Late fees charged on half of toll road bills

Plus: NFL wanted Panthers to be called 'Carolina Rhinos'; Freedom Drive strip mall to be knocked down for offices; Bojangles' to end 'BoRewards' loyalty program

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Motorists face big penalties for paying tolls late; $37 in fees on a $4 Monroe Bypass toll called ‘usury’

Toll lanes are sprouting up all over the Charlotte region, and there are more on the way.

But statistics from the state show that local drivers don’t seem to be accustomed to paying the tolls just yet: Half of the people who receive bills in the mail don’t pay within 30 days and are charged late fees — which sometimes wind up being far more than the toll itself.

Tolls ahead: You don’t need a transponder to drive on local toll roads like the Monroe Bypass, but you’ll risk big late fees if you blow off your bill in the mail.

For instance, if you drive end to end on the smooth new Monroe Bypass, which opened almost a year ago in Union County, the toll is $3.92. Unlike in other parts of the country, there are no toll booths. Unless you have a transponder on your dashboard and an account with the state, the bill comes in the mail to the vehicle’s registered owner. If you don’t pay that bill within 30 days, the state tacks on a $6 fee. After 60 days, it adds another $6 fee plus a $25 civil penalty — or a total of $37 in late charges on a toll of less than $4.

That’s what Ledger reader Randall of south Charlotte had to pay after driving on the Monroe Bypass en route to Myrtle Beach this summer. He says the “exorbitant fine” is “usury” and a “total scam,” though he acknowledges he should have paid it on time.

“This thing came in the mail. It got buried under some stuff. It’s in the summer,” Randall explained. “I don’t disagree we should have to pay something. I just don’t think it should be $37. It’s too much money!”

Carly Olexik, spokeswoman for the N.C. Turnpike Authority, says the fees and penalties are set by state law. Before the road opened, she says, the state tried to spread the word about how toll roads work — including the late fees.

‘Like a utility bill’: “It’s important for us to get our marketing out there and make sure people are aware of what the fee structure is,” Olexik says. “It’s just like a utility bill. If you don’t pay on time, there’s a fee with it.”

The state encourages people to sign up for and use pre-paid transponders, known as the N.C. Quick Pass. Vehicles using those receive a 35% discount on tolls.

State data show that for last year, 59% of tolls statewide were paid via N.C. Quick Pass. Of the remainder, those billed by mail, half were paid in the first 30 days (on time):

Statewide, motorists paid most tolls using transponders last year, but about half of those who didn’t use transponders were hit with late fees. (Source: N.C. Turnpike Authority.)

The state estimates it will receive $2.6M in late-fee revenue this year from the Monroe Bypass, or about 14% of all toll-related revenue on the road.

Why it matters: You’re going to see a lot more toll roads around Charlotte in the coming years. Besides the Monroe Bypass and the almost-complete I-77 toll lanes between uptown and Mooresville, the state has started building toll lanes on I-485 between I-77 and Independence Boulevard, and it has plans to build them along Independence and on I-77 between uptown and the S.C. line.

That means more people will be receiving bills, not paying them, and racking up late fees.

In other words, there will be a lot more Randalls.

NFL to Richardsons in ’93: Call your team the ‘Carolina Rhinos’; rhino skin ‘a natural version of football pads’

A lot of people around Charlotte have probably never seen Roar magazine, the official publication of the Carolina Panthers that is mailed to season-ticket holders. And after this month, they’ll really never see it, since the Panthers are ending the print publication for good with the current issue.

The final edition is notable, though, for its focus on the founding of the franchise — and it includes some details from the early 1990s that seem never to have been previously revealed.

For instance, the magazine includes an interview with Mark Richardson, the former Panthers team president and son of founding owner Jerry Richardson, who confides that the NFL sought to pressure the team on its colors and mascot:

There were concerns raised within league circles about the nickname Panthers. A team nicknamed the Panthers and one whose color scheme was predominantly black might have appealed to street gangs and reflected poorly on the NFL. Around the same time, a team with the same nickname, the Florida Panthers, began play in the NHL in 1993. They were owned by Wayne Huizenga, who also was a co-owner of the Miami Dolphins.

On July 12, 1993, the NFL sent a letter to the Carolinas’ ownership group suggesting an alternative nickname. The following are excerpts from the letter. …

To offer you some alternatives, enclosed are 13 comps for a potential Carolina Rhinos. If the creature is not native to the Carolinas, then neither is the Lion (or Tiger) to Detroit, the Bear to Chicago, the Ram to Los Angeles, etc. The rhino is a large, powerful creature, fierce when provoked with a skin that is almost a natural version of football pads.

“We never wavered off of the Panthers, even though we had pressure to,” Mark affirmed. “They wanted us to minimize the black and they wanted us to consider a different nickname. At the end we said, ‘We’re paying $140 million, so we ought to be able to name the team what we want it to be and have the colors that we want to have.’ In the end, they agreed.”


The NFL proposed several different designs for the Carolina Rhinos, the name it preferred in 1993 for the Charlotte pro football franchise, according to a recent interview with former president Mark Richardson in the Panthers’ Roar magazine. (Image from Roar magazine)

Best of Nextdoor: Return to sender

Foxcroft mystery: Who is mailing $46 worth of metal rods C.O.D. — and why?

An end to Bo biscuit loyalty?

First, no more Thanksgiving turkeys. Then, no more Hornets sponsorship. Now this: Bojangles’ is doing away with its loyalty program — called “BoRewards” — according to an email to customers on Tuesday.

