TOPEKA — Some Kansas drivers have been surprised to find they have been billed by another state’s turnpike authority that identified the wrong car driving through their toll booth, officials said.
Representatives from the Kansas Turnpike Authority and the Kansas Department of Revenue said that drivers have reported being billed for driving on turnpikes they have not traveled. Both agencies, they said, have been helping Kansans when other states bill the wrong driver because of an error in reading license plates. The problem, they said, is that Kansas has several types of license plates, such as handicap plates, collegiate plates and commercial plates, that have the same plate numbers.
“You could have a K-State plate with 12345, and I could have a Washburn plate with 12345,” said Rachel Bell, business services and customer relations director for the Kansas Turnpike Authority.
When someone with a Kansas plate drives through the booth, the plate scanner may read only the plate number, and the turnpike authority could bill someone with the same plate number but a different plate type.
“We have had a couple cases where Texas doesn’t necessarily run the type of license plate, and Kansas has multiple numbers, multiple plates where a customer could have the same number,” Bell said.
She said the agency had gotten a couple of those calls from customers who have seen a charge on their turnpike pass, or K-TAG, accounts, but more often, drivers call in after receiving a bill in the mail. Bell said the department had seen charges from at least problem was not unique to Texas. She said she had heard of drivers receiving bills from Colorado, New Jersey and other states.
Bell said the problem has been ongoing for a year or more and that the agency helps approximately one customer each week with larger numbers during the holiday and summer travel seasons. She said some customers have been charged on their turnpike pass, or K-TAG, accounts but that it’s more common that drivers receive a bill in the mail from another state.
The problem is primarily affecting those with specialty plates, she said, not drivers with standard plates.
Deann Williams, manager for the commercial motor vehicle office in the Division of Motor Vehicles, said other states had reported having the same problem to a national board she sits on called the International Registration Plan, Inc.
“That has been a topic for many years that we have talked about,” Williams said. “It’s all over. Everyone’s having the same problem.”
She could not say, however, whether the Kansas Department of Revenue’s Department of Motor Vehicles would consider changing its license plate system so that drivers don’t share plate numbers.
To cut down on the problem, the two departments said they have sent information to other jurisdictions on the Kansas plate system.
“That way, they are aware that Kansas has multiple types of license plates,” Bell said. “We just felt like that was one thing we could do to try and curb as many of these issues as possible.”
Williams said her department, too, had tried to help other jurisdictions and instruct them on how to run Kansas plates to bring up information.
“If they capture what type of plate that is, we can provide them with who the owner is,” Williams said.
Williams said she thought that had cut down on the number of people who are getting incorrect charges.
Bell said the Kansas Turnpike Authority had been using its connections in other states to help get wrongful charges taken care of. She said the agency had good relationships with officials in other jurisdictions and had been able to handle customers’ cases fairly quickly. She urged affected drivers to call the turnpike authority.
“Ideally, every plate would have a unique number, and ideally, other states would run plate types, but until one or both of those things occur, I think we’re just going to be kind of working through some of these issues,” Bell said.