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Fast Lane Follies

This morning's Boston Herald reports that some people have been having trouble with the EZ Pass system on highways. (For those not familiar with it, the EZ Pass system allows motorists to get a transponder that lets them drive right through toll gates with slowing down, not stopping; the transponder records their passage, and bills them later. It's currently in use in 11 northeast states.)
It seems that some people are getting billed for trips through the tolls that they didn't take.

The problem comes from the practice of states of issuing "custom" themed plates. For an additional fee, drivers can get special plates that celebrate some event, organization, or cause. Sports teams, conservation programs, and historic events are the most popular.

The catch is that the states tend to re-use numbers for those plates, so there can be several New Hampshire plates with the numbers "1234567" on them.

The police have managed to adapt to this quite readily. They simply distinguish "NH 1234567" from "NH Moose 1234567" on their records.

But EZPass cameras don't make that distinction. A New Hampshire tag is a New Hampshire tag, and they're gonna get their money from SOMEONE.

The company that does EZPass's billing says that the solution is simple: get rid of the custom plates.

I have a couple of problems with that: one pragmatic, one philosophical.

The pragmatic one is that the custom plates are one of the few ways people voluntarily pay MORE money to the state than they are legally obliged to. It's a great money-maker for the state, and the people who get them don't mind paying for them. It would cost the states money to oblige the billing company.

The philosophical issue is this: the custom plates pre-date the agreement with EZPass. The plates were there first. The boobs in charge of the EZPass billing program should have known that they existed and taken steps to deal with it.

The EZPass system is a good idea, and if I regularly took toll roads, I'd probably get it, myself. But I think I'd get a vanity plate (I wonder if "JAY TEA" is available?) just to decrease the chances I'd get nailed by accident.

Comments (24)

Forgive my ignorance, but i... (Below threshold)

Forgive my ignorance, but if EZPass uses transponders to record toll usage, what purpose do the cameras serve? Do they only catch people running through without the transponders?

Brainy,I had the s... (Below threshold)


I had the same reaction. As I understand it, the EZPass camera system is designed to catch/bill violators, not legitimate EZPass users. And if my understanding is correct, is the problem with the photographs that cannot be clearly seen by EZPass staff?

Anything, like vanity plate... (Below threshold)

Anything, like vanity plates, that gets folks to pay more tax without holding a gun to their head is a good idea. I suggested vanity car titles to my state, but Nebraska wouldn't bite..

I lived in Illinois, where ... (Below threshold)

I lived in Illinois, where they also use EZPass. It's no good. You have to slow to 35 MPH for the transponder. In California, we use FasTrak, where you can go 90 MPH through a toll station. Their cameras are pretty accurate, too. On my bill, I'll see my license plate on trips I forgot my transponder. The plate's customized. Maybe California isn't so backwards anyway. That is unless you're planning to evade toll.

...we use FasTrak, where... (Below threshold)
Peter F.:

...we use FasTrak, where you can go 90 MPH through a toll station.

Note to self: Never ride with kev-o

I always had a suspicion th... (Below threshold)

I always had a suspicion that eventually, they'd use the transponder system to issue tickets to speeders, instead of having the State using a chopper or an actual law enforcement officer on the roads.

You would enter the tollway and your transponder would record the entry, then record your exit. The system would calculate the time it took between points and figure out of your were going over the speed limit. Then you'd be issued a ticket.

Make your vanity plate "NON... (Below threshold)

Make your vanity plate "NONE"

You'll either get no fees assessed, as you'll be identified as a car with no plate.

Or you'll get all the fees from cars with not plates.

The State of Georgia switch... (Below threshold)
John Johns:

The State of Georgia switched license plate color schemes around 1990. To avoid reprogramming the computer system, (three letters followed by three digits). This meant duplicate license plates with predictable results.

A family traveling on vacation out of state was stopped and the plates came up stolen. The parents were jailed and their minor children went to the tender mercies of DFACS.

Never an appology or restitution.

All to keep from rewriting the computer system.

hermie, I believe that has ... (Below threshold)

hermie, I believe that has already happened. Maybe in NY? I remember reading about it. I seem to remember that someone was conviced of a crime based partly on their EZPass...but I can't remember if it really happened or just used in a TV crime show.

kev-o:How long ago... (Below threshold)
No One of Consequence:


How long ago were you in IL? I travel down there once or twice a year, and it looks like their system no longer requires the slowdown.

In addition, they've removed all automatic toll booths, and charge double for non-EZPass tolls.

Issuing plates from the sam... (Below threshold)

Issuing plates from the same state with the same number is just wrong. I mean, duh!

hhhhmmmm...I wonder if the ... (Below threshold)

hhhhmmmm...I wonder if the vanity plate NOEZPAY is available?

