Last October the Massachusetts Turnpike switched to all-electronic tolling (AET). Now that Bay State commuters are several months into traveling a cashless turnpike, we asked members how that is working out. More states will undoubtedly be transitioning to AET in the coming years so it is a topic of interest for most NMA members.
There is the convenience aspect to cashless toll roads but there is also the potential for unpleasant surprises because the cost of the toll for each AET “gate” can vary and often is not known until after the vehicle owner has been billed. Some of the feedback we received:
It is a pleasure to zoom through the spaces where there used to be toll booths. It is also nice to think of all of the infamous waste, graft, and patronage that has been removed. (No more politician’s cousin’s wife’s brother getting a sweetheart toll booth job paying $30+/hour.) And, it creates the illusion the tolls have finally come down.
But all of these benefits are just that: illusions. The speeds are still artificially low and doubtlessly will remain so and will likely become perfect speed traps. And the tolls that were supposed to be eliminated when the Pike was paid off won’t likely become a ballot issue again. I suspect they will grow now outside the spotlight and go up at a faster and faster rate!
My experiences with automatic tolling in MA is very good. Traffic is noticeably better without the toll booths. Having used EZ Pass for years, the transition was seamless. For drivers without transponders, there are signs clearly posted before each electronic tolling location stating all the fees, including the higher tolls that will be collected by mail. The signs certainly incentivize drivers to get a transponder. So far MA hasn’t added any toll roads that were not already toll roads before the changeover. Adding toll roads would certainly be a sneaky way to get more revenue, as drivers who have transponders don’t really pay attention to tolls anymore.
My main concern about these tolls is that they are reading your speed and I don’t trust the state and the police with that information. I have not tried it yet, but I also wonder if my transponder will be read consistently when I am on my motorcycle and the transponder is in the clear map compartment on the top of my tank bag. In the past, they sometimes had trouble reading it there or in my jacket pocket. If a transponder is not read, I wonder if additional tolls that were charged will still be refunded with a simple phone call, as in the past.
- I am an occasional user of the Massachusetts Turnpike and the tunnels to and from Logan Airport, so I do not have a transponder, nor do I have a Pay-By-Plate account to which I deposit funds.
- When I have used the Mass Pike or the airport tunnels, I receive a printed invoice via snail-mail. The invoices have been accurate, and I think the 60-cent service fee per invoice is reasonable.
- I pay my toll invoices online via credit card. Very easy; no issues.
- I appreciate the smoother entrances and exits on and off the Mass Pike and airport tunnels. The absence of toll booths has definitely reduced — if not eliminated — traffic congestion.
- I’ve driven two different vehicles with different plate numbers, and the Pay-By-Plate readers appear to be 100% accurate. Plus, the system is smart enough to accurately detect my entry and exit points on the Mass Pike.
- Overall, I am pleased with cashless tolling in Massachusetts.
First, it should be pointed out that in response to drivers’ requests, each toll gantry has a sign nearby listing the toll rates. Initially they were small, almost unreadable at highway speeds, so they’ve been replaced with larger ones. They list the toll rates for E-ZPass MA, E-ZPass out-of-state, and toll-by-plate. There is also an informational sign as to how to sign up for MA E-ZPass. This tells me that at least someone at MassDOT is listening to drivers’ concerns.
It’s difficult to tell how much time will be saved by not having to slow down to pay tolls, because the toll plaza rebuilds are not done yet, but in general traffic seems to flow more smoothly now, even though some of the rush-hour bottlenecks haven’t gone away (due more to traffic volume than having to stop at a toll booth).
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in this newsletter are those of the author. For the NMA’s information on tolls, click HERE.