Ever since New Hampshire started using the E-ZPass system in 2005 to let drivers pay tolls electronically, it has given local drivers — and anyone else who bought an E-ZPass device from New Hampshire — a 30 percent break on tolls.
The state adopted the system to encourage local drivers to use the electronic devices rather than tokens, which also were sold at a steep discount, says state Bill Boynton, a spokesman for the New Hampshire Department of Transportation. By that measure, the move largely succeeded. Two-thirds of drivers on its toll roads now use E-ZPass, and congestion at toll booths has been reduced.
The arrangement may favor locals, but anyone can buy an E-ZPass transponder from New Hampshire to get the discount.
But AAA, the national group of drivers, wants states like New Hampshire to stop playing favorites with E-ZPass, which is used by tolling agencies in 14 states. The group sent a letter Tuesday (April 17) to the umbrella agency that coordinates the system arguing that the different treatment was “unfair.”
Robert Darbelnet, AAA's president, said in the letter that the practice “also flies in the face of the underlying promise of E-ZPass, which you state is ‘to provide the public with a seamless, accurate, interoperable electronic method of paying tolls and fees.'”
There is “no reason,” he argued, to charge drivers with out-of-state transponders more, since the costs of providing the road and collecting the toll for in-state and out-of-state drivers are “identical.”
The motorists' group shared the letter during testimony at a U.S. Senate hearing Wednesday on tolling. The hearing was chaired by U.S. Senator Frank Lautenberg, a New Jersey Democrat, who used the meeting chiefly to criticize the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey for recent toll hikes on its Hudson River crossings.
But a separate move from the New Jersey Turnpike Authority prompted the latest uproar over the different rates for different states' drivers. Last year, it eliminated off-peak discounts for vehicles with out-of-state transponders. Now, according to AAA, the maximum a car with a New Jersey E-ZPass would pay to travel the turnpike is $10.40, while someone with an out-of-state device would pay $13.85.
P.J. Wilkins, executive director of the E-ZPass Interagency Group, told Stateline he would not respond to the letter until he formally received a copy. But he said the practice is “nothing new.”
“Agencies have been charging different toll rates and having different discount plans since E-ZPass started,” he said. “But it's become an issue now, and it's one we will discuss going forward.”
Maine, New York, Rhode Island and West Virginia also charge higher tolls for motorists with transponders bought in other states, according to AAA. The largest percentage difference is in Rhode Island. There, motorists with local transponders pay 83 cents to cross a bridge, while out-of-staters must pay $4.
E-ZPass covers states from Illinois to Virginia to Maine. But the coalition is also in talks with tolling authorities in Southern states, which could lead to a unified tolling system from Florida to Maine.