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E-ZPass

E-ZPass is an electronic toll collection system used on most tolled roads, bridges, and tunnels in the northeastern United States. Twenty-four agencies spread across 13 states make up the E-ZPass Interagency Group (IAG) All member agencies use the same technology, allowing travelers to use the same E-ZPass transponder throughout the IAG network. Various independent systems that use the same technology have been integrated into the E-ZPass system. These include Fast Lane in Massachusetts, Smart Tag in Virginia, I-Pass in Illinois, i-Zoom in Indiana, and the defunct M-Tag in Maryland.

Functionality

Within the IAG, each member agency has its own billing and customer service center; all customer service centers are connected by a secure network (the "reciprocity network"). The agencies also set their own customer account policies. Areas of variation include the refundable deposit or nonrefundable charge for a tag, periodic maintenance fees, paper statement fees, the low account threshold, and replenishment amounts. E-ZPass is usually offered as a debit account: tolls are deducted from prepayments made by the users. Users may opt to have prepayments automatically deposited when their account is low, or they may submit prepayments manually. For commercial accounts, some agencies allow postpaid plans with a security deposit (which effectively renders them much like prepaid accounts with a different replenishment policy).

Several agencies offer discounted tolls to E-ZPass customers. The details vary widely, and can include general discounts for all E-ZPass users, variable pricing discounts for off-peak hours, commuter plans with minimum usage levels, flat rate plans offering unlimited use for a period of time, carpool plans for high-occupancy vehicles, and resident plans for those living near particular toll facilities. Many of these plans are only available to customers whose tags are issued by the agency that owns the toll facility in question. (Reciprocity only applies to tag acceptance, not to discounts.) Three authorities in New England (Maine, the Massachusetts Turnpike, and New Hampshire) restrict even their general discounts to their own respective tagholders.

E-ZPass tags are battery powered RFID transponders, made exclusively by Mark IV Industries Corp - IVHS Division They communicate with reader equipment built into lane-based or open road toll collection lanes. The most common type of tag is mounted on the inside of the vehicle's windshield behind the rear-view mirror. Some vehicles have windshields that block RFID signals. For those vehicles, an externally-mountable tag is offered, typically designed to attach to the vehicle's front license plate mounting points.

Most E-ZPass lanes are converted manual toll lanes and must have fairly low speed limits for safety reasons (5 and 15 mph are typical). In some areas, however (typically recently built or retrofitted facilities), there is no need to slow down, as E-ZPass users utilize dedicated traffic lanes ("Express E-ZPass") outside the toll booth (examples include Delaware Route 1, Virginia's Pocahontas Parkway, the express lanes of the Atlantic City Expressway and Garden State Parkway, and the Pennsylvania Turnpike's Warrendale and Mid-County (I-476) Toll Plazas). In addition, Illinois is undertaking a US$730 million project to add open road tolling for IPass/E-ZPass users at every toll plaza on the Tollway system; a few plazas, such as the 163rd Street Toll Plaza on the Tri-State Tollway, already had a similar high-speed setup called IPass Express and will get more lanes in the Open Road Tolling project.

Each E-ZPass tag is specifically programmed for a particular class of vehicle, and while any valid, working tag will be read and accepted in any E-ZPass toll lane, the wrong toll amount will be charged if the tag's programmed vehicle class does not match the vehicle. This will result in a violation and possible large fine assessed to the tag holder, especially if a lower-class (e.g., passenger car) tag is being used in a higher-class vehicle such as a bus or truck. In an attempt to avoid this, E-ZPass tags for commercial vehicles are blue in color, contrasting with the white tags assigned to standard passenger vehicles. The blue E-ZPass is also used in government employee vehicles. In the New York metro area, an orange E-ZPass is issued to emergency vehicles and to MTA and PANYNJ employees.

Some agencies have imposed periodic account maintenance fees on their subscribers. After New Jersey began losing money with the E-ZPass system, a monthly account fee of $1.00 was implemented on July 15, 2002 and is still in effect. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey also charges a monthly account fee of $1.00. The Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority imposed a monthly account fee starting on July 1, 2005 claiming to defray the administrative costs. However, as such a fee was considered to threaten the efficiency of moving traffic faster with lower tolls, New York State Republican Senator Michael Balboni sponsored Bill S06331 to prohibit administrative service fees on E-ZPass accounts. The Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority repealed the monthly account fee on June 1 2006.

