LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — City, county and federal agencies, along with some elected officials, are getting a free ride through new toll lanes on the 10 and 110 freeways in Los Angeles, according to CBS2 investigative reporter David Goldstein.
The database from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority showed the thousands of times government vehicles didn’t have a FasTrak transponder and didn’t pay the toll fees.
Goldstein specifically uncovered 3,948 overdue toll violations on the freeways, which added up to nearly $50,000 in tolls and fines in just the first few months the FasTrak lanes have been in operation.
The only vehicles exempt from paying tolls are emergency vehicles going to and from an actual emergency, along with the California Highway Patrol, buses and Caltrans.
Last week, video showed Councilman Jose Huizar getting into his city-issued, taxpayer-funded Toyota Highlander.
Pictures later showed the vehicle blowing through the electronic toll on the 110 Freeway.
Goldstein reported Huizar drove through the lanes three times in February and March and should have paid more than $80 for his overdue violations.
“This is the first I’ve heard of it. I have never seen this, I don’t recall anything,” Huizar said.
The councilman claimed it wasn’t him in the SUV, although his office didn’t say who was driving.
“My car is used by multiple people. I am not the only one assigned to the vehicle,” said Huizar.
Goldstein said the vehicle was also assigned to Councilman Tom LaBonge, who had four violations in November 2012.
LaBonge owed just under $12 since there was a grace period in the first 60 days of FasTrak.
LaBonge initially said he didn’t know anything about his violations and wasn’t sure the tolls were even in operation at the time.
“I don’t know if it’s a violation. I want to see what it was,” he said.
After LaBonge was convinced he was caught, he wrote a personal check.
“This is to reimburse the GSD. It’s not a lot of dough, but this makes it,” he said.
Goldstein found one FasTrak violation to the car assigned to Councilman Ed Reyes, and another to Council President Herb Wesson.
Wesson said he never got a notice about the toll violation.
“You think city officials have the responsibility to pay tolls like everyone else?” asked Goldstein.
“Yeah, but I don’t know how well of an outreach program they have. I am not blaming them. I am the one who I believe was driving,” said Wesson.
Goldstein said thousands of records showed vehicles from LAX, the mayor’s office, the University of California system and the state had unpaid violations.
The city of Los Angeles and LAX later took care of their outstanding violations after Goldstein started asking questions.
Stephanie Wiggins of the MTA said everyone is required to pay the toll fees.
“We give no special treatment to elected officials,” she said.
However, there’s a catch.
For private vehicles that don’t pay, the Department of Motor Vehicles can put a hold on the registration when it comes up for renewal.
The DMV can’t do that with government plates.
“We sent out the violation notices and we work with those agencies to ensure they have a process to distributing it or disbursing those violation notices to the employees and ask them to pay the violation notices,” Wiggins said.
She added, “(If they don’t), the only other recourse would be to take them to collections.”
The MTA, however, wasn’t planning on doing that.