EDITORIAL: Thruway tax unfair to working motorists

Toll booth at the Amsterdam exit, October 12, 2020.
Toll booth at the Amsterdam exit, October 12, 2020.

Categories: Editorial, Opinion

Whenever the state considers a new tax or fee on overtaxed New Yorkers, it should consider who it’s affecting before collecting the charge.

If the state did that, then it would give up on the idea of charging a 30% surplus on Thruway tolls, plus a $2-per-month billing fee, on drivers that don’t have EZPass who use the Thruway.

Starting in November, the Thruway will go to cashless tolling, which means you’ll no longer have to stop or slow down at toll booths when you enter and exit.

Instead, a new system of sensors and cameras will either ping a driver’s EZ-Pass to charge the toll, or it will photograph the license plates of drivers without EZ-Pass and send them a bill for the toll.

The extra tolls and fees are your financial penance for not conforming to the state’s directive to use EZ-Pass.

The state thinks it’s just going after people too lazy or indignant to get EZ-Pass. But that’s not necessarily true.

EZ-Pass draws on a credit card or checking account or money order. What if you don’t have a credit card or checking account, or if you can’t afford to pay the interest on a credit card?

The extra toll and fee are essentially a regressive tax on those individuals.

And who is this fee targeting?

While a lot of people drive on the Thruway for pleasure, most people do it to get back and forth to work every day.

Does the state really feel it’s appropriate or fair to punish commuters financially who are simply trying to earn a living under these unique conditions?

The state is saving millions of dollars in staff, equipment and processing by closing the toll booths. And the EZ-Pass system is already in place, so it’s not like the state has to pay anything to set up a recording and collection system for tolls.

Is sending out a paper or electronic bill really going to cost the state an additional 30% of tolls, plus the $2 it wants to add on for monthly bills? Doubtful.

The state says the added fees are designed to encourage people to get EZ-Pass. But this effort seems more designed to punish people for not getting EZ-Pass than it is for incentivizing them to use it.

If the state wants to get more people to adopt EZ-Pass, it should promote it more effectively. Offer employer discounts for encouraging their employees to use the system. Offer less costly ways for people to make monthly payments. Push the convenience of having payments directly deducted rather than paying a monthly bill.

The last thing the state needs to be doing right now to its workers is picking their pockets.

These extra charges should be scrapped in favor of a system that rewards, rather than punishes, New York’s drivers.

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