Some agencies, instead of charging periodic account fees, charge a one-time fee between $20.00 and $30.00 for each new transponder, including the Delaware Department of Transportation, the New Hampshire Department of Transportation, and the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority. One agency, the Delaware River and Bay Authority, is now charging multiple fees. In a press release dated July 17, 2007, the DRBA stated: "Beginning January 1, 2008, all DRBA E-ZPass account holders will be charged an account management fee of $1.50 per month. The transponder cost will also be passed on to E-ZPass customers for each new transponder."

Some agencies that do not charge a monthly account fee or an initial fee for the transponder include the Maryland Transportation Authority, the Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission, the Buffalo and Fort Erie Public Bridge Authority and the Illinois State Toll Highway Authority. The Illinois I-PASS system does charge a $10 deposit for each transponder. The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission charges an annual account fee of $3.00. However, PTC transponders are free and there are no other fees. E-ZPass users are not required to maintain their account with an agency in their home state. Subscribers can open an E-ZPass account with any member of the IAG regardless of residency. This means that users have the option of choosing an agency based on the fees that it charges, effectively allowing them to circumvent transponder and account maintenance fees.

E-ZPass On-The-Go

E-ZPass On-The-Go is a packaged E-ZPass transponder loaded with $25 in toll funds that are valid immediately. The first $15 is available instantly; customers can access their remaining $10 when they register their transponders with the issuing E-ZPass agency within several days of first using their tags.

On-The-Go tags are available at retail locations.

History

The notion of electronic tolling had been considered as early as the 1980s, particularly in the New York metropolitan area. The tolling agencies of New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania — which constitute two-thirds of the United States' $3 billion a year toll industry — sought to create a compatible electronic tolling technology that could be used on the toll roads and bridges of the three states, in an effort to reduce congestion on some of the busiest roadways and toll plazas in the United States. In 1991, the E-ZPass IAG was created to develop an interoperable system, and involved the participation and cooperation of seven independent toll agencies — The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission, The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, The New Jersey Turnpike Authority, The New Jersey Highway Authority (operator of the Garden State Parkway at the time), the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the New York State Thruway Authority, and the South Jersey Transportation Authority (operator of the Atlantic City Expressway).

Under the direction of Peter Tufo, the Chairman of the New York State Thruway from 1989-1996, E-ZPass was first deployed on the Thruway at the Spring Valley toll plaza on August 3, 1993. Over the following three and a half years, the New York State Thruway Authority (NYSTA) installed electronic toll collection equipment, in stages, along the Thruway. By February 6, 1997, E-ZPass had been installed along the entire length of the corridor.

Meanwhile, various other agencies began work on similar electronic toll collecting facilities. This resulted in the emergence of other networks:

  • The MassPass system used in Massachusetts, now changed to the compatible Fast Lane.
  • The I-Pass system used in Illinois.
  • The Smart Tag system used in Virginia, integrated in 2005 and rebranded E-ZPass in 2007.
  • The TransPass system used in Maine, since replaced by the E-ZPass system.
  • The M-Tag system used in Maryland, integrated into and rebranded E-ZPass in 2001.

Originally, these systems were not interchangeable with E-ZPass. However, since most of them use the same technology (or have since converted over to a compatible technology), all of them have been incorporated into the E-ZPass network. Though several still retain their own brand name for their own facilities, users of those systems can use E-ZPass and vice versa.

Until 2005, drivers crossing the Peace Bridge between Fort Erie, Ontario and Buffalo, New York paid a toll before crossing to Canada. Following upgrades to the border crossings in 2005, drivers instead pay a toll on the Canadian side of the Peace Bridge after clearing Canadian customs. This is the only E-ZPass toll booth outside of the United States. The toll goes to the Buffalo and Fort Erie Public Bridge Authority, a bi-national agency that is charged to maintain the international bridge.

The E-ZPass system continues to expand. The Indiana Toll Road Concessions Corporation has upgraded its toll plazas to include E-ZPass functionality on the Indiana East-West Toll Road, while the Ohio Turnpike Commission plans to upgrade their system to be compatible with E-ZPass by October 2009 for the Ohio Turnpike (I-76, I-80, I-90). The Indiana Toll Road Concession Company brands their E-ZPass program as I-Zoom; Ohio will use the E-ZPass brand name. On July 26, 2007, the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority announced it is planning to install the E-ZPass system by 2009 at the state's only toll barrier on the Claiborne Pell Newport Bridge.

