Not so E-Z Pass


Back in 1959, Nobel Economics Prize winner, William Vickrey, proposed the first Electronic Toll Collection (ETC). He envisioned transponders in every car that could automatically pay to a central system for the government. “The transponder’s personalised signal would be picked up when the car passed through an intersection, and then relayed to a central computer which would calculate the charge according to the intersection and the time of day and add it to the car’s bill.”  The most revolutionary aspect of ETC application is relieving congested, urban highways. ECT allowed people to drive quickly through tolls without having to stop and pay (facilitating traffic). This is pretty much a world standard now.

My Story

giphy.gifI recently brought my car up from South Florida to Boston. Amtrak has a service called the auto train or an 855-mile-long train from Sanford FL to Lorton, Virginia. (It’s the only one of its kind in the United States). For around $400, I was able to park my car on the train and sleep in a bed (with the help of sleep-quil) for a pleasant 16- hour trip to Virginia. Following that, I was told to carry a lot of cash on me for the many tolls on the drive from Virginia to Boston.

Before, in Boston

Since bringing my car up to Boston, I have yet to get the northeastern ETC, otherwise known as E-Z Pass. In Florida, we have “Sunpass” and it’s available EVERYWHERE. At every rest stop, grocery store, pharmacy, shoe store, exotic pet store, Sunpass is there. It’s about the most accessible transponder for ETC. Meanwhile, Boston has made it nearly impossible to get E-Z Pass. They only sell transponders at customer service centers in which there are two of in the greater Boston area and you have to register a number of days prior. The hours for these locations are 9AM – 5PM so it appears as though any typical working individual will have to take the day off to stand in line to receive a responder. Screen Shot 2016-11-02 at 7.23.55 PM.pngAlso, instead of having toll-by-plate if you go through without having any cash, they charge you $50! (See below). Which causes your parents to question why you’re going through tolls at 6:48AM on a Wednesday (for a 7:15AM spin class but still, they are asking questions) and overall havoc.Screen Shot 2016-11-02 at 7.30.12 PM.pngBut, Boston being Boston, has continued to make it as difficult as possible to receive an E-Z Pass. Tolls like these are the reason Boston was able to instill huge transformations like the Big Dig and being a toll booth attendant is seen as a legitimate, government job. The unions treat the toll booth workers extremely well and they are highly renown. However, being a toll booth attendant can be extremely lonely job – despite the mass number of people that they see everyday, very rarely do they have substantial conversations with their payers. CJ Maurer was like me in waiting to get an E-Z pass but instead of waiting 3 months, she waited 7 years:Screen Shot 2016-11-02 at 8.14.22 PM.pngAccording to her, one should say at least four words to a toll booth operator every time passing by. But I always try to say more! Give at least a smile, a compliment or more than four words.
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Now, in Boston

Now, no words will be necessary!  In 2014, Boston reached an agreement to move to all cash tolls to electronic tolls. The agreement did not come for free: “Some 410 turnpike toll workers set to lose their jobs in 2016 will get raises worth $24 million to sweeten their departure, under an agreement reached Friday night between their union and the state.” The 2014 decision took two years and many dollars to carry out.

The initiation of the switch took place this past Friday and lead to quite the scramble. Cash tolls as a thing of the past lead people to stand in hours and hours of lines to receive their transponders. Of course, these people are at their own fault… but are they?
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This video, shows individual stories of those waiting in lines. If you don’t have a transponder, the “Pay by Plate” system takes a picture of your license plate, sends you a bill for the toll, and adds on a surcharge. MassDOT has not yet determined how much that surcharge will be… What if someone simply covers their license plate? Or the somewhat tinted license plates blurs a letter and bills the wrong person? Or someone like me from Florida without an E-Z Pass is constantly being billed? The entire switch will take 7 months to complete. Technology is great for increasing government efficiency (please see prior blog: I Love it When You Call Me Big Data), however, when not done correctly can cause disorder and a bad reputation (think the initial release of ObamaCare and the site being a disaster). The switch from cash tolls to all electronic raises the current-day issue of technology replacing people in the workplace. Is it ethical to replace these individuals jobs? What does this mean for the Boston economy? Is this the ethical route? The more efficient route? Pun intended.