That should have been the p... (Below threshold)

That should have been the plate NOEZPAS

The real problem is that EZ... (Below threshold)

The real problem is that EZPASS doesn't appreciate the limitations of the constitution on their business model. Unless you run afoul of a certain democratic district attorney in North Carolina, you are innocent until proven guilty. So if you go through with a $0 credit EZPASS or no EZPASS at all, you are still innocent. But for them to prove you are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt or even sue to collect the fair by proving by a perponderance of the evidence in a civil trial is not a winning proposition for them. Which pushes the issue back to the morals of the driver. While I might inadvertantly drive through with a $0 credit balance pass, my own personal morals would not let me do that time after time knowingly. But there are people who wouldn't recognize that they are taking other people's money for their own benefit (aka stealing) when they don't pay. If a full up trial had to take place and the $1.50 or whatever was the end result, I suspect that the people who would abuse the system would win.

So EZPASS wants a quick 'guilty' verdict and a court order to pay up or else. If you really are innocent, you have to go to the trouble to prove your innocence.

The vanity plates are just exposing the issue, but the fundamental problem is that the EZPASS business model is not consistant with the constitution.

We don't have toll roads in... (Below threshold)

We don't have toll roads in South Carolina, mainly because there is no place anyone is willing to pay to get to. My friends in Virginia have the EZPASS system, though - at least I believe that's the company they use.

Whenever their account gets low, it is automatically rebilled to their credit card. The only way their transponder could be on "$0.00" is if they were enough over the credit limit that the card denied the charge.

If the other states use a similar system - and why the heck wouldn't they? - there would be only a tiny number of EZPASS holders who would run afoul of the system. The vast majority would be - and, I strongly suspect, IS in most places - those people without the pass trying to cheat on the toll by taking the EZPASS lanes.

Of course, if the state is dumb enough to issue the same number to different vehicles, there is almost no way to prevent mistaken identifications.

Turnpikes are bread & butte... (Below threshold)

Turnpikes are bread & butter to Oklahoma. We use a system called Pikepass. A couple of wonderful things about the turnpike system that folks don't know:

* If you get on at a 'no-pay entry' point and get off at a 'no-pay exit' point, you basically never have to pay. My eldest son has been riding the Kilpatrick Turnpike free for years because he drives it end to end. Here you are scanned if you go through the middle, exit before the middle or enter before the middle.

* the whole thing is an honor system. I threw some change in a toll machine & it didn't turn green. I threw in more & more. It never turned green. I drove through with much bells & sirens. I called the turnpike auth to tell them the machine was busted. They reimbursed me my change and said that if it happens again, let them know & they'll reimburse. My buddy called & said that he lost $$ (he didn't) & they reimbursed him as well. To top it off he started driving through the cash lanes without paying and he never had his plates photographed. He drove through the Pikepass lanes and got a photo & a ticket.

On my way to or from somewh... (Below threshold)

On my way to or from somewhere far away that involved using the EZPass system, whoever was driving at the time - either my mother or my sister, but probably my mother - didn't realize what EZPass was so she took that lane. We don't have an EZPass because we almost never use toll roads. She drove through and I almost flipped out. I thought we'd be caught for sure.


So why do I pay tolls when I make runs to da big city? Dunno. I'm just honest like that I guess.

Jay...saw a very nice looki... (Below threshold)

Jay...saw a very nice looking red mustang with the lisence plate of TEA on it. Belonged to one of the construction guys in the area. Thought about getting a picture of it to send you.

"Pikepass"Man, did I... (Below threshold)

Man, did I misunderstand. I thought that was from Genral Albert Pike's command of the Indian Nations levies during 1862. If bushwhackers cornered you, you'd just whip out the old Pikepass.

Got to agree with JohnAnnAr... (Below threshold)

Got to agree with JohnAnnArbor.

Issuing two sets of plates with the same number whether or not they are on different series is asking for trouble.

When a citizen sees a crime and takes down a plate number to give the police, are they going to know that they should check to see if its a UMass alumni plate or a Friends of Plymouth Rock plate?

When the state police circulate a plate to agencies in other states, do they tell them "We are looking for 90210 on a "Bird Lovers" plate. Don't arrest the guy with the 90210 "Purple Heart" plate"?

I was in IL in 2003 last, a... (Below threshold)

I was in IL in 2003 last, and I remember the slow down then and that they were going to require everyone to have it.

As a software developer, I ... (Below threshold)
the wolf:

As a software developer, I can say unequivocally that any company that suggests changing your process to conform to their faulty system should be fired immediately.

Here in NJ, when using EZ-p... (Below threshold)

Here in NJ, when using EZ-pass on the AC-Expressway, the EZ-Pass lanes on the approach into Atlantic City order you NOT to slow down.
The only signs I've seen that EZ-Pass needs a slow down is that many of the installations began their life as a manual toll-booth.

And the cameras are definitely there to catch folks using the EZ lane to avoid a toll.

Back in the Stone Age I can... (Below threshold)

Back in the Stone Age I can remember the PA Turnpike time and date stamped your toll ticket. Woe to him or her who arrived to pay their toll too quickly...






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