Ari Ashe, wtop.com
WASHINGTON - Cheating tolls on the Beltway Express Lanes can cost drivers in the long run.
Since the lanes opened last November, Virginia State Police tell WTOP that law enforcers have handed out 51 tickets to drivers who falsely claimed to be a high-occupancy vehicle.
Drivers who use an E-ZPass Flex transponder don't have to pay tolls when traveling with three or more people on the Express Lanes as long as the driver switches on the HOV button when going through the toll.
However, Transurban and Virginia State Police say some drivers switch on the button even when there are no passengers in the vehicle.
"We can tell the difference between HOV and toll-paying customers by reading the E-ZPass in the vehicle, and we work with Virginia State Police to enforce the HOV rules," says Pierce Coffee, Transurban spokesman.
How, exactly, can the authorities differentiate between high-occupancy vehicles and toll-paying customers?
"The troopers' patrol cars are equipped with special detectors that are capable of reading the transponder's travel mode," says Coffee. "In addition, each transponder gantry is able to alert troopers of violators via a specially designated blinking light."
Drivers who inaccurately claim to be a high-occupancy vehicle receive a $50 ticket. A second offense warrants a $250 ticket, a third offense warrants a $500 ticket and a fourth offense within two years lands the offender a $1,000 fine.
"Enforcement on the Express Lanes is 24/7," says Deborah Cox, Virginia State Police spokeswoman. "We never release the exact numbers of troopers assigned, but since the HOV/Express Lanes are 24/7, we provide troopers to reflect this enforcement coverage."
According to Transurban, high-occupancy vehicles only represent about 7 percent of all drivers. That figure includes the E-ZPass Flex, buses and emergency services.
The Fairfax Connector currently operates four routes that use the Express Lanes, with two more coming in the spring.
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