E-ZPass ETC transponders do not work on all toll roads in the U.S. Currently, the E-ZPass electronic toll-collection system (as well as the other ETC systems that are part of the E-Zpass network) are not compatible with Florida systems (including SunPass and EPass), California's FasTrak, or other ETC systems outside of the E-ZPass operating regions.

E-ZPass Plus

For E-ZPass subscribers who replenish their accounts with a major credit card (i.e., American Express, Discover Card, MasterCard or VISA), the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey offers an E-ZPass option to pay for parking at three Port Authority airportsJohn F. Kennedy International Airport, LaGuardia Airport and Newark Liberty International Airport – through a program known as E-ZPass Plus. This program is also available at Albany International Airport in Albany, New York and the Atlantic City International Airport near Atlantic City, New Jersey.

The parking payment is debited from the prepaid E-ZPass account if the parking fee is less than $20. If it is more than $20, the amount is charged directly to the credit card used to replenish the E-ZPass account.

The Port Authority reports that drivers save an average of 15 seconds by opting to pay for airport parking using E-ZPass.

Subscribers who replenish their E-ZPass accounts with cash or a check cannot participate in this program. Additionally, this service is only available to customers with one of the following E-ZPass accounts: New York (PANYNJ, MTA or NYS Thruway), New Jersey, Delaware DOT, Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission, Delaware River and Bay Authority, or Maryland.

Other non-toll uses for E-ZPass

In Atlantic City, New Jersey drivers can park at the New York Avenue Garage and the Atlantic Avenue Surface Lot and pay for their parking by E-ZPass Plus.

Although not part of the EZPass-Plus promotion, E-ZPass users may also pay for parking at Pittsburgh International Airport. The E-ZPass transponder is used for identification only.

E-ZPass was tested by some McDonald's restaurants on Long Island, New York, at which drive-through customers were given the option to pay using their E-ZPass accounts. This program has ended.

The New York State Fair offered E-ZPass Plus as a payment option at two of its parking lots for the first time in 2007, and offered the service again for the 2008 season. The service was administered by the New York State Thruway Authority (NYSTA), and motorists' E-ZPass accounts were charged the same $5 parking fee that cash customers were charged. Unlike other E-ZPass Plus implementations, the State Fair systems charged motorists at the parking lot entrances; drivers opting to pay by E-ZPass Plus used dedicated "E-ZPass Plus Only" lanes. Since the parking lots are only in use for the twelve days of the State Fair, mobile, self-contained E-ZPass units were used to process vehicles. The units were mounted on trailers with a collapsible gantry for the E-ZPass antennas, used a cellular wireless connection to send transactions to the NYSTA backoffice system, and were powered by batteries that were kept replenished by photovoltaic solar panels, with a generator for backup.

Technology details

The E-ZPass system is part of a much larger US DOT ITS set of projects.

The E-ZPass technology can be used not only for toll collection, but also allows vehicles to become "probes." In commercial vehicles, it is envisioned as an "automated vehicle identification" electronic license plate.

In U.S. commercial vehicles, it is envisioned that with the advent of a federalized driver's license, a mechanism will be provided to individual drivers to use their commercial drivers licenses to identify themselves to a vehicle's E-ZPass transponder. This will allow not only weigh in motion measurements for the vehicle class, but also updates of the transponder's memory for determining the current driver of the vehicle.

This is why the E-ZPass transponder implements a read/write technology, as opposed to read-only, which would suffice if its intended purpose was solely for toll collection.

In 1991, the original seven agencies jointly adopted an interagency policy statement that endorsed a plan to procure a unified and compatible system of tags and readers. The plan sought to ensure that one automatic vehicle identification toll tag could be used for travel throughout the entire region. The testing and selection of an electronic toll collection system motivated the representatives from these toll agencies to form the E-ZPass IAG.

The first obstacle that the E-ZPass IAG members had to overcome was the issue of whether to purchase a read-only or a read-write system. The agencies with open-system tollbooths (that collect a fixed toll) only needed read-only technology. The toll authorities with closed (distance-based) toll systems desired the read-write technology so that they could track entry as well as exit points of their customers. Additionally, all recognized that if an electronic toll collection system was to migrate to the communications methods required for advanced traffic management and traveler information systems, the electronic tags must be capable of two-way communications. After a period of negotiations, the members reached a consensus and selected the read-write technology.

