Thursday, January 8, 2009

Pike screws thousands who used to receive discount

The Turnpike Authority pulled a fast one on us in recent days by apparently sending notice to some -- but not all -- East Boston, South Boston and North End residents who are part of the discount program that allows us to pay less to use the tunnels that connect us to the rest of our city. I, for one, have not received anything.

According to the Boston Herald, postcards were sent warning that those receiving the discount needed to renew their membership in the program, something we haven't had to do in the past. Those of us who received no postcard and therefore didn't know we needed to do anything are being charged $3 to go through the tunnels, though we were unaware of our sudden change of status. Happy new year from the Pike!

One can argue about the merits of the program, but to secretly revoke it from some of us is slimy and probably illegal. Shame on the Turnpike Authority.

Update: I went down to the Fast Lane office near the tunnel late this afternoon to make sure I was registered, and one of the gentleman behind the counter said that the eligibility of residents expires in the month that they originally signed up and that postcards are sent two months before expiration.

Maybe I read the Herald article too quickly, but this wasn't clear to me from the story. The implication was that we had all been bumped from the program at the start of the year. I wasn't due to renew until March, but it's close enough that I was able to take care of it today.


Jocelyn said...

Thanks for the heads up...we didn't receive our transponder till March of last year (had to wait the 90 days) but I don't know if that would affect us. Something to check into.

steve1959 said...

Actually, from my perspective as an East Boston resident (@ 156 Porter), there's been a lot of notice.

It's not a scam; seems to me that there was very clear notification that there would be a verification process.

Not everyone renews at the same time; it depends on when you signed up.

Maybe a postcard isn't the best way to notify folk -- but, come on, people, check your mail and credit card/checking accts.

-- Steve

N.starluna said...

That's interesting. We got a letter months ago telling us to re-register. That was way back in June and we had a June deadline. That sucks that people weren't notified. I wonder if it only happened to people who moved. I doubt anyone changes their address with Fastlane when they move. Although they should probably just check with the Registry.

Mary said...

This happened to me last year in the first phase of requiring us to qualify again for the program. I had no idea that a postcard had been sent and I called to ask FastLane why so much money was being taken from our account. I also asked why letters weren't sent to residents. Of course, their representative (Rocco) had no good answer, other than we would not be getting a refund for the overages Fast Lane had taken out of our bank account. It seemed like a scam then and it seems like a scam now. I hope the Turnpike Board is proud of this innovative way to raise revenue.

Another annoying part of the process is that the actual owner of record for the car must present him/herself in person and a family can't go for them if, for instance, the owner is busy working. So, we can't bring utility bills and car registrations for our family members, the way I did last week to get new resident parking stickers from the City of Boston. Just another example of government foolishness.

I hope Sal, Anthony and Carlo stay on top of this and are successful in forcing the Turnpike Authority to credit our Fast Lane accounts with the funds that were taken in such an underhanded way.

Yvette said...

I think it's irresponsible sensationlistic journalism. Did you notice in the Herald photo the guy has a white transponder? Don't all of the locals in Eastie have an orange transponder? Come on. I was fooled too, asked hubby who innocently said, "oh yeah, we got a yellow post card a couple months ago, I took care of it. Should have mentioned it." He hadn't seen the Herald. I wish I hadn't. For a few gems there sure is a lot of "dirt" reporting. Aren't there enough real stories to work on? Geesh.

Anonymous said...

I never received a post card for the change. I have moved out of East Boston recently and switched right away. Why pay one of the top insurance rates in the state.
The fact that I can't get a refund is ridiculous. I took the tunnel everyday at 6:00 AM and numerous times throughout the week. It does not take a genius to follow the pattern of transponder activity.
The point I like best about the herald article is that if you owe them money your getting a letter from them in the mail, not a sneaky postcard.
Eastie is a great place and it is changing but you have at least ten years before it becomes an amazing place to live.
Get some of the new construction projects off the ground and keep fighting.

N.starluna said...

Personally, I think East Boston is great place to live right now. This is why we bought a house here.

Anonymous said...

I received a postcard to renew last Spring. This is not a scam but people should take it seriously and renew when they get their notice.

On a side note... when I moves out of East Boston last month I did the right thing and went to turn in my neat Orange transponder, which I assumed was the special discount program transponder, to get a "I pay full price" white transponder. To my surprise the discount was removed from my account but I got no new transponder... I was told to keep the orange one. So that made me kind of sad... there is apparently nothing special about the orange one. :-(

Anonymous said...

A scam can come in many disguises. This one, by the Turnpike Authority, was achieved by their using the least amount of notification to the transponder holders that would generate the most amount of revenue for the Pike. That was their exact intent. They knew it then and they know it now. Sending the notification in a #10 envelope with a 42 cent stamp would have been too much notification by the Pike's thinking. So, yes, it's a scam.

Anonymous said...

If you are pissed like I am, go to to join others in calling for reform of the the monster that is the pike. It must be stopped!!!!!

Anonymous said...

is anyone pressing forward to collect the overcharges?

Dave said...

I am the guy from the story, so I feel like responding a bit. Neither I nor my girlfriend ever remember seeing this postcard in the mail. I happened to notice what was happening when I saw about 4 times the number of Fastlane charges I usually receive in a month on my credit card statement.

After speaking to a number of Pike personnel, not to mention a few neighbors, this is what I found out:

1) There was one story in 2007 in the Times about switching to an annual renewal, which said nothing about when people should expect to receive notification to renew.

2) I was told that, even though I have been in the program for years, I could not receive any reimbursement for the months I was kicked off or any credit towards future charges; this was regardless of whether I could produce utility bills, etc. to show that I was in fact in East Boston during those months.

3) What I was told was that postcards went out in a randomized fashion, rather than to a particular ZIP code or neighborhood.

4) When I asked if I could receive emails on future changes to my account, or at least electronic versions of my statement, I was told that was impossible. This surprised me considering that the Pike has had my email on file since I signed up for Fastlane.

I do believe that some people got the postcard in a timely fashion. But, as a victim of this new policy, I think that it was incumbent on the Pike to do a better job outreaching to the community. When you have a violation you get a letter, and if you do not pay, another, and another. I wish some of the same due diligence was used in this case.

Though MassPort is rarely an example to use for good institutional behavior, it is interesting to contrast the way this program has been operated versus the gate on Maverick Street.

When MassPort put that gate up they had a HUGE digital billboard alerting people for weeks that they needed to sign up to get an access pass, there was a story close to the date of opening in the Times, and they sent a rep to talk about it to neighborhood meetings (I know for sure the Jeffries Point meeting). All this for a change that altered traffic for a few people in the community, and at no cost.

Compare that to how the Pike has conducted itself with this plan. A flimsy postcard that did not even reach all of the people it was supposed to, a news story easily forgotten due to time, and a refusal to work with people in the neighborhood who were caught legitimately unawares (even if they are willing to jump through hoops), for a program that changes the price for a service to almost NINE TIMES what it would be normally. Great community relations strategy.

P.S. And for the record the reason my Fastlane is white is that when I moved to the neighborhood almost 5 years ago and signed up for the program they gave me a now-faded orange sticker, rather than changing my transponder to an orange one!

Jimbo said...

Thanks for the input, Dave. It does seem as though it was done quickly and without much fanfare in order to bump a good number of people out of the program, thereby increasing toll receipts.