TRENTON, N.J.-- Toll cheats on the Garden State Parkway beware -- you may soon be caught on video camera.
Starting 12:01 a.m. Monday, cameras will be activated at the highway's 84 exact-change lanes -- on both the highway and ramps. The cameras will record the license plates of drivers who don't pay the proper tolls, including those who toss slugs and other debris into the collection baskets instead of coins.
The vehicle's owner will then receive a bill for the toll, plus a $50 administrative fee.
The New Jersey Turnpike Authority, which operates the parkway and the turnpike, says the parkway has lost about $3.2 million in revenue this year from toll cheats driving in exact-change lanes. The parkway lost about $4 million overall last year in such revenue.
Authority spokesman Tom Feeney notes that while roughly 17 percent of parkway drivers use exact-change lanes, about 53 percent of its total revenue losses occurred there in 2010.
"Previously, there wasn't a great chance that (toll cheats) would get caught, but now with the cameras being activated, the odds swing greatly into the parkway's favor," Feeney said. "People who routinely cruise through the toll plazas (exact-change lanes) without paying should realize that it's now very likely they'll get caught."
The cameras, which have been in place since E-ZPass was introduced on the Parkway in 1999 and 2000, will take over the job now handled by three toll enforcement officers assigned to the parkway.
The officers, who work behind one-way mirrors in the exact change lanes at various toll plazas along the highway, monitor how much money a driver drops into the toll collection basket. If a motorist doesn't pay the proper toll, the enforcement officer writes down the license plate number and a description of the vehicle, and state police send a $55 summons to the vehicle's owner.
Between 2007 and 2010, about 17,950 summonses were issued each year under that system. Feeney says the enforcement officers will now be reassigned to other jobs with the authority.
"We expect the (cameras) will be a great enforcement tool, leading to more toll cheats being caught," Feeney said.
Authority officials say the $50 administrative fee may be waived in some case for first-time offenders, citing as an example a driver who unknowingly enters an exact-change lane and doesn't have enough coins to pay the toll.
The authority had previously offered payment envelopes at toll booths to drivers who didn't have enough change to pay their toll -- which can range from 35 cents to $1 -- and asked them to mail in their payments. But that only resulted in $28,400 being collected last year, which is less than 1 percent of the amount lost in tolls each year.
That program has since been scrapped due to the low compliance.
"We believe we owe it to the motorists who pay their tolls to do a better job of collecting from the motorists who do not," said Veronique "Ronnie" Hakim, the turnpike authority's executive director. "We are going to use the technology that's available to us to track them down."
Signs have posted on message boards along the parkway and at toll plazas, alerting drivers to the new video camera program. Authority officials have also been working to remind motorists that E-ZPass can't be used to pay tolls in exact-change lanes.
They say drivers who put coins in the toll basket should wait for the display sign to say "paid." If that doesn't happen, they should wait 10 seconds for the machine to process the payment before driving off.