The data generated by the TRANSMIT project is a key component of the Model Deployment Initiative. When merged with other data supplied by the TRANSCOM member agencies, it will form the basis for providing accurate, up-to-date, and much-needed travel information to the commuting public.

TRANSCOM members, many of whom are also involved with the E-ZPass effort, saw the benefits of building incident detection and congestion monitoring functions upon the E-ZPass system. Additional readers could be installed along the highway to provide TRANSCOM with regional incident detection and congestion management data. The members postulated that, while maintaining customer anonymity and confidentiality, vehicles participating in the E-ZPass system could be used as probes to detect congestion and incidents and assess such factors as vehicle speed and travel times. Therefore, they moved forward to assess the feasibility of and to design an advanced traffic management system operational test based on electronic toll collection technology.

TRANSCOM members reasoned that, if the operational test was successful, it could ultimately provide the region an extensive traffic surveillance system at a reasonable incremental increase over the cost of providing electronic toll and traffic management for toll collection only.

Privacy concerns

Civil liberties and privacy rights advocates have expressed concern about how the position data gathered through E-ZPass is used. As of August 2007, several states that employ E-ZPass have provided electronic toll information in response to court orders in civil cases, including divorces and other non-criminal matters.

Account fees by agency

A potential subscriber may establish an account with any IAG member agency regardless of residency. Some E-ZPass agencies charge various fees.
E-ZPass agency Initial fee for each tag Periodic account maintenance fee Minimum balance to establish account Deposit held on each tag Notes
Delaware Department of Transportation $25 None $25 None
Delaware River and Bay Authority (Delaware/New Jersey) $21 $1.50 per month $25 None The DRBA is the only E-ZPass agency so far that charges both an initial fee for the tag and an account maintenance fee.
Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission (Pennsylvania/New Jersey) None None $25 $10 If automatic replenishment by means of credit/debit card is chosen, tag deposit is waived.
Illinois State Toll Highway Authority I-Pass Program None None $40 $10
Indiana East-West Toll Road I-Zoom Program $7 $1 per month $40 $10 While there is no charge for the tag itself, the I-Zoom program does charge a "shipment fee" of $7 for each new tag sent to the customer. Tags purchased at service plazas and other retail locations are sold with a lesser $2 "retail convenience fee" and a $38 starting toll balance for a $50 retail price.
Maine Department of Transportation $25 None $20 None
Maryland Transportation Authority None None $25 $10 If automatic replenishment by means of credit/debit card is chosen, tag deposit is waived.
Massachusetts Turnpike Authority Fast Lane Program $25.95 None $20 None
New Hampshire Department of Transportation $24.61 None $30 None
New Jersey E-ZPass Customer Service Center None $1 per month $25 $10 If automatic replenishment by means of credit/debit card is chosen, tag deposit is waived.
New York State Thruway Authority None None $25 $10 If automatic replenishment by means of credit/debit card is chosen, tag deposit is waived.
Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission None $3 per year $35 $25 If automatic replenishment by means of credit/debit card is chosen, tag deposit is waived.
Peace Bridge Authority (New York/Ontario) None None $25 $10 If automatic replenishment by means of credit/debit card is chosen, tag deposit is waived.
Port Authority of New York and New Jersey None $1 per month $25 $10 If automatic replenishment by means of credit/debit card is chosen, tag deposit is waived.
Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority (City of New York, NY) None None $25 $10 If automatic replenishment by means of credit/debit card is chosen, tag deposit is waived.
Virginia Department of Transportation None None $35 $25 The Virginia DOT discourages non-Virginia residents from joining its program. If automatic replenishment by means of ACH bank transfer is chosen, tag deposit is waived.
West Virginia Turnpike None None $25 - $285 $10 When setting up a new account, subscribers must choose a quarterly or annual plan in which they will use the West Virginia Turnpike through some or all of the toll plazas. After paying for the plan in advance, subscribers may then use the Turnpike through the chosen plazas on an unlimited basis. If subscribers intend to use E-ZPass toll facilities outside of West Virginia they must establish an additional balance of at least $20 to pay for tolls incurred on foreign facilities.

List of E-ZPass agencies

The following agencies accept E-ZPass at their toll facilities:

List of roadways, bridges, and tunnels that accept E-ZPass

The following tolled roads, bridges, and tunnels accept E-ZPass.

Canada

United States

See also

References

External links

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