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.
I 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. Also, 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.But, 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:According 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.
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?
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.