Holiday surprise, minus the cheer Scofflaws: The Motor Vehicle Administration and police set up shop in an apartment parking lot, writing tickets and checking out-of-state license plates. Fifteen cars were towed.

The Intrepid Commuter

December 22, 1997

RESIDENTS of Carriage Hill Village Apartments in Randallstown woke up to a most unpleasant holiday surprise Dec. 15 -- courtesy of the Motor Vehicle Administration and Baltimore County police.

From 5 a.m. until 11 a.m., a squad of seven police officers and five MVA investigators set up shop outside the apartment complex, dispensing tickets and checking out-of-state plates in the lot in search of proof of car insurance and legal licenses.

Scofflaws had to pay towing costs, impound fees, tickets and fines, which totaled hundreds of dollars for some.

It was hardly the warm, fuzzy stuff of holiday cheer.

By the end of the day, the sleuths had towed 15 cars for lack of car insurance or failure to register out-of-state vehicles, ticketed three people for driving with suspended licenses and issued 80 warnings for violations.

Apparently the Randallstown sting arose after MVA received a complaint weeks ago that the apartment complex had a lot of out-of-state license plates in its lots. It's a complaint that MVA says occurs frequently.

State investigators visited the complex to check out the scene. When they saw a number of cars bearing out-of-state plates, out came the warning letters -- stating owners have 30 days to register the vehicle in Maryland or show proof why they are eligible for an exception.

Nearly two months later, the sting took place -- just in time for Christmas.

Odd devices on toll booths indicate M-TAG is near

What are those things near the toll booths at the Fort McHenry and Harbor tunnels and Key Bridge that look like traffic lights with radar guns attached?

Commuter Jim Waurin wrote to Intrepid after he noticed them on his daily commute from Perry Hall to Arbutus.

Maryland Transportation Authority spokeswoman Lori Vidal solved the mystery. She explained that the toll facilities are prepping for the kickoff of M-TAG. That's the electronic toll collection system that will allow commuters with ticket discount books to drive through a toll booth, past an electric eye and "pay" a toll.

Drivers will have a battery-powered transponder the size of a deck of cards attached to their front windshield. When the car passes through specially equipped lanes at the four toll plazas, the transponder will transmit a coded signal informing a computer of the identity of the car owner.

This system is expected to start next spring for the nearly 60,000 customers who buy commuter ticket discount books, which allow 50 trips through the tunnels for $20. After they break in the M-TAG system, others will be able to purchase the service.

The traffic signal, Vidal added, is the state's way of communicating with commuters about their electronic account. It will flash amber when funds are running low and need to be replenished to keep passing through.

The camera allows the state to monitor who doesn't pay. If you think you'll get a free ride, forget it. The system will record license plates, and a bill will be sent to cover costs of the toll -- and a fine.

"Ultimately, it will save time and reduced idling time and emissions," Vidal said, of M-TAG. "Drivers won't have to roll down windows -- but they will have to obey a posted speed."


Trash will not be collected Christmas and New Year's Days, city Department of Public Works officials warn. But there's news of a small gift from city bureaucrats on those holidays: Free parking at all Baltimore meters. Hear about the latest gadget? It's the car pager. This thing lets you "page" your vehicle if you lose it in a parking lot, and it also unlocks and starts the car from afar (the answer to many a car thief's prayer!). You can even use it from an airplane -- including when your car is on one side of the continent and you are on the other (for reasons unclear to your wheelster). For that person on your list who has everything.

Pub Date: 12/22/97

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