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June 30, 2009

E-ZPass fees about to kick in

If you've been meaning to cancel your E-ZPass account with the Maryland Transportation Authority but just haven't gotten around to it because of the $1.50-a-month fee approved early this year, today is your last chance to do so without paying the charge. The fee, along with a $21 charge for new and replacement transponders, takes effect July 1.

The authority's board adopted the charges, as well as a series of toll increases on trucks, in order to make up for a revenue shortfall and to begin recovering the administrative costs of the E-ZPass program.

For some infrequent users, canceling E-ZPass could make economic sense. At the same time, it makes economic sense for the authority to bid them farewell because they've been costing the state money. As it stands, an account holder has to pay about $25 in tolls each year before the authority makes a dime off their business.

You  should make every effort to act NOW if you fall in that group that has multiple transponders on multiple accounts. You should get to an authority office ASAP and consolidate transponders onto a single account. Make sure the account you close is the one with the oldest transponder. You would get a new transponder free today that would cost you $21 tomorrow.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 7:32 AM | | Comments (34)
Categories: Maryland toll facilities
        

Comments

It would be nice if you qualified this AND opened it to scrutiny.

"As it stands, an account holder has to pay about $25 in tolls each year before the authority makes a dime off their business."

At first glance it seems like you are repeating propaganda used to justify the increase.

So how do you cancel these things? A quick check of the EzPass website say you have to drag the transponder into one of their not very conveniently located locations during not very convenient business hours. Any other options?

COMMENT: At this point, not really.

Even for frequent users it makes economic sense to cancel, since other states will give you an ez-pass that does not carry a monthly maintenance fee.

As a casual user, this monthly "fee" would have increased my tolls by $2.25 per trip across the Bay Bridge. I cancelled this service the day I got the letter, they didn't even want to know why I cancelled.

I'm a frequent commuter so it makes sense for me to keep my pass, even with the new fee. I'm annoyed though that besides the financial benefit of the commuter rates, there is less of a benefit these days. The new higher speed lanes on 95 are creating huge back-ups and there are few or no other EZPass lanes open in the morning. On days I come home late from work (8pm-ish) north on 895, there are no EZPass lanes open at all.

Not much is EZ about the EZPass these days, and now the financial benefit to those who use it regularly is decreasing too.

I had not used my EZpass since December. I turned mine in this morning at the Baltimore Harbor Tunnel office. No $ 1.50/month fee from me for something I rarely use.

I just cancelled mine, and got replacements from the Peace Bridge authority in NY, which has no monthly fees or transponder fees.

MD is making a big mistake by adding monthly fees. The supposed "cost" of running the EZ Pass program is already offset by reduced staffing needs and reduced traffic (therefore reduced idling and reduced pollution) at toll points. This is just another tax on the citizens of Maryland.

My move to PA 5 years ago continues to be one of the best things I ever did. This is one more example of the State of MD putting their hand in your pocket.

Every single member of the authority that voted to create the user fees should be fired because they do not know the first thing about business or how to decrease traffic congestion. The authority should want users to utilize the EZPass system and monthly maintenance fees do not make this happen. They should have instead charged a fee per use or increased the tolls for non users to encourage them to become EZPass users. If the authority encourage the use of the system there would be less congestion at the toll areas in the state. Oops, I forgot this is the same group of folks (The MD Democrats) that brought us Energy Deregulation so I should not be surprised with the stupidity.

Aren't things just wonderful?!? It doesn't take a rocket scientist to realize why people are leaving the state of Maryland in droves.

I understand that they want to cover the administrative costs of the program but the whole purpose of going to EZ-Pass to begin with was to reduce congestion and lower the number of toll operators needed. In other words, it was designed to save money not make money.

There is indeed a way to close your account on the E-ZPass website (http://www.ezpassmd.com/). Log into your account, click on "Account Profile" on the left, then look for the "Close My Account" link under "Account Status".

