As a young, recent graduate from Texas State University, I moved to Houston, T.X. from San Marcos, T.X., with my B.A. degree, $5000 I had saved all year for this moment, a promising job offer as an accountant at an engineering firm, and my one year d son strapped safely in his car seat. I was determined to give my beautiful son the life he deserves. I began my 9-5 grind and all was going well. I was making enough to get by without asking for any handouts from anyone, not even the government, although I qualified for Medicaid, food stamps, etc. Raised an army brat, I learned from a young age that integrity & hard work were critical attributes. As a healthy, young adult, I made the decision early on that I would never take advantage of welfare programs designed to help those who weren’t healthy or able & needed a little extra help for themselves & their little ones. I relied on my hard work to get a promotion that would provide me and my son with money we could save to build our bright futures. Four months after I began my job, my mom grew I’ll and rented a place in Houston that would be large enough for the three of us to stay in & close enough so I could take care of her & keep my job. I had a one year lease with my apartment & paid my rent & all my bills online. I asked my neighbor to collect my mail for me once a week & notify me if there were any cards, important letters, etc . My mom got well enough to live on her own after two months & I returned to my apt. My neighbor gave me my mail & I noticed letters from Hctra. There were a few invoices billed to me for toll charges. I didn’t have an ez tag because every other city & state I lived in had toll road authorities that would bill me my toll charges plus 25 cents for a convenience fee. I was mortified to discover the Houston toll authority charged a $37 fine. I frantically signed on to my online account with the knowledge that I had used the toll road a handful of times when I was in a rush to get to work. My fears were confirmed. I owed $600.00 for going through a toll a grand total of 13 times (lucky number huh?). I couldn’t pay it and couldn’t even afford to put $350, the minimum cost,to start a payment plan. I called Hctra to explain my situation and beg for leniency in vain. I was greeted my cold voices on the other end of the phone. Determined, I went to an Hctra physical location to talk to an employee. Within five minutes I realized I would have no mercy shown to me. Struggling to hold back tears of defeat and frustration, I caved. The woman told me if I couldn’t pay, I needed to leave, there was nothing she could do. My son, sensing my anguish, clung to me tighter than ever and gave me a kiss that gave me the strength to regain my composure, thank the woman for her help, and leave with the small ounce of pride I clung so desperately to. Two months later I received a letter in the mail from linebarger goggan blair & Sampson llp, trying to collect the 600$ in fines us 400$ in fines that had accrued in the past 2 months. I’ve managed to save up 300$ for a down payment, although the minimum is now 500$. If I will be able to pay it in time is a question that races through my mind sever times a day. What Hctra does to their fellow citizens and hard working human beings makes me sick. It has made me reconsider if I want Houston to be the city I build my life in. The city I thought a year ago, at the age of 22, as I strapped my baby boy into his car seat and set out for the long road ahead, really was a place of promise & opportunity for young pioneers fighting for a spot in the professional world, and if so, why has such an immoral, unregulated, private company been contracted to steal money from the pockets of hard working Houstonians? When & how will they be stopped?
Harris County Toll Road Authority