Friday, January 30, 2009

more MTA woes

This one's not too much of an issue for us, though I'm guessing Julie will find it more objectionable than I do. In the continuing efforts to balance its budget, the Maryland Transportation Authority is creating a disincentive to use E-ZPass. Now, if you don't know about E-ZPass, it's a device that you attach to your windshield, so that instead of stopping to pay tolls, you just slow down (sometimes--but they actually have some high-speed E-ZPass lanes now) so a scanner can catch your pass and give a green light. It charges the toll against the pass, and you get a monthly charge on your credit card whenever there's anything to pay off. Here in the Mid-North Atlantic states, you can use E-ZPass across state borders. We don't have any regular trips that involve tolls, but for some destinations on the other side of Baltimore, it can be used to pay for tunnels, or to cross the Annapolis Bay Bridge, or we can use it on the PA Turnpike, the NYS Thruway, etc., when we travel. We might easily go a year without using it, but it's a great convenience when needed.

Well, MTA just voted to add a $1.50/mo charge for E-ZPass, starting in July. Now, I'm no economist, but I have to wonder how much they really thought this through. It will generate new revenue, because undoubtedly there will be a lot of drivers who use the thing regularly and consider it worth $1.50/mo to continue using it. But also undoubtedly there will be many users who choose to turn in their E-ZPass rather than pay the extra charge. That doesn't necessarily mean they'll stop paying tolls--they'll just add to the lines at the toll booths. If the state responds by increasing the number or hours of toll booth operators, the extra cost will start to offset the revenue generated. If the state just lets the lines get longer, people will find alternate routes or drive less, either of which means less money collected in tolls. I don't know how much of this will have to happen to cancel out the new revenues, but I hope someone does.

Personally, I can't complain much about any measure that reduces the amount people drive (though I can complain that from everything I've seen, MTA is also making it harder to take mass transit). It will be an inconvenience on those occasions when we would have used it (and probably a bigger inconvenience than I'm thinking, because it's not just us getting back in line--it's a lot of other people getting back in line ahead of us), but since we're only talking about a few select trips, not a huge problem. I just have to wonder about the wisdom in the move.

One final thought: Is there any reason you can't sign up for E-ZPass in another state? What do other states charge in the way of a monthly fee? Something to consider. Something for MTA officials to consider.

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