The email said BoRewards will end on Dec. 30 and that effective Thursday, customers cannot add any money to the Bojangles’ app’s mobile wallet. “Just be sure you use all earned rewards by their expiration dates or by 12/30/2019,” the Charlotte-based chicken giant advised.

Like Bo biscuits themselves, the Bojangles’ loyalty program called “BoRewards” will soon disappear, the company says.

Asked to elaborate, Bojangles’ spokesman Brian Little told the Ledger that the chain is “always looking at new ways to engage our loyal customers, so all I can say now is please stay plugged into our e-club and social channels so you will be among the very first to know what’s next from Bojangles’.”

More redevelopment action on Freedom Drive

In a sign that redevelopment keeps moving down the Freedom Road corridor toward I-85, developers have filed plans to knock down the aging Freedom Mart Shopping Center strip mall and replace it with medical office buildings.

Plans filed with the city indicate that developers intend to seek a rezoning for the 9-acre site and to redo the parking lot and outparcels. The contact listed on the application, Kyra Schneider of engineering and architecture firm McAdams Co., did not return an email Tuesday.

The mall is home to a Shoe Warehouse, Webtax, a car stereo wholesaler and a Dominican hair salon. It’s across the street from the old Freedom Mall.

In brief

  • Optimist Park self-storage tower: U-Haul is planning to build a new self-storage building on 4.5 acres at 16th and North Tryon streets north of uptown, according to city records. Plans call for a new five-story building of 124,000 s.f. with “six exterior access mini-storage buildings.” The company did not return emails from the Ledger this week.

  • South End land sale: Portman Holdings has agreed to buy the Sycamore Brewing site on Hawkins Street in South End and is eyeing it for a new office and retail development. The brewery will move next door into the ground level of the 16-story tower Portman is building. (Agenda)

  • Rental jobs: United Rentals is expanding at University Research Park and hiring 150 workers in “accounting, credit and billing, customer care, inside sales, payroll and tax teams.” (Observer)

  • ‘Highly speculative’ new HQ: Cleveland-based paint giant Sherwin-Williams is looking for a new headquarters — and people not involved with the search tell the Business Journal that Charlotte “could be in the running.” But a Cleveland blogger, citing unnamed sources, said Sherwin-Williams will stay in Ohio, the paper said. The website Urban Planet has been abuzz about Sherwin-Williams-to-Charlotte rumors for weeks. (Biz Journal/paywall)

  • Tree rules changed: The City Council this week updated its tree ordinance, which will “give developers more flexibility in where they plant trees and how they meet requirements for tree conservation.” (WFAE)

  • Banking war intensifies: US Bank celebrated the opening of its first Charlotte branch uptown on Tuesday, the first of 10 it plans locally — a sign of more banking competition in a market dominated by BofA and Wells Fargo. JPMorgan Chase plans to open its first of about 20 local branches next year. (Biz Journal, Observer)

This week in podcasting

A round-up of interesting moments in recent Charlotte podcasts

  • Sports reporting not all glamorous: Jarod Latch, co-founder of Spiracle Media, talks with host William Bissett about founding his video marketing agency — and why he left a high-profile job as a sports reporter at WSOC: “The illusion is the hours, the drain, the low pay. They’re always asking for more, more, more and trying to take it instead of giving back. But when you look at the actual job, it was really neat to be a part of. … My first year, I covered the Daytona 500 and was there for a week doing live shots from Victory Lane, and I was at Lambeau Field for the Panthers against the Packers. There was stuff like that that was really neat: the Masters, the Super Bowl. … I wouldn’t trade that for anything, but the rest of it becomes draining and a little bit grueling when you have to deal with all the rest of the noise.” (Charlotte Angel Connection, Oct. 17, 1 hour and 7 minutes)

  • Rough first impression: City of Charlotte assistant city manager and planning director Taiwo Jaiyeoba shares with hosts Tim Miner and Matt Olin his initial impressions upon coming to America from Nigeria: “My first visit to the United States, I was about 11 years old. My dad was starting [as a professor] in Connecticut. We had visited him in Newark, N.J. Toward the end of the visit, he was robbed at gunpoint. I was there. I saw it. I was scared. I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, there’s no way I’m coming back to this country ever again! Can we go home now?’” But Jaiyeoba eventually returned, earned his citizenship and realized he loved the U.S.: “My impression changed from when I was 11. … I realize this is one country where you actually have the opportunity to influence change as an individual. … Look at me, I come from Nigeria with my accent. … There is no other nation like America.” (The Biscuit CLT Podcast, Oct. 16, 46 minutes)

Cheap getaways from CLT

  • Charlotte to Montreal, $267 round-trip on American (one-stop), various dates November-April.

  • Charlotte to Baltimore, $52 round-trip on Spirit (nonstop), various dates November-February.

  • Charlotte to Las Vegas, $201 round-trip on Frontier (nonstop), Dec. 14-16.

  • Charlotte to Newark, $64 round-trip on Spirit (nonstop), various dates January-February.

  • Charlotte to New Orleans, $170 round-trip on American (nonstop), Jan. 24-27.

Source: Google Flights. Fares retrieved Wednesday morning. They might have changed by the time you read this.

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The Charlotte Ledger is an e-newsletter and web site publishing timely, informative, and interesting local business news and analysis Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, except holidays and as noted. We strive for fairness and accuracy and will correct all known errors. The content reflects the independent editorial judgment of The Charlotte Ledger. Any advertising, paid marketing, or sponsored content will be clearly labeled.

The Charlotte Ledger is published by Tony Mecia, an award-winning former Charlotte Observer business reporter and editor. He lives in Charlotte with his wife and three children.