Thousands of drivers who were diverted onto toll lanes following a dramatic gun battle in Los Angeles last month were fined for not having the transponder needed to travel on the pay-to-drive lanes.
The fines, which in some cases were for as little as a dollar, were issued to thousands of commuters detoured by police onto the northbound 110 ExpressLanes near Vernon Avenue from 3 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on Aug. 18 when police closed the regular lanes, city officials said.
The notices warned drivers that if the fine was not paid by Sept. 23, the amount would increase. If it wasn't paid by Oct. 9, the notice said, it would increase again to $56.
A third fine increase would be issued by the DMV if the penalty wasn't paid by the time a vehicle's registration was due, the notice warned.
Transportation officials estimated that thousands of drivers mistakenly received the fines, which they said do not have to be paid. Those who did pay the fine will have their money refunded, said Los Angeles Metro spokesman Rick Jager.
The tracking system on the ExpressLanes is contracted to Xerox Service, which said there is a protocol for shutting down the tracking system when motorists are diverted onto toll lanes.
But company spokesman Carl Langsenkamp said the system didn't function properly that day.
Xerox technicians are still trying to find out what went wrong.
"We apologize for the inconvenience," Langsenkamp said.
Early on Aug. 18, Los Angeles police were involved in a rolling gun battle with two men that expanded onto the northbound 110 freeway off Vernon Street before coming to an end in South L.A. One officer was wounded and one of the suspected gunmen was killed. A second suspect was taken into custody.
Police closed down most lanes of the northbound side of the freeway as they searched for bullet casings and other evidence.
"My boss got stuck in traffic, I got stuck in traffic. It snowballed my whole morning," said Shelli English, a Torrance resident who was fined for driving on the ExpressLanes that day during her morning commute to work in downtown L.A.
English received her fine in the mail Friday. A critic of toll roads since they were implemented, English said she racked her brain and tried to figure out why she would ever use them.
She only connected the fine to that morning's police action when she dug through her work calendar and saw how many others were late and reread old emails from coworkers discussing the morning's shooting.
"So there's thousands of people who don't remember what happened that day and they're going to pony up, for what?," English said. "I know it's just a buck, but it's the principle of the thing. It doesn't inspire confidence in the entire system."
On Wednesday, Metro officials put a notice on the department's home page alerting motorists to the notification error and said fines issued that morning had been dismissed.