What a difference a dash makes


I could have called this blog “We’re from the government, and we’re here to help,” but that would have made too long of a tag line for Twitter.

It’s a cautionary tale.  This week I received a bill from Texas Tollways for two toll fees.  When I looked at the bill, I knew immediately that I was not the culprit.  Someone had run two tolls in Houston and Austin while driving a vehicle with the Texas license plate number 5063.

That’s not my license plate number.

But, I knew where the problem lay. Some years ago, I had a personalized plate with the numbers 506-3.  Note the dash.

I last had that plate on a 20007 Toyota Tundra that I traded in early 2011 on my wife’s Subaru Outback.  When I traded the truck, I left the 506-3 plate on it.  That truck and that plate are long gone.

So, I did what seem liked the logical thing. I picked up the phone and called Texas Tollways.  A nice man answered, and I explained the situation.

“You take pictures of the plates of people who run tolls, don’t you?” I asked.

“We do.”

“What vehicle do you see in the pictures of the two offenders?”

“It’s the same car in both shots.   It’s a classic, probably a 1950s model.”

“You can tell from your computer file that the vehicle I had with the number 506-3 was a 2007  Toyota, right?”

“Yes, I see that,” he said. “But we can’t put a dash in the number.  Our system doesn’t recognize dashes, just numbers.  When I put the numbers 5063 in, it shows you as the owner,” he said.

“I’ve never had the license plate 5063,” I said.  “Mine was 506-3.  Plus your records show that the title to my truck was transferred to someone in Louisiana in March 2011, don’t they?”

“They do indeed,” he said.

“So does that take care of my problem”

“When I enter 5063 in the computer, I get your name.  So Texas Tollways will look to you as the responsible party until you get the state to change its database information,” he said.

“How do I do that?”

“You can call your local tax office and they can straighten it out. Once they have made the change, call me back and we’ll take care of it.”

So, I called my local tax office.  I explained my dilemma.

“What do your records show for license plate number 506-3?” I asked.

“We can’t enter a dash in our computer,” the lady said. “The system won’t accept it.”

“My number wasn’t 5063.  It was 506-3,” I said.  “It was a personalized plate I picked up at your office.”

“The system shows you are the owner of 5063,” she said. “We can’t enter dashes.”

I could tell this was going nowhere.

“Who else can I call to correct the record?” I asked.

She gave me the number of the DMV department in the next town.

I called that number and held for thirty minutes. No one ever came on the line.

I gave up and called the Subaru dealership where I traded the truck.

The office manager was kind.

2007 Toyota Tundra
2007 Toyota Tundra

“We usually strip those plates off first thing when we get a trade,” she said. “Our records show we sold your truck to someone in Louisiana who transferred the title in March 2011. More than likely, it didn’t have the metal plates on it, but I can’t know that for sure.”  She said she would do some more checking and get back with me.  I believe she will.

Remember that those plates on my truck were not the same plates on the toll runner’s car.  But, at least it would be nice to know where my plate ended up.

After I got off the phone with the dealership, I called the DMV number again.  This time someone answered.

I explained the situation.

“We show your are the owner of 5063,” she said. “Our system doesn’t accept dashes.”

She gave me the number of the home office in Austin.

There I spoke to a lady named Channel (pronounced Shah-Nell).

I explained the situation.

“Our records show you own 5063,” she said.  “Our system doesn’t accept dashes.”

“If it doesn’t accept dashes, then you should have two owners listed under 5063,” I said.

“No, you’re it,” she said.

“So the guy running the tolls doesn’t have registered tags?”

“Apparently not. Can you send me a picture of your license plate?” she asked.

Stop for just a minute and ask yourself when the last time was that you didn’t have anything better to do, so you strolled out to your driveway and took a picture of your license plate.  If you have a photo collection of your former license plates, please keep that information to yourself.

“I don’t have the car or the plate,” I told her.

“All I can do is research it for you,” she said.

“Please do,” I said.

Then I called the specialty plate division of the department of motor vehicles that issued the plate to me.

I explained the situation.

“I see it,” she said.  “I searched it under 5063 and it shows you are the owner.”

“It was 506-3,” I said.

“We can’t use dashes when we search.”

She told me the records showed that my personalized plate was on a 2007 Toyota truck.

“Texas Tollways should be able to look at the records on the computer and determine that you weren’t the toll runner.”

“You’re preaching to the choir,” I said. “Can you please send me the information you have in front of you so I can send it to Texas Tollways?”


“Why not?”

“You will have to fill out a form VTR-275 to get that information.”

“The information is  right in front of you, isn’t it?”

“Yes.  But you could be anyone.  You might be pretending to be Stephen Woodfin,” she said.

“Do you get a lot of calls from people pretending to be me?” I asked.

“I will be glad to send you a VTR-275, Mr. Woodfin, or whoever you are,” she said.

She emailed me the VTR-275. I have a BA, a Master of Divinity degree and a law degree.  So far as I can tell, a VTR-275 form cannot be filled out in such a manner as to request the information she had in front of her when I talked to her.

I called Texas Tollways again.  The person who took my call this time checked the notes under my account, the notes that probably referred to me as a member of Al-Quaeda or the Taliban.  She quickly transferred me to her supervisor.

I explained to her what Shah-Nell had told me about Texas Tollways being able from its own records to determine that I was not the toll runner.

“We show you are the owner of 5063,” she said.  “We can’t enter dashes in our system.”

In abject despair, I asked her, “What can I do to fix this problem?”

“Go to the tax office and fill out a Form 346,” she said. She was perturbed that I was so dense. “That will give us the documentation we need to review your file.”

“I thought the reason you took picture of toll runners was so you could document who they were,” I said.

“It is.”

“You can look at the pictures of the vehicle that ran the tolls and see it isn’t my car.”

“Sir, I’ve screwed, I mean served people for five years on this job.  The only way to fix your problem is with a form 346.”

“How about I send you two form VTR-275s?” I asked.  “I already have them filled out.”

She was through talking to me.

Since the Memorial Day weekend is upon us now, I have suspended my quest for justice until the government offices re-open next Tuesday.

However, if I happen to be in Shreveport over the weekend, I’ll take my camera.

I’ll keep my eyes peeled for some unknown vehicle bearing Texas plate 506-3.  Or maybe, I’ll get lucky and find 5063.


, , , , ,

Related Posts