A lawsuit filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Santa Ana, Calif., targets the collection system used on several toll roads operated by the state’s Transportation Corridor Agencies.

Attorney Michael J. Flannery, representing plaintiff Ebrahim Mahda, wrote in the complaint that TCA violated California’s law by improperly and unfairly collecting thousands of dollars in fines against thousands of individual drivers. The complaint seeks at least $5 million in actual damages, $5 million in restitution and an order for the toll road operators, overseen by two toll road governments, to run a corrective advertising campaign.

A move in May 2014 from tollbooths to the cashless electronic system initially resulted in a surge of toll road violations and confusion among many commuters. Toll road officials responded by adding signs and promoting an educational campaign. Roadway signs now warn motorists when they are about to enter the toll lanes while informing drivers that they can pay for their trip within five days, said TCA spokeswoman Sarah King.

According to the lawsuit, Mahda received a toll evasion notice in the mail on Dec. 10 after driving on one of the toll roads twice in late November. Mahda ended up paying a $232 fine, according to his complaint.

Toll road officials declined to comment on specific allegations outlined in the lawsuit.  

Mahda’s attorneys argue that the changes added by TCA have not been enough. They allege that the local toll road operators continue to "mislead and deceive" drivers, resulting in unfair toll penalties.

"There is virtually no signage visible to drivers that clearly indicates that the driver is about to enter a stretch of road that will require an electronic toll paying transponder," Flannery wrote in the complaint. "Drivers have a reasonable expectation that there will be a cash or credit card payment option absent sufficient warning to the contrary."

Mahda’s attorneys are asking for a class-action designation that would allow them to add to the lawsuit anyone who paid a fine to the TCA in response to a toll evasion notice.

TCA officials said drivers who use the toll roads without transponders have options including paying online within five days. Violators are mailed "toll evasion” notices and after one warning per vehicle, when the driver only needs to pay the toll, penalties are added if drivers do not pay the initial toll amount and the late fine.

  

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