E-ZPass is Too Much Trouble

I got a letter from E-ZPass a few days ago which says that starting July 1, 2009 they’re adding a few new charges. I’d heard that the Maryland legislature had told them they could add fees, but I (rather naively) hoped smarter people would prevail.
I’m a casual user of the E-ZPass system. I use it a half-dozen or so times each year. For most of the year the Maryland Transportation Authority just kicks back and collects interest on my account balance.
The letter doesn’t spell out all the new fees, but visiting the Maryland E-ZPass web site, details of the new fees (PDF file) were only a few clicks away.

  • Monthly Account Charge.
    A monthly account charge of $1.50 will be deducted from all E-ZPass Maryland accounts.

    WTF*? The system saves them money (the E-ZPass lane has no toll collector), means fewer cars in the backups at the toll plazas, and also means fewer cars in that backup idling their engines and contributing their tailpipe emissions to the atmosphere. So because it’s good, they’re going to add a fee to discourage me from using it? WTF?

  • E-ZPass Transponders.
    All new or replacement devices must be purchased.

    If I have to buy the transponder, does that mean it’s now legally mine? (Previously, I believe it had to be returned.) And if I’m buying the transponder, what does that monthly fee cover? Executive compensation?

  • Commuter Discount Program.
    The duration of E-ZPass Maryland commuter discount plans will be reduced from 60 days to 45 days.

    Doesn’t affect me personally, but it still sounds like the people who use it are getting screwed. Shouldn’t they be encouraging people to use something that saves the Maryland Transportation Authority money?

  • E-ZPass Shoppers Plan for the Bay Bridge.
    A new Bay Bridge plan will be offered for Bay Bridge customers. The Shoppers Plan costs $10 and is good for 10 trips that may be used Sunday through Thursday only and expires after six months.

    Again, doesn’t affect me personally, but this may be the only positive in the thing

  • Notice of Toll Due.
    Traveling through any lane in the toll facility without providing sufficient payment for the toll due will cost $3 + toll due. The notice will be mailed to the registered owner of the vehicle.

    I don’t have a huge problem with the intention on this one; essentially it’s a penalty for not keeping your account in good shape. Similar to a bounced check fee in some ways. The problem is, this gives the people running the system an incentive to “forget” to replenish your account, or “accidentally” charge you in hopes that you won’t notice. Of course, as we all know, public officials are completely above that sort of behav… Damn. I couldn’t even hold a straight face while typing that.

  • Toll Violation Charge.
    Failure to pay the toll due by the deadline will result in a $25 fee in addition to the $3 + toll due.

    OK, so first off, you have a non-law enforcement authority issuing fines. That’s troublesome in and of itself, but nothing new. But in addition to the fine, there’s a fee for collecting the fine… That just seems stupid.

Screw it. This isn’t worth the added costs. I’m going to cancel my account.
* As you know, the ‘F’ in WTF means “Frak.” As in “What The Frak? Do they think I’m not going to notice a huge spike in what this thing costs?” If you prefer Farscape over Battlestar Galactica, you may substitute “Frell” for “Frak.”

6 thoughts on “E-ZPass is Too Much Trouble”

  1. Wow! It looks like they covered just about everything. The only one missing is a charge for closing your account; I’m sure it is quite expensive to set the account status to in-active and delete your credit card information from their system 🙂

  2. Well I called a few EZ Pass agencies in a few States. Turns out that you can get an EZ pass in any state and it will work on any toll road that accepts EZ Pass. Anyone who pays any fee for EZ Pass should call Indiana I Zoom (which is in the EZ Pass family). They will send you as many transponders as you want free. And there are NO FEES if you use a credit card and a checking account as a back up.
    Phone 1-888-iZoom90 (1-888-496-6690)
    I just don’t understand the logic of putting fees on something that saves the State money and manpower. Pass this message around. If enough of EZ Pass uses switch, I think the State will get the message..
    EZ Pass commuter

  3. Unfortunately, that’s not the way it’s been shaping up the past few years. Particularly when state budgets are tight — then EZ Pass becomes a “luxury item” and the states feel no qualms about imposing a fee for the privilege. (Suddenly all the talk about it being more efficient and environmentally friendly just evaporates….)
    My first EZ Pass was with New Jersey. Sometime in 2002 or 2003, there was a scandal about state highway money being mismanaged or misappropriated or otherwise misspent and they were moderately open about the EZ Pass fees being one of the ways they planned to make up for it.
    That’s when I switched to Maryland.
    The claim I’ve seen on various message boards (and I have no idea whether the claim is true) is that Maryland has to pay some sort of monthly maintenance fee per account and supposedly the new fees are supposed to cover that.
    But… I’ve also noticed that EZ Pass has different fees in different states. So I do agree that there is a benefit to shopping around. I hadn’t heard about Indiana, but Pennsylvania is a relative bargain at $3 per year.

  4. I am not 100% sure whether E-Z Passs actually saves the state money or not. While it is true that they are able to hire less toll collectors, on the other hand, since E-Z Pass users pay be credit card, they now have to pay a fee to Visa/Mastercard. On the other hand, they now have $35 of yours in advance which they collect interest on. So it is really hard to tell if they are actually making money on E-Z Pass vs. people who pay with cash.

  5. True, they do pay a fee to the credit card companies. But that’s been present all along. And this at least gives them a way to accept credit cards, you can imagine the chaos if they tried to accept them directly at the toll booth.
    This is similar to T-Mobile’s rate hike; they’re charging twice for a cost that was present all along.

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