With E-ZPass You're on Your Way!

So I did it, I broke down and got an E-ZPass yesterday. Considering that I'm a pretty regular traveler along the New Jersey turnpike, I guess it was only a matter of time. So what is an E-ZPass?

An E-ZPass customer gets a little plastic box to be mounted on the windshield of their car. As of current writing, the size and shape is about equivalent to a deck of cards. After that, it is used as a quick way to go through toll gates on certain tollways. Instead of waiting in a long line of cars (whose drivers seem to remember that they need to pull out their cash only right at the toll attendant), an E-ZPass customer is able to simply drive slowly through a designated E-ZPass lane and have their account automatically debited. According to their website, it works using 'an antenna' to receive the signal from the E-ZPass box; I prefer to think that a troll sitting inside of the gate mechanism looks out through a periscope and makes sure my license plate matches up in a database.

So how does one get one? In my opinion, the best way to get one is to come across an E-ZPass vending machine in a rest stop. As I've only seen one such vending machine in my many travels on the turnpike, one can also receive them by going to an E-ZPass service center, or by faxing an application form in and getting one by mail. If it gets empty or near empty, the E-ZPass must be replenished either by check, credit card, or cash. The credit card payment can be done automatically, but the checks or cash must be mailed in.

The traffic lights or other display at the toll gates indicate your E-ZPass status. If the light is green, or the display indicates that you have paid, you are good to go. If the light is yellow, or the display indicates that your account is running low, you should put more money into your E-ZPass account as soon as you can to ensure continued service. If the light is red, or the display indicates that your toll wasn't paid, you need to pay the toll if you can there, or let the good people at E-ZPass know. You can use the E-ZPass on toll roads in Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maine, and Illinois.

Why is this cool? For one thing, each stop at a tollway normally might take you up to a half hour in awful traffic. As the E-ZPass system doesn't require stopping, going through the E-ZPass lane is far more quick. Another advantage is conveyed in the form of discounts at certain toll gates. Also, with an automatically replenishing account, you never really need to think about putting more money into the account.

Sources: http://www.ezpass.com

TenMinJoe and princess loulou remind me that my Americentric worldview is a bit limiting. The size comparison was previously using 'an American garage opener.' It has been changed. Thanks!

rootbeer277 says re E-ZPass : Illinois is upgrading their tollways so that you don't need to go through a slow lane at all anymore, you just drive straight through an open highway at full speed with sensors mounted on an overhead truss. However with this comes the drawback that if you don't have an I-Pass, you have to pull off the tollway entirely to pay with coins, and they charge you extra to boot.

Thanks rootbeer277! I now notice that Virginia (my current state of residency) has the same high-speed tollways for some of the local roads. Shame on me for not researching more.

Pre E-Z Pass toll booths were backed up traffic jams, or bottle necks. “E-Z Pass is an electronic toll collection system which takes cash, coins and toll tickets out of the toll collection process. Instead, drivers prepay tolls and attach a small electronic device to their vehicles. Tolls are automatically calculated and deducted from the prepaid accounts as E-Z Pass customers pass through the toll lanes.” (E-Z Pass FAQ) With this invention you zip past that long line of cars and happily go through the toll without the hassle or delay of stopping, tossing coins into a bucket or speaking with the toll booth troll, or unrolling a window. An electronic device is installed to transmit the information called a tag or transponder. Many subscribers to this service have asked the question, “Why did this take so long to invent?” One source who claims this invention to be one of the five best inventions ever is CNN. “(I) pity the poor souls whose cars aren’t equipped with the electronic payment device.” (CNN) The device itself is the size of a cassette tape, in typically installed on the windshield by the rearview mirror, but occasionally must be installed on the exterior of the vehicle due to metal-oxide embedded into the windshield.

A bonus to the E-Z Pass beyond the scope of the bypassing of the toll is its ability to be used in any state with the same subscription. Although this use is probably not helpful to more than just a limited crowd, it is an advancement that must be noted. Economically speaking it could be federally regulated. Politically speaking, multiple states are working together.

