State starts testing new electronic toll system on the Tobin in advance of summer rollout

MassDOT said today it's begun firing up the new toll system that will replace the current Tobin toll plaza this summer:

The cameras and technology, necessary to collect tolls at the posted speed limit, are in place as motorists exit the Tobin Bridge to Rutherford Ave or Interstate 93 (customers may notice a flash associated with this testing). MassDOT will work to limit the intensity of the flash by altering the ambient lighting at the toll collection site. The cameras are capturing license plate images which will allow MassDOT to bill vehicle owners who do not have an E-ZPass transponder.

This initial testing phase includes testing the clarity of the images captured by the technology, checking connections to the back office computers and the interface with the Registry of Motor Vehicles. The testing will also compare actual collection at the existing toll plaza with the tolls recorded by the AET system; allow MassDOT to evaluate performance during periods of peak congestion and to also account for varying weather conditions.



    Free tagging: 


    It costs $ to keep it open

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    Yes, but then who should pay to maintain the bridge? Property owners in Springfield or people who actually drive over the bridge?


    Business and commerce require

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    Business and commerce require bridges and roads. Is Springfield self-sustaining? I don't think so. Do you think anyone who doesn't use the Tobin should request a special tax exemption? I personally don't drive over it, but I'm sure one way or another as a citizen of Mass. I'm paying for it and plenty of other things I personally do not use. That's called society. Look it up.


    and you pay one way or another...

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    as was demonstrated for me just this morning. Thanks in large part to the despicable condition of the roads around here, I am about to fork over what would amount to many years worth of tolls for an alignment and new front end suspension components.

    Toll Plaza

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    I'm still wondering how they plan ripping out the old Toll Plaza. The bridge is already a mess with painting..

    Yay for AET!

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    All-electronic tolling cannot come soon enough to every tolled road in the country. Here's to hoping that the implementation here in Massachusetts goes very smoothly.


    Mandatory EZ Pass

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    Why not make EZ Pass mandatory for all MA cars, and get rid of tollbooths? You can charge some exorbitant amount to out-of-staters who don't have the passes.

    We already need license, registration, tags, insurance, etc to have a car, plus tolls, excise taxes, gas taxes - what's one more expense.

    The New Toll Technology Being Deployed Makes That Unnecessary

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    The new toll gantries have license plate reading cameras. Traffic never needs to slow down, and the gantry cameras eliminate any need for tollbooths.

    Drivers who don't have EZ-Pass transponders will be sent bills for their tolls in the mail. Just like parking tickets, people will need to pay up to renew their licenses.

    Because it costs more to send out toll bills, there's an additional charge if you don't have EZ-Pass. However, people can still choose not to get one if they wish.


    Yes there are cameras, but the state would prefer more EZ Passes

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    what you say is absolutely true, but it is very expensive for the state to send those bills (see the CA, FL experiences, among others) and they want to avoid having to do so (for some reason that I don't understand, apparently the penalties are not necessarily going to be high enough to offset the costs in the aggregate). Requiring EZ passes for all MA registered cars would ensure that almost all of the billing would be for out-of-state drivers, which would significantly cut down on the expense, and allow more revenue to be kept in the transportation system.

    And before everyone gets all excited about out-of-state scofflaws, there are (and will be for those currently without) agreements in place with most other states for enforcement.

    An EZ-Pass Requires Pre-Depositing Funds Into The Account

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    It would be unreasonable to require that of everyone with a registered vehicle. Nor should drivers be required to have a credit card to use public highways. There are people who seldom venture far from home and rarely if ever used a tolled facility.

    However, I do think it's reasonable that the additional charge for those without EZ-Pass be high enough for the state to recoup whatever extra it costs for their billing.

    It's actually very simple

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    You tack the EZ-Pass deposit onto the registration fee. Not unreasonable at all, especially given the amount of extra money many people in this state are willing to pay to get and maintain specialty license plates.