If you have any funds left in your E-ZPass account, make sure the address on your profile is correct, since their terms and conditions (http://www.ezpassmd.com/en/about/terms.shtml) state that they'll be refunding it to you.

You can mail your transponders back to the MTA via certified mail. I mailed mine back last week, then went online and signed up for an EZ-Pass from Pennsylvania. They charge a $3 per year service fee and no transponder charge. I received it in the mail in a week.

Casual EZ-Pass users don't cost the state any money, since everything is done through automation. Toll booth operators cost the state money, and any moron with a brain would have raised the non-EZ Pass rates so that adoption of EZ Pass would have continued to increase.

Can you please find out the number of EZ Pass users who have cancelled their accounts with the state of Maryland?

John Porcarri, the head of the Maryland Transportation Department is a joke! He and himself was the person who recommended that they "pass" this charge on to the the EZ pass users. I remember when EZ Pass came to MD 10 years or so ago. The argument was that the use of the EZ Pass would be 2 fold. First to reduce pollution from idling cars and secondly to decrease the cost of running the toll facilities by reducing the need for toll takers. The saving to pay for the transponders and $1.50 a month maintenance fees would come from these savaings... John don't you remember? You were Transportation Secretary then as well under Paris Glendening?? Everyone of you that voted for this should be removed immediately and John Porcarri should be fired! Can you believe this guy was recently appointed to Obama's cabinet and if confirmed will be second in command for US DOT? I guess it fits in with the rest of this country... incompetence will get you promoted!

We'll as a life long Democrat the only thing I can do is vote against O'Malley since he was the one appointed Porcarri!

They had $20 of mine sitting there for a year while I was deployed in Iraq during 2008. What administrative fees? They're earning interest on money I didn't use, I'm just another account number. CANCELLED TODAY!

Clearly, it is important that we discourage the use of a well-proven technology and move back toward person-to-person, time-consuming transactions wherever possible. What's next: Making ATM's illegal?

I wonder if the rocket scientists in Annapolis looked past the direct shortfall enough to see the extra people they will have to hire to take tolls because of the natural shrinkage of usage of the EZ Pass system.

Not to mention the untold hours that will be wasted waiting in the (longer) toll lines by the people who say "no thanks" for paying for the privilege of keeping a transponder in their car.

Those extra greenhouse gas emissions are on you, Marty.

Stupid, stupid, stupid.

Look out Arkansas -- we are gunning for you...


David Hobby
Ellicott City, MD

The state government sucks. I am really starting to consider moving out of state. They are going to fee/tax the hell out of all of us. In a month when everyone cancels we will hear how there is a budget deficit. They can't keep doing this stuff in lieu of raising actual taxes.

This is just another anti-car column from Michael Dresser. At least he doesn't even attempt to conceal his bias.

Michael, if your credit card started charging you a monthly fee to "recover administrative costs," would you still keep that card? I certainly wouldn't.

Next thing you know, they'll start charging an additional $1.50 per month to help recover the cost of paying their employees. Perhaps another $1.50 a month, on top of that, to help recover the cost of the electricity they use.

Where will it end?

Another Option is to cancel your MD EZ pass account. Go to the EZ Pass store in New Jersey (off the turnpike at several exits) and buy an EZ Pass and open an account there which has no fee and no minimum.

When will Marylanders stand up for their rights and stop allowing this government to steal there hard earned money? If I could move I would cause I am feed up!

You can cancel and switch to Virginia as well. No transponder charger or monthly fees in Virginia with autopay, just the $35 initial balance fee.

I turned in both of my transponders yesterday, along with many others waiting in line. They asked why and everyone's reason was the monthly fee. I wonder how accurate their projections for increased revenue will be after so many people closed their accounts. Also, the fine print of the letter I received last week says they will begin charging a $21 non-refundable fee for EACH new and EXISTING transponder.

I am cancelling my account and applying for an EZ Pass from PA. Also, I protest the tunnel/bridge tolls for Marylanders. Why should we have to pay $4.00 to go to the west/east side of town? And pulling a tiny trailer is another buck! Let the interstate tourists pay the toll fees.

