivers last year who had failed to pay tolls on the RiverLink bridges.
The actions, which began last January and are the toughest allowed under the states’ laws, have recouped more than $4 million in tolls and fees from residents who can’t renew their license plate tags until they settle their bills.
Placing holds on license plate renewals has been a “common and effective enforcement tool,” said Mindy Peterson, a spokeswoman for RiverLink, the toll network operated by Kapsch TrafficCom.
“They help to ensure that everybody who is crossing those toll bridges is paying his or her fair share,” she said. “If you don’t have that mechanism in place and those tolls go uncaptured, you have some folks who are using those toll bridges but aren’t paying to cross those bridges.”
In 2018, the first year of enforcement, about 48,000 drivers paid outstanding tolls and had the holds released, according to data obtained through a public records request; the remaining 75,600 people haven’t yet resolved their bills.
But the states’ approach has caught some drivers off guard, unaware that they owe tolls until they try to renew their registrations. Others who contacted WDRB News say they’re being penalized for administrative mistakes that aren’t their fault, including bills sent to wrong addresses.
Paul Miskell of Shively doesn’t dispute that he crossed RiverLink bridges four times in January 2017, the first month of the toll system. And he agrees that he owes $16 for those trips.
But Miskell contends he never received invoices that are supposed to be sent to a vehicle’s owner based on the address listed on the registration. Instead, he said, he didn’t find out until he went to renew his car’s registration with the Jefferson County Clerk.
That touched off a dispute with RiverLink that Miskell said he hasn’t resolved. He maintains that he changed his vehicle registration to his current address in 2016 – about a year before he made the toll bridge crossings.
For the last two weeks, he said, he has been trying to prove to RiverLink officials that the toll bills weren’t sent to the right address. He said he even got a notarized affidavit showing that he registered his car properly.
Miskell, who said he is a U.S. Marine Corps veteran and on a fixed income, said he is fighting $68 in fees because he can’t afford to pay them.
“Basically, my car is being held hostage for something I didn’t do,” he said.
Rosemarie O’Bryan of Mount Washington in Bullitt County also contacted WDRB, saying that she and her husband never received bills for $24.10 in tolls.
Instead, O’Bryan said, she discovered that the Bullitt County Clerk’s office failed to update their address when they registered their car in late 2017. When they tried to get their tags a year later, she said they discovered they had been sent bills for tolls and fees totaling $205 to the wrong address.
“We didn’t live there,” she said. “We had our stuff changed.”
O’Bryan said a RiverLink customer service representative has lowered the penalty to $109. She recently sent the county clerk’s letter admitting the mistake to RiverLink, hoping to have the fees waived, she said.
RiverLink spokeswoman Peterson said drivers need to understand that toll bills are mailed to the address tied to a car’s registration. That means, for example, they’re not sent to the address the U.S. Post Office changes when someone moves.
“I think that probably one of the areas where there could be a disconnect – and that may be a source of frustration for folks – is if they have moved and they have not updated their address with their vehicle registration,” she said.
“That is key, and we have tried to say that many, many times before tolling started, after tolling started, and throughout the process. … We are sending invoices to registered owners of the vehicle based on the latest address that is on file.”
In Harned, Ky., Kimberly Jackson said she faces $268 in late fees for $32 in tolls her daughter incurred while driving a car she owns. Jackson had apparently been registering the car each year at an old Jefferson County address through her county clerk in Breckinridge County.
The bills had been going to the Louisville address, even though she’d been getting mail from the Breckinridge County clerk about renewing the vehicle, she said. She’d mistakenly assumed the registration addressed matched the one on file in her home county.
“At the minimum, if they are going to charge ridiculous fees, they could at least make an attempt to find a better address when mail is returned, as mine probably was,” Jackson said in an email.
In 2018, data show, about 45 percent of drivers in Indiana who had their registrations frozen have resolved the holds; in Kentucky, that rate was 33 percent.
In Louisville, Jefferson County Clerk Bobbie Holsclaw’s office doesn’t track complaints about RiverLink registration holds, spokesman Nore Ghibaudy said.
If there were an unusual number, however, Ghibaudy said they would be reflected in comment cards that are available at branches throughout the county.
He added: “We haven’t seen any comment cards that show otherwise.”