Electronic Toll-Paying Devices Surge in Popularity in Region
Tuesday, September 6, 2005
Sales of electronic transponders used to pay highway tolls and the number of people using them are up sharply in the Washington region and along the East Coast this year as more people are opting for the technology as a way out of maddening, toll-induced delays.
The jump in the number of users in Virginia, which joined the E-ZPass network in October, has been most pronounced. In October, 118,000 E-ZPass transactions were recorded. By June, that number had jumped to 646,000. Drivers in Virginia are also able to pay tolls electronically with Smart Tags, and during the same period, the number using them rose by nearly 1 million.
Combined, the number of motorists paying electronically has risen by 1.5 million users a month since October, from about 9.5 million to 11 million, and membership has risen from 495,000 to 540,000.
In Maryland, the number of new accounts has risen nearly 18 percent this year compared with last, and sales are up 22 percent during the busy summer travel season. In all, nearly 57,000 people have joined the network this year, nearly one-fifth of the 316,000 total users in the state. State officials said 45 percent of all toll users pay electronically.
The effects of increased E-ZPass usage are significant. For drivers, whipping through tollbooths is a time- and stress-saver, especially on trips through the Northeast, where tolls are ubiquitous. More E-ZPass users also means fewer people lining up to pay tolls the old-fashioned way, lightening delays for other drivers.
For state officials, a large percentage of electronic toll payers means fewer backups to deal with and fewer harmful pollutants emitted while cars idle.
Officials said the rise in users is due to greater familiarity with the technology and the universal desire not to sit in traffic jams.
The results of increased usage are "better operations of roads, drivers are certainly not sitting in traffic as much, and they're not creating more pollution or air quality issues," said Barbara Reese, chief financial officer for the Virginia Department of Transportation.
Public enthusiasm for electronic tolls also bodes well for plans to build more toll roads in the Washington region. Virtually every major road being considered in Virginia and Maryland would have a toll, and the success of the roads would require collection of tolls without slowing traffic.
John Nelson has had his Smart Tag for about a year and doesn't know how he lived without it.
"It was sweet," the Sterling resident said, recalling his first day of paying electronically on the Dulles Toll Road. "I went right through the first toll plaza and right through the main toll plaza."
It doesn't surprise Nelson that more and more people are going electronic.