There is no doubt that E-ZPass makes paying tolls more convenient. But when drivers don’t reach into their pockets for cash, they often don’t know how much they are paying to travel on roads and bridges. This lessens the level of accountability tolling authorities have to drivers on the billions of dollars in revenues they collect.
According to a recent analysis by AAA Northeast, one increasingly common revenue enhancement technique is charging out-of-state drivers the higher cash rate, even when they use an E-ZPass. In fact, our analysis found that tolling authorities in nine states, mostly in the Northeast, do just that.
For instance, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which operates the bridge and tunnels in New York City, charges drivers with out-of-state E-ZPasses rates at least 47 percent higher than in-state rates. As a result, some bridge crossings cost nearly double for out-of-staters. And the New York State Thruway Authority, operator of the country’s longest toll road, began this practice in January 2017.
E-ZPass toll rates are lower than cash rates for good reasons: The transponders lower collection costs and help reduce congestion and pollution. By the same token, we see no justification for not honoring E-ZPass discounts for out-of-state drivers.
Tolling authorities are always short of revenue, but often elected officials may not have the political capital to raise tolls. Out-of-state drivers are an easy target because they are not constituents. And as cashless tolling expands throughout the Northeast, the potential for abuse will only get worse.
Our nation’s interstate highway system was designed to foster free travel between the states to facilitate the movement of goods and people. For that reason, AAA Northeast recently wrote to the U.S. Secretary of Transportation and members of Congress to highlight this unfair practice and urge action to end it. Drivers who cross the same bridge and pay the same way should be charged the same amount.
As summer travel season is upon us, we should all check our statements to make sure E-ZPass discounts are being honored and let our congressional representatives know charging out-of-state drivers more to use their E-ZPasses is unfair.
by Mark A. Shaw