(Bloomberg) -- The Metropolitan Transportation Authority is fighting back against drivers using fake or obstructed license plates to skip bridge and tunnel toll charges, a practice that cost the transit agency nearly $50 million in 2023.

The MTA, which operates New York City’s transit system along with seven bridges and two tunnels, needs to decrease toll evasion as it prepares to implement a new charge to motorists. As soon as mid-June, the MTA will impose a $15 fee on E-ZPass passenger cars during peak hours that drive into Manhattan’s central business district, a plan called congestion pricing. Motorists will pay once a day to enter the district, which runs from 60th street to the southern end of the island.

To get the most out of congestion pricing and its existing crossing tolls, the MTA must address toll evasion.

While the lost revenue is a small portion of the $2.4 billion the MTA collected in bridge and tunnel toll revenue last year, it affects the transit agency’s capital program. That $50 million could pay for 30 electric buses or make a subway station accessible, Cathy Sheridan, head of MTA’s bridges and tunnels, said Wednesday during the agency’s monthly board meeting.

“These are drivers who are intentionally stealing from the rest of us,” Sheridan said.

Key NYC Subway Repairs Put at Risk From Congestion Toll Lawsuits

MTA’s crossings include the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge (formerly the Triborough Bridge) — which connects Manhattan, Queens and the Bronx — the Queens Midtown Tunnel and the Hugh L. Carey Tunnel (formerly the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel), which runs between Brooklyn and Manhattan.

The vast majority of drivers pay the crossing tolls, with only about 1% of bridge and tunnel transactions avoiding the fee, according to Sheridan. But such incidents have increased. Unbillable transactions due to unregistered vehicles and obstructed and fraudulent license plates have more than doubled in the past four years, Sheridan said.

Drivers can buy mechanical devices online that temporarily cover their license plates or even flip to a fake plate. Some motorist also obstruct their license plates to avoid red light and speed cameras and security cameras, Sheridan said.

The MTA is seeking to prohibit the sale of these plate covering devices. The transit agency has also stepped up its enforcement and is using license plate readers to better catch these drivers. Additionally, state lawmakers are working on legislation that would increase fines and also allow the police to arrest drivers using such contraptions to conceal their plates.

“This is about fairness for all drivers. The message is clear: If you intentionally conceal your plate or display fraudulent plates, we’re going to find you, your vehicle will be seized and you will pay the consequences,” Sheridan said.

The new toll is expected to bring in $1 billion a year that the MTA will borrow against to raise $15 billion for infrastructure and capital improvements across its system of subways, buses and commuter rail lines.

©2024 Bloomberg L.P.