Disadvantage One - Comparing Tickets and Tokens to the E-Z Pass
You will not receive more discount by using the E-Z Pass. According to the homepage of E-Z Pass you receive the same maximum discount that tickets and tokens can receive. But apparently this is a lie. “With the introduction of EZ-Pass, the state of NH announced that rather than a 50% discount, EZ-Pass subscribers would instead get a 30% discount. Since effectively no one uses coins and everyone is expected to be switched over to the EZ-Pass system, this actually results in a tax increase.” (Leedberg) Well, E-Z Pass is being used to sneak in that tax increase, and the pass might be targeted as bad because they put in “bad” with the “good.” They were smart for doing it though, not enough people will complain because by the time they realize they are paying 20% more – they will be willing to pay it to get rid of the hassle. I’m sure they will also come up with enough evidence that shows how drivers who don’t have to stop save gas, which saves the environment and “prevents Global Warming.” Go figure. It is safe to assume that the reason the government pushed for this service and allowed it to be implemented was the tax increase. Additionally it’s pretty funny to note that the government collaborated ingenuously with their next move. They discounted the purchase on the transponder. People bought it to “save money” and because they figured E-Z Pass would ultimately be a hit; however, because people believed this that’s actually what made it the hit.

Rebuttal of Disadvantage One
The pass can be compared to a credit card in the sense that if stolen it can be deactivated and/or replaced. While money stolen is still just money stolen. The ultimate comparison of the toll by hand and the toll by electronics is this though, “E-ZPass can process 250 to 300 percent more vehicles per lane, thus reducing toll plaza delays and traffic congestion.” (E-Z Pass info) There is an ultimate cost save, and not only the government feels it, the consumer does as well as the environment.

Re-Rebuttal of Disadvantage One
Reports actually indicate that the cost of maintaining E-Z Pass are greater than the old toll bucket maintenance. In fact, “these costs even exceed the extra revenue brought in by the highway tax increase, so another revenue source (or another tax increase) might be necessary soon.” (Leedberg)

Disadvantage Two – Photo Cop2?:
Beyond the tax increase there is another disadvantage. I don’t know how many of you remember Photo Cop, a beaten down attempt at using technology to enforce laws instead of people. My mom ended up getting one of these tickets in the mail and she paid it without fighting it. For those who did fight it, thank you. But any how, the disadvantage, E-Z Pass may bring about a form of Photo Cop. If you speed through the toll above the assigned limit, the person at the customer service desk can send you a ticket in the mail. The funny about this is you can receive two tickets for speeding through the toll system by mail, but it isn’t until the third one you are penalized for it. The third ticket results in a 60 day suspension, the fourth a 180 day suspension, and the fifth a complete revoke of the service. Unfortunately there isn’t much rebuttal here, the only way to get out of paying any tickets is if you submit documentation within 15 days that proves your violation was out of necessity via emergency.

Disadvantage Three - Privacy
When paying with cash or discounted tokens you’re an anonymous customer. The transponder on the other hand creates an electronic document that says you passed through a particular point at a particular time. The following exert really sums it up well.

”Like most people, you may very well have nothing to hide about your travelling activities, but that doesn't mean that you don't deserve a right to privacy. Someone with access to this information could, for example, know when large numbers of people are not at home, in order to break into houses. Or just think of someone who's not currently on good terms with you. All of these arguments are null if this information were kept confidential, but luckily for us New Hampshire is the one and only EZ Pass state which does not have a privacy policy relating to the information they necessarily will collect from users. Without a privacy policy, they have absolutely no obligation to keep anything private. We have absolutely no idea who may be able to access our information -- the state in issuing speeding tickets (getting from booth A to booth B in too short an amount of time), unfriendly acquaintainces in tracking your movements, or even computer crackers.” (Leedberg)

Oh and just in case you don’t own a vehicle, you can rest assured that you can still use E-Z Pass. “Your tag can be used in any vehicle with two axles, a maximum gross weight of 7,000 pounds, and single rear tires (includes RV’s with dual rear tires).” (E-Z Pass Static)

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