Plate tectonics

Nov. 13, 2008

Rigging his rig

One of the biggest challenges for the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey is battling toll evasion. After all, with rates of up to $8 for cars and $40 for trucks, who hasn’t had a devious daydream or two while idling in line?

Rigging his rig

One of the biggest challenges for the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey is battling toll evasion. After all, with rates of up to $8 for cars and $40 for trucks, who hasn’t had a devious daydream or two while idling in line?

Those gutsy enough to put their schemes into action agree that the best way to avoid tolls is to zip through the E-ZPass lane with your license plates temporarily concealed. So this past summer when Port Authority police decided to crack down on toll evasion at the Goethals Bridge, which connects Staten Island and New Jersey, they focused on the E-ZPass lane.

Some drivers were caught obscuring part of their license plates, and others actually parked just short of the toll booth and removed their plates. But none were as innovative as truck driver Orlando Payano. As Payano approached the toll plaza, police were startled to see the front license plate on his truck magically vanish, only to reappear as soon as he had passed.

Payano was pulled over and officers discovered that he had attached his license plate to a spring-activated hinge that hung down below his fender. A cable attached to the back of the license plate ran under the truck, threaded through the steering column, and was attached to the cigarette lighter knob. Whenever Payano approached a toll booth, all he had to do was pull on the cable to swing his license plate back under the truck and out of view.

Toll evaders annually cost the Port Authority $4 million. Don’t worry, though. Paid tolls still bring in over $700 million a year, and toll increases earlier this year hope to increase that number to $1 billion.

WTF is on my license plate?

Thousands of drivers in North Carolina recently discovered that they are offended by their own license plates.

Last year the state issued 9,999 plates that began with the letters “WTF,” which is a popular abbreviation in cyber-shorthand for “What the f***?”

Elementary teacher Mary Ann Hardee was one of the recipients, but thought nothing of it until she noticed her teenage grandchildren giggling at her plate. Hardee, 60, said that once she learned about the connotation, she decided to contact the Department of Motor Vehicles.

As a result, this past July DMV officials announced that Hardee and everyone else with WTF plates were eligible to receive free replacements.

The DMV is now scanning all three-letter combinations through the text message dictionary at in order to avoid any such future embarrassments.

Collection plates

While North Carolinians are trying to get rid of their WTF plates, collectors are now trying to get their hands on one.

Indeed, there are people who actually collect license plates. In fact, there’s even an Automobile License Plate Collectors Association that boasts an international membership of 3,141, has its own Hall of Fame and even presents an annual award for “Plate of the Year.” (Mississippi, your Biloxi Lighthouse plate is the reigning champion.)

The world’s largest collection belongs to association president Jeff Francis, 46, never married, of St. Petersburg, Fla. He has been collecting for 35 years and estimates that he owns around 1 million license plates.

Francis has at least one plate from every country in the world, and he is closing in on the first complete U.S. collection: every plate, from every year, from every state.

While many license plates sell for $5 or less, some, like the ultra-rare 1913 Mississippi plate, are valued at over $25,000, more than a full year’s salary for most collectors.

So North Carolinians just might want to hold on to those WTF plates. You never know what some lonely geek collector might be willing to pay for them someday.

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