Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Get E-ZPass

Tip #215 - Get E-ZPass. If you drive along I-95 frequently, you know how bad the backups can be, oftentimes right near the toll plazas. To help avoid some of this backup, you should purchase an E-ZPass electronic toll transponder card. You put money on the card and when you go through the toll plaza, the system subtracts the correct amount of money for the toll. There’s no looking for coins, no dealing with a person at the toll booth, or waiting in line for the person in front of you asking directions. Instead an electronic sensor “reads” your transponder card as you zip through the tollbooth, and you are on your way in a flash.

E-ZPass is one of the biggest electronic toll systems in the USA – It covers the entire Northeast corridor from Maine to Virginia and also the Midwestern states of West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois. There are also some smaller statewide systems in other states such as the SunPass in Florida, K-Tag in Kansas, FasTrak in California, and TxTag in Texas. In the past many of the states now in the E-ZPass system were in their own state systems but integrated themselves into EZ Pass. Hopefully, in the future, E-ZPass will start to cover more states so there won’t be a need to have more than one transponder card on your windshield if you drive through many states.

The benefits of E-ZPass besides being a time-saver driving through the tollbooths is that some toll plazas give a discount on the toll charged if you use E-ZPass. The other savings come from the amount of gas and wear and tear on your car you save by not waiting in long lines with your engine running.

There can be costs associated with E-ZPass, however. The way the system works is that many state highway systems offer the E-ZPass and each one offers it for a different fee schedule. Sometimes there is an initial fee to buy the tag, an initial deposit for each tag, and then a minimum balance to establish the account. As the balance is used up, it is automatically replenished from your credit or debit card. Some places have the subscriber pay a $1.00 monthly fee or a $3.00 annual fee while others don’t place fees on the subscriber at all. Paying a $1.00 fee per month may not result in a cost savings for you so when you sign up, make sure you do so with one that has lower or no fees. When you go to E-ZPass’s site, it will ask you for your state of residence or where you drive most frequently. Then it will take you to that highway’s site and have you sign up there. Rather than do that, sign up through the following sites, which offer E-ZPass with no extra fees. Then you can enjoy the financial- and time-saving benefits without paying for them.

These jurisdictions offer the lowest fees that I could find:
Massachusetts Turnpike Authority Fast Lane Program
New York State Thruway Authority
Peace Bridge Authority (New York – must be a NY resident or Canadian resident to use this)
Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority (New York)
Virginia Department of Transportation
West Virginia Turnpike

None of the above had an initial cost to buy the transponder and had no monthly fees. Some of them had fees for monthly statements sent through the mail, but I’m guessing they could be waived if you do the statements electronically. Each state has a different fee structure and they seem to change with some frequency. I was able to obtain some of this information from the bottom of the Wikipedia entry on E-ZPass so if you want to read more about the E-ZPass system, check it out.

In Real Life (IRL)
– Our family often takes the scenic route without tolls to get to our destinations. We like the slower pace, the lack of tolls, and the ability to pull over easily. But the tolls are hard to avoid everywhere so on a given car trip we often pay at least one toll per way.

With my family in Pennsylvania, my husband’s extended family in Massachusetts, and us living in Virginia, we drive through toll plazas pretty frequently. Having three little children, the time and sanity the E-ZPass system saves when we drive through the tolls cannot be underestimated. When we signed up for the system many years ago, we did it through the New York State Thruway Authority. At the time, Maryland and Virginia weren’t even part of E-ZPass. When we told my parents about it the system tried to have them sign up through Pennsylvania, because when my dad went to the E-ZPass website and it asked him where he lived, that’s what he said. However, the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission charges $3 per year for the privilege of having E-ZPass, and while I still think it would be worth $3 for all of the time savings involved, why pay $3 per year if you don’t have to? We had him sign up through the Peace Bridge Authority.

We LOVE using E-ZPass. In the past, more discounts were given through the tollbooths if you used E-ZPass – not so much anymore. But when we see a backup by any of the toll plazas, and we go through a dedicated E-ZPass lane, the discount becomes secondary. The discounts are still given in certain places in Massachusetts, New York, and New Jersey, however, so if you drive in those places often, E-ZPass is even more worth it.

If you live in anywhere from the Northeast to the Mid-Atlantic, I cannot imagine not get an E-ZPass, the time savings are great, and if you sign up smartly to avoid fees, the money savings are an added benefit.


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