  1. polmankevin · ·

    I remember driving back to Boston at the end of the summer and seeing the signs imploring people to get their E-Z passes before the switch to electronic tolls. I originally thought the idea was genius. Obviously I suspected that all tolls would head in this direction but I didn’t know how soon. I thought it was cool to see Massachusetts implementing it. Despite my initial thoughts, your blog brings up some great points. My main concern was the loss of jobs. I thought this was unavoidable. In the current technology driven age, countless jobs that consist of menial tasks are disappearing. Toll workers is a great example. But with all these jobs disappearing is the technology creating enough new jobs? Secondly, I had no idea that it was so difficult to get an E-Z pass in Massachusetts. I initially loved the move because I have a NY state E-Z pass that works in Massachusetts and wouldn’t be affected much by the transition. If Massachusetts is going to mandate electronic tolls they have to make E-Z passes easier to get. Nice blog! You raised some great points.

  2. I thought your blog was really interesting, because my mom recently came up to BC and had worried about the fact that none of the tolls she went through were “working” and that she’d be charged huge $50+ fees. It makes total sense now that MA tolls are going through a technological renovation, and I’m kind of glad that they are. Although many jobs will be lost, I think the workers were well compensated for their departures and realistically, it’s probably better for their mental health that they find a less lonely occupation. As for drivers, the new electronic tolls are gonna make things so much faster and easier, and that fear of having to pay a huge fine for not having cash is definitely alleviated now that they can take pictures of your license plate and bill you electronically. All in all, I’m looking forward to seeing the effects of this new implementation!

  3. Love love love the EZ pass here in Boston. As a person from the area I understand the importance of having one, because no one in this day in age carries around enough change to pay for like 3 tolls going to Boston and back. But, this blog was cool cause I never pictured what it must be like for someone not from this area. I honestly just assumed that the EZ pass just worked all over the country. Not realizing that different parts of the country used different forms of electronic toll paying systems. But, hey this just made me realize that next time I make a long trip out of New England I better bring a lot of spare change or be tasked with a nice 50$ bill. Cool blog, can’t wait for whats next.

  4. emilypetroni14 · ·

    I do like the idea of the EZ pass replacing the toll booth workers, although I’ve had a pass for half my life so this change doesn’t really affect me. Even though people will lose their jobs, I am guessing new jobs will open up for the work that needs to be done with distributing more transponders and billing for the license plate snapshots. Just like with other industries, net net it could result in the same amount of jobs, but just a shift in responsibilities.

  5. Tyler O'Neill · ·

    As someone who has spent countless hours along the Mass Pike and has an E-Z Pass, I can assure you that it’s worth every penny. I am able to drive directly through any toll at any time without having to wait in lines or scramble for change. I think the new system will just streamline the entire toll process and further increase efficiency in an area where American’s desire it most. I do however understand the cons to this change. Although people are losing their jobs, I don’t see that as an extremely severe consequence since the benefits outweigh the costs from a utilitarian perspective. Also since it’s not an industry that requires particular skill these laborers should be able to find new work elsewhere.

  6. Hey! Great post. That’s so cool that Florida makes it so easy for residents to get a SunPass. I’ve never heard of a state like that. I’m from NJ and tolls are also a huge topic of discussion whenever my mom drives up to visit. She refuses to buy into EZ Pass, so she has a HUGE bag of quarters in the car with her at all times! I wonder how MA’s new transponder policies will change her travel plans and if she’ll decide to get an EZ Pass. Her argument was previously, “I don’t travel on the highway enough to justify purchasing it.” But now, if she’s going to be served a surcharge for traveling without a pass, maybe she’ll end up biting the bullet!

  7. I still don’t have an EZ pass in my car. i’ve grown up on the east coast my whole life. I’ve thought about going to get one, but as you mention it’s just so difficult to go do. Whenever I’m on the highway, I arrive at tolls envious of my swift peers who just glide through the EZ pass zone. I’m also pretty surprised to hear about “Sunpass.” It’s amazing to see something be so much more accessible in a different region. EZ pass should start taking notes and follow Sunpass’s lead.

  8. Sitting here in the Pro E-Z pass camp. I saw them taking down the toll plazas while leaving Logan on Friday and was pretty excited. One less contributor to the traffic that keeps me from getting home.

    Truth is that Boston is a fairly late adopter electronic tolling. May MANY other states and highways have embraced this system. I haven’t done the research, but would imagine that there is ROI out there for the state in the long run and hopefully for all of us in reduced traffic/headaches.

    As far as the fee goes for non-electronic tolling. Yup. This is a disincentive designed to drive a change in behavior. MassDOT could have just as easily gone with the carrot instead of the stick lowered the price of fares collected electronically. But then again, we do need to pay for the new system and those pesky pensions.

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