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