    And a credit card is only required for EZ-Pass if you choose the "automatic replenishment" option for payment (i.e., adding funds if your balance gets below a certain level). Tacking a one-time deposit onto a person's registration fee would be sufficient for the majority of infrequent users.


    How about this?

    Road use tax, based on vehicle size and number of miles driven (as verified at inspection).

    The more you drive and the larger the vehicle, the more you pay. It would be a simple and fair way to go.

    They're pushing for this in

    They're pushing for this in NC right now, but I remain skeptical. As compared to gas taxes and tolls, it seems to present a much higher potential for fraud, and if it replaces/reduces the gas tax, that also removes an incentive against buying a gas-guzzler.

    How so?

    it seems to present a much higher potential for fraud

    I'm not sure I follow this - at every yearly inspection, they record the mileage. (Perhaps NC doesn't inspect every vehicle yearly like MA does) That information can be combined with the gross weight of the vehicle (based on make and model and VIN) to calculate your road use tax for the year.

    So, a subcompact might pay $0.0075 per mile, a compact car $0.01 a midsize vehicle like a minivan $0.0125 and a big SUV $0.015 per mile (road damage does scale with weight). Meaning $100 per year road tax for a compact going 10,000 miles a year.

    Or something like that. Given the yearly inspection, I don't see a huge chance for cheating it.

    I would imagine people

    I would imagine people fraudulently recording the mileage wrong, if they know someone who owns a garage, or own a garage themselves. If you've got an old car that you're planning to junk, you could get away with this for years. Or you could just adjust the odometer manually. Yes, it's a crime, but if you live in the sort of town where everybody knows everybody and the chief of police is willing to look the other way, you could get away with it.

    Or, if there's some provision for out-of-state miles, that would present a whole other opportunity for fraud. If there isn't, then it hardly seems fair to pay a Massachusetts (or North Carolina) road tax on a road trip to California.

    The Mileage Is Already Reported To The Insurance Companies

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    My insurance company automatically gives me the maximum discount for low-mileage, based on the odometer reading reported at the annual state inspection; it's not something that can be easily cheated. Since the state is already the middleman in that transaction, it wouldn't take much more to implement a system of usage-based fees to help fund construction and maintenance of all highways, proportionally by those drivers who use them the most.

    Not politically feasible?

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    I understand the notion, but in reality, I think that the people out there would be surprised to learn that they have enough political clout to stop it. After all, Dan Bosley isn't what he used to be.

    Your choice of those two communities is particularly interesting though. I think that many folks in western MA in general, and in the NW corner in particular, would be particularly sensitive to ensuring there is enough money to maintain roads - life was pretty damned hard for many of them when Rt. 2 was out of commission for months after Irene. Further, they have no viable transportation alternative unless we're going to restart passenger service through the Hoosac Tunnel (a long term dream of mine as I have a particular affinity for the area surrounding our own little portion of the Green Mountains). I suppose it's possible that everyone has access to aircraft at Harriman and West but I'm doubtful.

    Driving Through Florida (On The Mohawk Trail)

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    I grew up at the other end of Route 2, in Troy, and have traveled its path along the Taconic Trail and Mohawk Trail hundreds of times. Some of my earliest highway memories are "foliage tours" that my father would take my grandmother and us on; things like going around the hairpin turn and stopping to climb the overlook towers atop the triple summits of Florida.

    In more recent years, I discovered the lovely drive along the Deerfield River, north to eventually connect with Route 9 in Vermont. (Starting from Route 2, turn north at the eastern side of the Indian Head bridge.) Just follow the river and railroad (there's not really a route number) and before long you'll reach the portal of the Hoosac tunnel!

    Continue going north along the river and there are even more spectacular sights to behold; so many, that I can't even begin to describe how fabulous a journey it is!

    a beautiful part of the world, indeed.

