NEWARK, N.J. — For motorists looking to skate across the George Washington Bridge without paying the toll, Port Authority police Officer Jason Malice is the Grinch, minus the green face and red hat.
Malice's caseload has been increasing in the months since the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which runs the region's transit hubs, bridges and tunnels, raised the price of tolls. Truckers and other motorists have been employing a variety of tricks to try to avoid the tolls, such as driving through unmanned toll collection lanes that use the E-ZPass electronic payment system even though they don't have E-ZPass devices and hiding their license plates so their vehicles can't be identified. That has led to more stops for Malice and his colleagues who prowl the tollbooth areas on foot.
Some of the cases have made headlines, like the Virginia trucker who used a cable in his truck cab to flip up his front license plate while going through a gateless E-ZPass lane in October.
The maneuver was reminiscent of movie spy hero James Bond, whose Aston Martin sports car featured revolving license plates in the 1964 film "Goldfinger." Some websites sell retractable license plate holders for "off-road use" for as little as $75.
There has been little letup since then, and the results occasionally have been surprising. The following incidents occurred this month, Port Authority police spokesman Al Della Fave said:
—On Dec. 2, a car carrier was stopped for having an illegal E-ZPass transponder; the company that owns the vehicle was found to owe the Port Authority more than $250,000 in unpaid tolls and fees.
—On Dec. 7, a vehicle was stopped entering the Holland Tunnel trying to use a temporary cardboard license plate.
—On Dec. 13, another vehicle tried to enter the Holland Tunnel with a license plate on its dashboard where it couldn't be read by the E-ZPass machine.
—On Monday, a truck tried to cross the George Washington Bridge with tar covering part of its rear license plate.
—On Wednesday, a car tried to enter the Holland Tunnel with duct tape over some of the numbers on its license plate.
Malice, who has been with the Port Authority for nine years after serving as a police officer in New York City, says his eyes have been opened by all the tricks drivers try to pull.
"I don't know what it is," he said. "It's a trend that's definitely been building throughout the year, but all of a sudden it's been crazy. If you stay out here long enough, the things you'll see are pretty amazing."
Cash tolls on the George Washington Bridge, Holland Tunnel, Lincoln Tunnel, Goethals Bridge, Bayonne Bridge and Outerbridge Crossing rose from $8 to $12 in September. And peak-hour tolls for users of the E-ZPass electronic payment system went from $8 to $9.50.
Cash tolls for a five-axle truck rose from $40 to $65, and they will continue to rise gradually to $105 on Dec. 6, 2015.
An average fine for toll cheating, with fees and court costs, is about $500, Della Fave said.
Word has spread in the trucking community about the Port Authority's enforcement efforts, Malice said, to the point that he has to stay out of sight as much as possible so as not to be recognized.
For Malice, who wears a uniform while patrolling the toll areas, the goal is less to catch people beating the tolls than to stay vigilant for more sinister threats.
"I lived through 9/11, and I worked at the Fresh Kills Landfill (where debris from the destroyed World Trade Center was taken)," he said. "That will always be in my head the rest of my life. This is not about tolls; it's about public safety, because who knows what's in those tractor-trailers."