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June 30, 2009

Fee slows, but doesn't stop, E-ZPass growth

E-ZPass toll lanes

Photo by Daniel Hulzhiser/2003


Despite customer anger over a new $1.50-a-month fee on E-ZPass accounts that just took effect, Maryland will begin July with more subscribers to the electronic toll collection service than it had on Jan. 1, a top official said Tuesday.

 Randy Brown, operations director of the Maryland Transportation Authority, said that a loss of about 19,000 subscribers who have dropped their accounts since the beginning of the year has been more than offset by a gain of 27,000 new customers.

 Brown said he expects to have about 544,000 E-ZPass account holders Wednesday — the first day the new fee was in effect — compared with about 535,000 on Jan. 1. That represents a slowing of the rate of growth in recent years, but not the reversal many customers predicted.

Brown said there had been a flurry of about 11,000 cancellations over the past two weeks after notices went out in the mail about the monthly fee and a new $21 charge for new or replacement transponders. The charges, along with a series of toll increases affecting mostly truckers, were announced shortly after New Year’s and formally adopted by the authority’s board in late January.

Authority officials said they proposed the revenue package to raise $60 million to fill a budget gap left by a decline in toll collections. The officials said they decided to impose the fee in order recover a portion of the cost of keeping an account open and billing customers.

According to Brown, the cost per customer of maintaining an account is about $2.25 — regardless of how much is collected in tolls. Brown said that as of the beginning of the year, about 72,000 E-ZPass subscribers had not used their transponders to pay any tolls in the previous 12 months. He said the state had to pay $1.9 million to keep those accounts open.

He defended the decision to impose the fee as “a good business move” even if some infrequentcustomers do cancel.

“It will have a minimal effect on traffic flow because these are not regular users,” Brown said. “The customer is just going to have to make their own business decision: Is the cost worth the benefit?”

 Apparently, some customers were making a late decision that it is not. Many posted comments on a Sun blog saying they would cancel their Maryland E-ZPasses and look for a better deal from another state. Authority spokeswoman Kelly Melhem said traffic was high on the agency’s Web site and customer call center but that there were no long lines at its walk-in centers at toll facilities.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 7:08 PM | | Comments (12)
Categories: Maryland toll facilities


Wonder how many of those were commuters? Don't know many who would pay $1.50 a month for something you can get for free elsewhere. Now Maryland will have to wait longer to get its money from all those out-of-state E-ZPass accounts (out-of-state transactions usually take several days to settle, in-state transactions settle within a day or so).

What difference does it make how much they increase the tolls? If people live north of the tunnels / bridge and work south or vice versa, they're going to have to drive through. State gotcha by the balls as usual.

"Brown said that as of the beginning of the year, about 72,000 E-ZPass subscribers had not used their transponders to pay any tolls in the previous 12 months. He said the state had to pay $1.9 million to keep those accounts open." >>>So how about only charging those who haven't used their account in a year, rather than punishing everyone else with those maintenance fees?

Why does it cost $2.25 per month to merely keep my account information in a database? The cost of keeping an account open should be negligible. They could even avoid sending account statements of any kind unless there has been account activity. They have also conveniently forgotten that E-ZPass saves money by reducing the cost of toll collector salaries and increasing the capacity of existing toll facilities. Fortunately, we can switch to out of state toll facilities that know how to control costs or understand the benefits of E-ZPass. I already did.

David from Baltimore

72,000 E-ZPass subscribers had not used their transponders to pay any tolls in the previous 12 months. He said the state had to pay $1.9 million to keep those accounts open.

That's $26.33 per year. What maintaining is there, data in the computer and it remains there until removed. Govt employees are real good a blowing smoke up you %$#@.and we keep taking it.

They create a rate so that they can maintain accounts but they cannot even keep their internet site working so that the customer can manage their own account. When you try to review your account, you get a message that their site is unavailable. This has happened numerous times over the last two months.

This is infuriating! Is it not in MD's interest for as many people as possible to use EZPass? Is it not far cheaper than people paying cash at tolls to state employees who have to make change for everyone? Does it not reduce traffic? Why would the state in essence tax the people that signed up for a far more cheap and efficient system for paying tolls?!? As a business decision from the perspective of the state of MD, this makes zero sense!!

And for the record, I just canceled my MD EZPass account and was able to open one in VA in about 5 minutes with no problem (the VA website said out-of-staters should use their own state, but I read online and just confirmed that it works just fine with out-of-state license and registration).

The whole toll system is a double tax scam in the first place... It's a use tax on top of my existing MD State taxes/ The concept is; you use it, you should pay... BUUUUTTTT... there are roads all over MD & USA that I never use, But my existing taxes support even bridges & more costly road structures... Sooooo Screw all the Tax & Spend... Dems... & Eliminate all Toll roads once & for all.
But that will never happen as we the lambs lie down on Broadway.... & too many stupideo Voters vote the same scumbags back in office... we get what we deserve...

I cancelled my Maryland Ezpass the day the fee decision was announced. Now have my Ezpass from Delaware. Money I had in Maryland program was refunded and used to pay for Delaware transponder.
Virgina offers no-fee program as well.

I too canceled my MD E-ZPass and opened up an account in VA. Good ole nickel/dime 'em O'Guvnah.

Each ez pass acct. requires a minimum balace of $ 25. in a non-interest bearing account.
72,000 non users times $25. equals $ 1,800,000 free $ to Md.

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About Michael Dresser
Michael Dresser has been an editor, reporter and columnist with The Sun longer than Baltimore's had a subway. He's covered retailing, telecommunications, state politics and wine. Since 2004, he's been The Sun's transportation writer. He lives in Ellicott City with his wife and travel companion, Cindy.

His Getting There column appears on Mondays. Mike's blog will be a forum for all who are interested in highways, transit and other transportation issues affecting Baltimore, Maryland and the region.

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