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    and if you dropped most people who have lived here their whole lives in the middle of it, my guess is the vast majority of them would have no idea that they were still in Massachusetts.

    Credit card not required.

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    Part of the AET roll-out contemplates the stationing of Charlie Card-type machines in locations around the state (like CVS) to allow users to insert cash to top-up their EZ-passes. The model is Florida, where the machines are in Publix stores. It has been very successful.

    Truthfully, its a pretty big and expensive sop to the incredibly small number of people who don't have a credit card, but the decision has been taken to make getting an EZ-pass as easy as possible and this is part of that effort.

    Regarding reasonableness, I don't understand why requiring a vehicle to display an EZ-pass on a vehicle is any more unreasonable than requiring a vehicle to display a license plate (don't say tracking - any concerns about that, which are way overblown, can be easily mitigated both physically and legally).

    Good points, but where have we heard

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    that one before. Oh right - when the MBTA first proposed automated fare collection in 2005. The original plan was that everyone would use RFID cards that could not only pay your T fare, but you could also use to buy things at participating stores. You would recharge those cards at local stores, and cash payment on buses and for one time payment (what became the CharlieTicket) would eventually be a thing of the past.

    Well, seven years after the initial rollout of automated fare collection, not only has this NOT yet happened, but the MBTA has apparently abandoned the concept entirely.

    So, forgive me for not holding my breath regarding having a Florida-like plan for increasing EZ-Pass implementation in Massachusetts

    right again, roadman, but...

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    Understood and appreciated, but as you know perhaps better than most of us, and I hope will agree, the driving constituency has significantly more pull, and gets far more attention than the transit riding constituency.

    Because A License Plate Achieves The Same Functionality

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    There are costs involved with transponders, including of course, the transponder itself. It would be a huge waste of money to require every vehicle to have one, when all you need is a license plate; every vehicle already has one of those.

    Perhaps you missed the memo about the new toll gantries having the ability to charge tolls by simply reading a license plate. I would expect that eventually, transponders won't be needed at all, even for people with EZ-Pass accounts.

    The new (three years ago) A-25 bridge north of Montreal works that way; you can set up a prepaid account with or without a transponder. It can be cheaper if you opt for a transponder (depending on how often you use it), but a plate-reading-only account is still cheaper than not having a prepaid account at all. Drivers can choose what works best for their own needs.

    I agree it's a good idea to have "top off machines" where people can use cash to replenish their accounts. For that matter, it would be nice if the entire Charlie Card and EZ-Pass systems were merged into one. Besides being able to recharge EZ-Pass from a Charlie Card machine, it might also lead to innovative incentives for people to switch to mass transit when highways are most congested.

    Inevitably though, there will be people who let their accounts run dry. They'll need to be sent bills, just like the people with no account at all. Just make sure that the added charge for such billings fully covers their added cost.

    I don't see any advantage to angering a large segment of drivers by requiring them to have a prepaid account. If some people want the choice of paying a higher toll instead of signing up for EZ-Pass, why shouldn't they be able to?

    You should take this example to DOT

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    because apparently, our system is not going to be set up to allow pre-paid accounts to be linked to plates. I am also unaware of any of the US AET systems having that functionality, which might explain why MA is apparently not doing it (interoperability issues - as it is now, there is an effort to standardize the EZ pass system used in the Northeast with other non- EZPass systems around the country, and it's apparently quite a cluster).

    Question though: your comment focuses on resistance to having an EZ pass. Why would the people who resist an EZPass feel any better about having to have an account linked their plate?

    In any case, the problem remains though until the state is willing to charge the full cost recovery for using the charge-by-plate option.

    When EZ-Pass first became widespread

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    most toll agencies would charge a monthly fee for the privldge of having the transponder. While some agencies still charge this fee, most of them have dropped it as an incentive to get more people to sign up to use the system.

    You have the history

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    You have the history backwards.

    When E-ZPass started, there were no monthly fees. Then once people got used to it, and governments realized it cost more to operate than they planned, they started adding fees.