If you get an out of state transponder isn't the only benefit you get is to go through the ez pass lane. But still pay the full 2 bucks. When I go to Delaware my statement says I pay full price!

"As it stands, an account holder has to pay about $25 in tolls each year before the authority makes a dime off their business."

I would like a citation on that one.

Also I would like a cost comparison of an electronic only system VS a toll only system.

Also I would like to see a bill of materials on those transponders

I also agree that the $1.50 account fee stinks for many of the reasons already listed, and have been debating about canceling my account. But I had done some investigating as to the value of switching accounts to another state, and everyone should be aware of the fees involved there as well.

In NJ, there is a $1.00/month fee for an account. In PA, there is a $3.00/year fee per account, but that is per transponder as well. There is also a $35/initial account payment required, but it is also per transponder. Since I have 3 transponders on an account, it just isn't worth the hassle. While I don't get a lot of use from my account, I still use it a few times a month, and I have decided to keep the account for convenience.

I still think the MVA fee decision is boneheaded and they are already making a ton of money from interest on everyones' account balances. I can only hope that this fee will be reversed in the future.

Jim - You haven't done all your homework. Check out peacebridge.com. There are no monthly fees and the transponder deposit is waived for credit card accounts.

According to the Termination clause on the EZ pass website, you may close your account online (section a1): Access your E-ZPass Maryland Account at www.ezpassmd.com and submit a request stating your intent to close your Account and terminate this Agreement

And dispose of your transponder properly yourself (section e): You may return your Transponder(s) to E-ZPass Maryland for proper disposal since it contains a lithium battery. If you do not return your Transponder to E-ZPass Maryland for proper disposal, you are responsible for consulting federal, state and local waste regulations to determine appropriate disposal options.

Isn't the point of the Transportation Authority to ease congestion? How does charging extra for the very device that supposed to ease congestion help with the problem? Seems to me they should make it CHEAPER to use the EZ pass so we can eliminate lanes that backup traffic and cost the state money to staff with a person.

Joe:

The discount plans for MD EZ-Pass members are not automatic, and have a minimum usage requirement. They are for people who use particular tollways frequently. Also, EZ-Pass MD is lowering the amount of time you have to use those discount toll passes, from 60 to 45 days. So your travel frequency will determine for YOU if it's worth getting an out-of-state transponder.

For me, it would be worth it. I don't really qualify for discounts because I don't use the tolls enough to take advantage of those plans. A lot of people probably do not, and those are the majority of people (I imagine) who will be returning their transponders.

$2.25 per month to maintain a user account? How can I bid on the contract to do this work! In other words, it costs the MdTA, over $14 million a year to bill customers.
Either the folks at the MdTA haven't a clue how to run the EZ-Pass program or they are using some creative accounting to come up with these numbers. Either way the Govenor needs to go in there and clean house because there's some hanky panky going on.

The reason people are upset with monthly charge is that the users of EZ-Pass, which SAVES the MdTA money, are funding a revenue increase at the expense of those don't use EZ-Pass. This is a toll increase on MdTA BEST CUSTOMERS. If the situation were looked at this way, then it's not a hard sell to INCREASE toll rates on those that DON'T use EZ-Pass. Most jurisdictions that use EZ-Pass give discounts to tag holders. In NY/NJ they charge $1 per month to EZ-Pass account holders, but if you use more than once a month, you still pay less than if you didn't have an EZ-Pass. What is so upsetting to everyone is that these fees just aren't fair!!! If the issue is that unused accounts are a drain on the system, then implement a $3 per month minimum charge on all accounts and the next time they need to raise money, raise the toll rates on non EZ-Pass users and level the playing field.

