E-z Does It

Our View: E-zpass Subscribers Show They Know Value When They See It

August 28, 2009

Considerable uproar could be heard earlier this year when officials at the Maryland Transportation Authority announced that beginning in July, E-ZPass subscribers would for the first time be required to pay a $1.50 monthly fee on top of what they're already charged for tolls.

Protesters made two predictions: first, that many people would drop Maryland E-ZPass accounts; and second, that the result would prove counterproductive as more people paid tolls manually, and the backups at Baltimore area tunnels, bridges and other MdTA facilities grew worse.

Here is what's actually happened since the new policy took effect: Nearly 5,000 people have dropped their accounts, with no impact on traffic or toll collections.

That's probably because 5,000 E-ZPass accounts is a drop in the bucket for a state with 557,000 active subscribers. It amounts to less than 1 percent of the total. Even with those cancellations, more people have signed up for E-ZPass service over the last several months than dropped it.

What's particularly stunning is that of the state agency's 72,000 E-ZPass accounts that are inactive (meaning people who haven't used their transponder over the past year), only about 2,000 chose to discontinue the service. Think about that: People are willing to pay $13 a year just for the rare chance they'll need it.

Of course, they may also be procrastinators. But either explanation suggests the vast majority of people aren't in an uproar at all. They're probably not miffed, bent out of shape or even sulking.

Even with a $13 annual charge, E-ZPass remains too good a deal - especially for frequent users - to send customers packing. The discounted tolls alone mean the next dozen or so crossings of the Fort McHenry Tunnel more than make up for a year's worth of fees.

But there's also the matter of time savings. E-ZPass commuters get through the toll plaza much faster; they aren't stuck in a line of travelers fishing through their wallets and purses.

Nobody likes to pay more to travel, not for fuel, insurance, repairs and certainly not tolls. When the Maryland Transportation Authority announced the new fee - as well as an increase in tolls (most of it directed at truckers) - it was easy enough to understand the rationale. Without the new revenue, the authority's ability to repay its bonds was put at risk. Toll collectors up and down the East Coast have taken similar steps in recent months.

Of course, tolls in Maryland could have been raised further and for everyone equally. But then people would be complaining about the tremendous subsidy given E-ZPass users, a service that has its own administrative costs. It was time they started paying their fair share - and apparently, even they agree.

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