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Editorial: Get those toll cheats

illinois State Senator. IrI. Silverstein

illinois State Senator. Ira I. Silverstein

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Updated: March 6, 2013 6:12AM

Last year, the Illinois State Toll Highway Authority started going after scofflaws in court. Now, a state senator wants to give the agency a chance to publish the names of scofflaws. Done right, it’s an idea that might bring in much-needed revenue.

In September, when the Toll Authority started taking 57 scofflaws to court, it was owed $300 million in unpaid tolls and fines from 550,000 customers. The total number of violation notices — 1.2 million — almost equaled the average daily number of vehicles that use the tollways.

Ninety-eight percent of motorists pay their tolls on time, but the installation of a transponder system has made it easy for others to drive through without paying.

A bill sponsored by state Sen. Ira Silverstein would allow the agency to post the names of those violators in an effort to shame them into paying.

Experience suggests many of the worst violators will be small trucking companies, which may be out of business before authorities catch up to them, or rental car companies, whose customers often breeze through the open tolling system without paying.

Elsewhere in the nation, one agency that has tried posting names, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, last year made public the names of 37 violators. At the top of the list was the parent company of the Enterprise and Alamo rent-a-car chains.

But individuals can rack up large totals, too.

The North Texas Tollway Authority last summer decided to post the names of about 26,000 vehicle owners who hadn’t paid 100 or more tolls. A Dallas woman topped that list with a total bill of $179,596.43, which represented more than 8,500 unpaid tolls. Similarly, Illinois’ worst offender last year was an individual who owed more than $100,000 in tolls and fines, the Toll Authority said.

When cheaters don’t pay, the rest of us do.

Even if the legislation is enacted, the agency isn’t committed to using it. If it does, any attempt to post names of violators would need careful oversight to ensure only genuine scofflaws find their names held up to public scrutiny. That said, go get ’em.

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