Talk about life in the fast lane. Trucker John Briand relies on his transponder to speed him through Mass Pike tollbooths hundreds of times a year. But suddenly, his bill seemed out of control.

John Briand, Fast Lane customer”We got fleeced.”

John was charged $4.00, $3.20 and $6.70! That's much higher than his tolls should be.

When his wife rechecked their past statements, she saw the baffling bottom line: for four years, they'd been over charged, over and over.

Hank Phillippi Ryan, 7News”To find you're overpaying the fast lane for years.”

Maureen Briand, Fast Lane customer”It's upsetting.”

Exactly the same thing may be happening to you.

John Briand, Fast Lane customer “I'm sure there are thousands of people being overcharged.”

In fact, we found hundreds of thousands of Fast Lane customers may be over billed and never know it.

Peter Samuel, toll roads expert”I'm surprised more people haven't complained about this or protested, because it really doesn't seem fair.”

Here's what most drivers don't know: if the system doesn't work at the tolls, the Mass Pike looks up your license plate, and you get charged what's called a “v-toll.”

That means instead getting charged the toll price for the exit, the Mass Pike automatically charges you the highest toll possible.

For instance, a car that gets on in Natick and gets off at the Allston, the toll is $2.20. The v-toll for the same trip is billed as if you got on at the first toll booth. That's Springfield, and that's $4.60!

We found the Pike charges three v-tolls a minute, and that adds up to more than $3 million a year.

Sokia, Fast Lane customer”It's not my fault!”

Look at Sokia's bill. Her account was drained.

Sokia, Fast Lane customer”It's not fair. It's not justice.”

Problem is a v-toll can happen if your transponder doesn't work properly, or if there's a glitch on the toll booth side.

Experts say Massachusetts is one of the few states that makes the customer pay a penalty when the system doesn't work.

Peter Samuel, Toll Road expert”If the system isn't working, it's not the customer's fault, so I don't understand how they can justify that.”

Pike officials say just look at the light. If it says call Fast Lane, something's wrong.

But look at this light, and this one we found: go through these lanes with a bad transponder, and you get no message at all.

Hank Phillippi Ryan, 7News”Those yellow lights are blank!”

Jon Carlisle, Massachusetts Turnpike official”That's something that should be addressed, and we'll look into that.”

So are you getting overcharged? Mass Pike only sends bills if you ask, and 60 percent of customers have never asked.

That means more than 400,000 Fast Lane customers will never know if they're paying way too much.

Jon Carlisle, Massachusetts Turnpike official”That could potentially be the case, and that shouldn't be happening.”

You can always request itemized statements, but there's one catch: the Mass Pike only gives you 60 days from the transaction to dispute incorrect charges.

(Copyright (c) 2006 Sunbeam Television Corp. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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