COMMENT: I'm delighted to see all the posts on this topic. It certainly has excited passions. I would like to clarify something in response to the previous poster's point. The E-ZPass contract for billing services is with the multi-state E-ZPass consortium, not the state of Maryland. Even if that contract were too generous, it's nothing the state of Maryland could fix on its own. Having seen the cost of other computer services contracts that move through the Board of Public Works, the cost doesn't appear to me to be out of line. If anyone with real expertise can demonstrate that it is excessive or corrupt, I'd love to see proof.

Before anyone advocates pulling out of the compact over this, consider that much of tthe value of the E-ZPass lies in the fact it can be used all over the Northeastern and Midwestern states. Single-state electonic toll collection systems have by and large been disappointments if not outright failures. For one thing, you lose economies of scale.

I don't know that we E-ZPass customers are necessarily "best" customers. Cash has its virtues too. There is an overhead to collecting it, but there is also overhead with E-ZPass above and beyond billing. The state has its own capital costs of computers, signage, lane configuration and salaries of people who work just on E-ZPass.

I think it's safe to say the most lucrative customers for the authority are frequent E-ZPass users. They are allso the ones whose participation helps reduce congestion the most.

But cash customers provide a profit to the authority each and every time they pay at the tollbooth. The agency doesn't have to wait until it has paid back the carrying charges to make a profit on an account.

Certainly the least desirable customers -- from a strictly business point of view -- are those that have transponders but use them seldom or never. The state -- which means us in the long run -- loses money on their business. If anything, the authority can be faulted for carrying them too long without a charge.

Having said that, the idea of a monthly minimum toll payment, after which the fee is refunded, has some merit and should be explored. The entire revenue package was rushed through in a way that did not allow for exploration of such alternatives.


Michael:

When you talk about the overhead of the physical infrastructure, it's important to remember that the state will incur many of those costs whether it has one customer or one billion.

It would still make sense to motivate people to use those now-built facilities and reduce the demand for toll-takers.

In another post you mentioned that it costs something like $2.25 per subscriber to maintain an account. I would guess that this is a fixed cost contract, so that as the number of subscribers goes up, the cost *per subscriber* goes down. If that is the case, the number is misleading. Please clarify.

As Jon has mentioned (and was the deciding factor for me), the change of the automatic replenishment cycle for the discount plan from (initially) 90 days to 60 and now 45 days is substantial for a casual user; if you only use the tunnels and don't use the tunnel toll 50 times in 45 (calendar, not business) days you will lose some of your replenishment amount every cycle. If you're a constant Monday-Friday or alternate work schedule type commuter it will work out OK, and Monday-Thursday commuters just make it without losing money, but that's not counting holidays, sick days, vacations, and such.

Thank you to Jim for instructions on canceling since I couldn't find them. The website does not list the fee as a reason to cancel, you have to select "other'". Very clever & reduces the count!

Spam - nicely said.

Scott a few points:
Having worked on g'vt proposals for computer equipment... it does not cost $2.50 a month to keep names in a database, & run electronic billing statements. We all know it costs micro parts of a penny per person. Even with backup disaster costs, & every other contingient need.

They are including ALL their costs for all the expensive toll equipment, all personal, all tracking down default people, but mostly all that expensive equipment. That is not legit. That should be compared to what it's true competion it, toll booth operator costs. EZPass was supposedly going to save them money by removing operators. Reducing Ezpass use with fees won't do that.

You mention cash giving money more quickly. Quit false. Cash is costly to count, can involve fraud (more often than we'd like to think), & most importantly, they already have all our money sitting there!!

None of this is about individual infrequent users costing them money. This is about a new way to charge a fee. They're justfiying it by wrapping in millions of dollars of equipment costs used proportionally more by frequent travelers who also get the convience boost more often. So they should have the higher fee for more frequent use of those costs. Those using very expensive manned tollbooths should have the highest fees.

Maryland reps are except from this fee. THAT is very unfair. We are all citizens & have "equal" rights. Not special favors to representatives. If they were paying they'd be doing what we're doing - griping & pressuring for lower costs from the suppliers. Sounds like there's a supplier company monopoly on with little competition. (Been there, seen that.)

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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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