E-ZPass, the electronic toll collection system that the New York Thruway has been using for the past 21 years, has saved millions of dollars for motorists and taxpayers alike, but if it were marketed more aggressively by the Thruway Authority it might be saving us even more.
Recent news articles have indicated that the Guilderland town clerk’s office recently began selling E-ZPass transponders, joining retailers from gas stations to supermarket chains that have been making them available since the Thruway instituted its “E-Z Pass On the Go” program 10 years ago. Great idea and great program, but how many New Yorkers know it exists?
The Thruway doesn’t seem to have gone out of its way to publicize this option for the millions of Pass-less motorists — roughly one-third of those who use the 641-mile highway. And they continue to queue up at toll plazas, causing accidents while they fumble for change or jockey for position, wasting time and gas, polluting the air — and costing us money.
The Thruway pays 205 full-time toll collectors an average of $18.64 per hour and 1,360 part-timers an average of $13.67 — $33 million a year in aggregate — to do jobs that machines can do more cleanly, safely and quickly. Sorry, toll collectors, but it’s true.
That $33 million would help the consistently cash-poor Authority hold the line on spending without compromising bridge and highway maintenance. Raising money via toll increases is all but impossible politically, as we found out in early 2013, so cutting expenses is the only solution.
Getting more municipalities and businesses to sell the E-ZPass transponders would help. Currently, despite a $4 profit for every tag they sell, there are just 171 different ones doing so (though the figure includes supermarket chains like Price Chopper and Hannaford, which sell the tags at multiple locations). Other area vendors include the town of Rotterdam and Schenectady County Community College bookstore.
The Thruway Authority could increase participation by spreading the word with an advertising campaign and other marketing gimmicks to increase demand at these “On-the-Go” locations.
New Yorkers are lucky to have an option with E-ZPass; in some states, there are no toll collectors and motorists have to use electronic transponders or pay a stiff surcharge when the state traces their license tags and bills them.
The Thruway Authority says it’s heading in that direction, which is good news. In the meantime, it should market E-ZPass more aggressively, with ad campaigns, signs, and yes, more discounts for motorists who sign up.