PORTLAND – The Maine Turnpike Authority is about to get tough with toll cheats.

Starting Monday, about 800 letters will be sent to motorists who were recorded passing through tollbooths without paying, as part of the Maine Turnpike’s new effort to collect unpaid tolls.

Each letter will be accompanied by a photo of the scofflaw’s license plate as the vehicle passed through a toll plaza. Most of the violations are happening in the unstaffed E-ZPass and coin drop tollbooths.

Turnpike spokesman Dan Paradee said authorities are focused on repeat offenders, not those who made a one-time mistake.

“We were not interested in nailing the person who mistakenly drove through an E-ZPass lane a single time. We are interested in letting repeat violators know that the enforcement system is working,” Paradee said.

He noted that some toll cheats have been caught 60 to 70 times a month.

Last month, an estimated $32,760 went unpaid at turnpike tollbooths. The registered owners of those vehicles will receive letters asking for the money owed. A tiny minority of drivers are “blowing through” without paying, Paradee said. The total revenue for June was $7.35 million, which means the violators make up less than 1 percent. “That speaks well of turnpike users,” Paradee said.

Monday’s letters mark the turnpike’s largest effort to collect from those who aren’t paying, Paradee said. The former Transpass system used cameras to identify scofflaws, but because there were problems with accuracy in the old system, there was little effort to go after non-payers out of fear of offending customers in good standing, Paradee said.

That has changed. The new system is much more accurate, he said.

The turnpike frequently receives complaints from drivers who saw someone going through the coin tollbooths without paying, Paradee said, adding that sometimes those motorists are E-ZPass customers who have paid.

He said it’s important for law-abiding motorists to know that cheaters aren’t being given a free ride. “We think this will be very popular with the other drivers. We think everyone wants to see the system respected.”

For the guilty parties, if the notice is ignored, they will face fines of $50 for the first offense, $100 for the second offense and $150 for each successive offense.

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