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Dr. Gridlock
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Posted at 11:49 AM ET, 06/11/2012

Drivers protest VDOT plan to impose E-ZPass fees

Tuesday is the deadline for telling the Virginia Department of Transportation what you think of the plan to start charging a monthly fee for E-ZPass accounts. For more than a week, drivers have been telling me how they feel about it, often by relaying what they’re also telling VDOT.

I have yet to hear from anyone who thinks the $1 a month fee would be a fine idea.


A view of Dulles Toll Road at the main toll plaza in Vienna, Va. (Jahi Chikwendiu - The Washington Post)
My own focus is on the unfairness of charging a fee for the slugs, the informal carpoolers who use the HOV lanes on I-95/395. When the HOV lanes are converted to high-occupancy toll lanes, they would have to pay this fee to continue carpooling, because every car will need to have a transponder, even if it is on the carpool setting so that no toll is charged for the daily trip.

Virginia at least should have a plan similar to the one adopted by the Maryland Transportation Authority that waives its $1.50 fee if the E-ZPass is used at least three times the previous month.

Here’s a sample of what I’ve been hearing from drivers. The first came in during last Monday’s online chat, but it copies an e-mail sent to VDOT. (Here’s a link for this Monday’s discussion.)

E-Z Pass Fees: The following is an e-mail I sent in response to a comment request.

Although I fully understand the need to make sure the program doesn’t go into the red, I want you to consider the following: I have had the device since it was first offered and used it daily to commute. Now that I am retired, I use it only when going into D.C. And once in a long while, when I travel outside the area or use the Greenway.

That said, it would be unfair for those of us who are senior citizens to have to pay $12 a year for the convenience of the E-ZPass for limited use as described above.

I would prefer an extra 25 cents being deducted for each use. Those who travel four or more times would have the $1 charge. Those who used it 0-3 times would pay by use. This surely is a programming task that could be easily written.

Thank you, Cathy Alifrangis

This one also came in during the chat.

E-ZPass Monthly Charge: What’s up with the E-ZPass’s proposed monthly charge? I paid for the device when I purchased it. Isn’t it cheaper to have us all using E-ZPasses than to pay for someone to man the stations? If E-ZPass starts charging this monthly fee, I will start paying in quarters instead.

DG: Here’s what VDOT says about the reasons behind its proposal:

The program is expanding and the cost of maintaining it is rising. The I-495 Express Lanes in Northern Virginia are scheduled to open at the end of the year. All cars will be required to have E-ZPass transponders.

Also, VDOT says, toll collection is scheduled to begin in January 2014 for the Downtown Tunnel/Midtown Tunnel/MLK Extension in Hampton Roads. The Jordan Bridge in Hampton Roads will begin collecting tolls this summer, and there are other toll roads planned.

The proposed fee would cover costs for buying nearly one-half million transponders, implementing a retail program where transponders can be obtained at stores, providing service at some Department of Motor Vehicles offices, upgrading information technology to accommodate the expanded program, account management and the operation of three customer service centers.

This is also from the comments submitted for the chat.

E-ZPass fees: Instead of charging us a dollar a month why don’t they just charge the for-profit company running the toll lanes?

And another thing, I find the giant signs on westbound I-66 just past the Tysons exit referring to needing an E-ZPass to be rather disconcerting. There’s no reference to 495 or the Beltway. It makes it seem like you need an E-ZPass device to drive on 66.

DG: Let me know if sign locations are still a problem. Signs are being set up all along the Beltway corridor in anticipation of the 495 Express Lanes, but some of them were placed in spots likely to cause just the sort of confusion this traveler identified. VDOT was working on repositioning those signs.

About the private companies: VDOT operates the E-ZPass accounts statewide. Not all toll roads are operated by private companies.

Here’s another submitted for the chat.

E-ZPass: As a Montgomery County resident, I had an MD E-ZPass for years until they started charging. Switched to VA. But then I learned that MD gives [some] MD E-ZPass users a break on tolls.

Plus, if you hit the tolls more than a few times in the month the fee is waived. So I gave up VA and switched back. (Unfortunately, I had to pay for the transponders, which wasn’t the case when I got them originally.) But bottom line is it seemed worth it to switch back even with the $1.50 fee.

DG: Drivers can continue to shop around for the best deal among the agencies that issue E-ZPasses. The Delaware pass is a current favorite. But deals change, and the trend is toward charging for accounts.

VDOT says it expects to decide by the end of the month about the fees.

Until 5 p.m. Tuesday, comments can be e-mailed to vdotinfo@vdot.virginia.gov or mailed to: Office of Communications — Third Floor/Annex Building, Virginia Department of Transportation, 1401 E. Broad St., Richmond, Va. 23219.

By  |  11:49 AM ET, 06/11/2012

Categories:  Commuting, Driving | Tags:  Virginia Department of Transportation, 495 Express Lanes, Capital Beltway, E-ZPass

 
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