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The Simple Way Thousands Are Cheating California Tolls

Bay Area toll evasion results in a loss of revenue up to $6 million each year.

Avery Turner of Oakland, Calif., wondered why someone had ripped off the temporary cardboard license plates issued by the dealer on her new car. Turns out, she could unknowingly be part of a massive scheme to skirt California tolls.

Technically, these cardboard license plates don't have official information, serving more as advertisements for the dealer. But KTVU-TV reports this is exactly what some people in the San Francisco Bay area are looking for.

cardboard license plate toll Some cars with dealer plates like this in the Bay Area are getting away with evading toll payments. (Image source: KTVU-TV screenshot)

"It's just advertisement for the dealership, so that's why I didn't understand what would they want with that. What's the benefit of having that? " Turner told the local news station. "So when I started asking around, some people said 'Man, they might be doing robberies. They might be going over the bridge for free.'"

Looking into this latter possibility, KTVU learned from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission that up to 100,000 vehicles each month cross toll bridges in the Bay Area without a proper license plate. These "no-plate" violators would have otherwise paid $2.50 to $6 per toll. The total loss of revenue per year from "no-plate" violations ranges between $4 million to $6 million.

Cars in the area pay tolls with an autopayment system called FasTrak or at toll booths. If cars zip through the FasTrak lanes without the payment system on board, cameras take photos of the vehicles license plates. Those with official license plates would be issued a fine in the mail, but those without proper plates likely won't be found.

MTC spokesman John Goodwin told KTVU the commission tried to advocate for legislation -- with no success -- that would require real plates on cars before they leave the dealer's lot.

"Those folks that are using the toll bridges and not paying put a greater onus of those who do pay our tolls," Goodwin said.

Watch KTVU-TV's report about the toll evasion technique plaguing the area:

Similar "no plate" techniques to avoid toll payments have been seen in other cities across the country for several years now.

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