In a way, providing an incentive for motorists to switch to E-ZPass makes sense.
The state is switching over to cashless tolls, meaning you drive under or past a monitor, which records your vehicle information for the purpose of collecting tolls on state toll roads like the Thruway.
E-ZPass, which involves placing an electronic device on your windshield that deducts tolls from a prepaid account, is an effective and efficient complement to the cashless-toll system.
The device also works in cooperation with toll collection systems in many other states, so it’s valuable not only to in-state drivers, but drivers who drive across state borders.
To collect tolls from vehicles that don’t have E-ZPass or other similar devices requires the state taking a photo of the vehicle’s license plate, identifying the vehicle, sending out a bill to the registrant and processing a toll payment through the mail or online — a cumbersome, expensive and counterproductive process.
The old staffed toll-collection stations take manpower and slow traffic. So taking advantage of modern technology to improve traffic congestion and collect tolls is a natural progression.
And it would be in the best interests of taxpayers, motorists and the state for every vehicle to be equipped with E-ZPass.
But the state Thruway Authority’s plan to incentivize the transition by imposing a 30% increase on non-E-ZPass users, plus a $2 monthly surcharge, amounts to nothing more than an unfair, price-gouging tax hike on the state’s workers, many of whom rely on the toll roads and bridges simply to get back and forth to their jobs.
It’s particularly punishing to upstate workers, who rely on the toll roads more than New York City’s residential commuters.
The new higher tolls would take effect in just a year, and would raise $94 million between now and 2024. That’s a pretty big tax hike on workers, shouldered in large part by people who don’t want or trust E-ZPass.
Since the Thruway benefits all New Yorkers, any increase in revenue should be supported in part by all state taxpayers, including downstaters.
And rather than punish New York drivers with a 30% one-year increase in tolls, it should be phased in over several years to lessen the impact on individual drivers.
The state also needs to ramp up its educational campaign to persuade more drivers to use E-ZPass. And out-of-state drivers should shoulder a bigger burden of the toll increase than New Yorkers, as we do in other states.
In time, the state might even consider making E-ZPass a condition of vehicle registration or renewal.
It’s not unwise to promote E-ZPass and encourage its implementation.
But hammering working upstaters through a huge toll increase is the wrong way to go about it.