    The only agencies that ever removed monthly fees were Massachusetts (due to the backlash from the massive Easter 2009 traffic jam), and the various New York agencies (because the legislature banned fees). Besides that, the trend has been to add fees.

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    A plate-reading account still has a $1.04 monthly fee ($2.60/month without auto-replenishment). And they still ding you a $3.12 fee per crossing, on top of the toll.

    If video tolling is supposed to save money, why are the fees so high?

    A good idea - coming soon to a Commonwealth near you.

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    (and no, I'm not talking about PA or KY).

    It could easily be phased in like this:

    "Dear Driver - here's your registration sticker - and your new EZ-Pass. Please read the instructions on how you can pre-load funds onto it or link it to a credit card so you don't have to worry about doing so. Have a nice day. Drive carefully."


    Testing has been going on for a few weeks. Please make the headline more truthful, "MassDOT would like to push EZPass some more; please sign up for EZPass"

    Once bugs are worked out.

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    State has plans to add this system in other currently non-toll areas. Every road can be a toll road now.


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    The only plans I've heard are to make the existing pike and tunnel tolls cashless.

    No plans

    There's no plans. However, they did just finish up a study and ARE going to be drafting plans. It could potentially generate billions upon billions in taxes for just $1/car.

    What costs $1/car? An E

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    What costs $1/car? An E-ZPass costs about $20 wholesale. The roadside equipment to read it costs millions of dollars.

    A Nominal Toll Of Just $1 Per Car Will Generate Billions ...

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    … when the new "open-road" tolling gantries are installed at critical places around the state; for example, the Neponset River bridge. Of course, that would be a real bargain for South Shore drivers, compared to the $3.00 to $3.50 tolls that have long been imposed upon North Shore drivers.


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    There are no current plans for that to happen.

    The State has a plan to toll other roads, eh?

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    This would be nice if it was true, but it is not. Unless federal law is changed (we can only hope, but those cowards in Congress will do nothing to fix the problem that, once again, they have helped create) the Commonwealth is prohibited from tolling (at least) interstate highways other than the turnpike (which predates the interstate system).

    Want to get pissed off about something worthwhile? Try this: we massively expanded a road (US 3) a major function of which is to allow people living in southern New Hampshire to more easily access the tens of thousands of jobs along 128. This would be well and good (yay for regional development! Federal dollars helped pay for it!), however, the road is tolled in NH, but the people from NH who are happily enjoying the benefits of being close to eastern MA's dynamic economy are also blissfully free from paying tolls in MA. The same goes for I-95.


    The road is free in Nashua.

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    The road is free in Nashua. The tolls only start at Exit 10. Plus it's easy to skip the first toll if you take the Manchester Airport exit and then re-enter.

    Open Road Tolling

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    I think people hate tolls more because they have to stop to pay than because they have to pay them. Certainly that was my motive for getting a EZ Pass, even though I rarely use it. Breezing through the toll plazas is so much better than waiting in those ridiculous lines to hand over a couple of bucks. Then I went through the open road tolling at Hookset Plaza a couple of weeks ago and thought I'd get nailed for failing to pay it was so frictionless but when I checked my account it got debited for a buck each way. Magic.

    Yeah, I'm sure that some will say that will make it possible to raise tolls without people bitching about it. One way or another we got to pay for the roads. For those who want it at the Neponset Bridge or the Southeast Expressway, open road tolling makes that possible and I'm all for it.


    Open Road Tolling is a great idea

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    If a place like Texas can embrace and widely deploy the technology then I think that we can handle it.

    Waiting in long, inefficient queues just to pay is totally unnecessary and it's long past time we stopped pretending it's still the 1970s.

    Maybe someday the DOT will kindly extend the courtesy of this kind of convenience to bus and train riders, as many transit systems around the country and around the world already have done.

    (Who am I kidding?)