Why can’t New Jersey simply do this to stop unfair E-ZPass fines (Opinion)
There's been quite a bit of talk lately involving automatic tolling by E-ZPass. First, we reported on the issue at the Trenton-Morrisville Bridge that resulted in drivers getting vastly overcharged by E-ZPass.
Then the following morning, Bill Spadea was taking calls from you talking about issues you dealt with when it comes to E-ZPass. To nobody's surprise, many of you have, in fact, also dealt with inaccuracies being deducted from your accounts.
One of the main concerns brought up by listeners had to do with when E-ZPass is the only option. Although E-ZPass has become the primary way we pay for tolls in New Jersey, there are still a good number of people who don't have an account. And for those people, driving thru a toll can cause anxiety.
One caller talked about when the pandemic first hit in March 2020. Because of the quarantine measures at the time, toll plazas were not staffed, leaving E-ZPass lanes as your only option to select.
However, this caller mentioned how even with that, all toll lanes were closed and coned off, leaving the express lanes as the only means to get through the toll. This meant that if you didn't have E-ZPass, you had to select an express lane and pay the toll by mail. That, right there, is where the problems began.
When this listener received their bill, it was a fine for violating the toll. Yep, you read that right. Instead of receiving a bill for the actual toll amount at that particular toll plaza, the listener received a fine for non-payment, even though they were forced to go thru an E-ZPass express lane.
Absolutely no excuse for that considering the situation we were in. Has to make you wonder how many people quietly paid the fine without disputing it in fear of bigger problems down the road.
Even with toll plazas open, it's become quite common with the on-ramps and off-ramps to find E-ZPass as the only available lane, despite exact change and full-service lanes also present. And this very scenario with unnecessary and unfair fines being issued also seems to occur as a result.
Look, I get that we're moving more into an automated world. But even with that, there may still be occasions where cash needs to be used even with E-ZPass account holders.
What if you're in a rental car and don't have your transponder with you? Or, what if you do use it and somehow get dinged because the car you're currently using isn't registered to the account? Should this really matter if it's your account in a similarly sized vehicle?
Then there's also the scenario with actual account problems resulting in you not being able to pay with E-ZPass. Whatever it may be, an option to pay without E-ZPass should remain permanent. But what's the solution? Well, Here are two things the state can do to help stop unfair fines from going out.
If staffing tolls are a problem, then this should be the most obvious solution. Why not just install cash machines at the toll plazas?
I mean, the Turnpike has those ancient ticket machines at every on-ramp, so I don't see what the issue is with doing cash machines at plazas that normally aren't staffed. Of course, the Turnpike is the only state highway that actually seems to have its act together. Can't quite say the same for our other toll roads.
The Garden State Parkway is one of the biggest offenders of this and has a toll set up where this would be very beneficial. Keep staff available at the main toll plazas, but use cash machines at the on-ramps and off-ramps.
And no, not those ridiculously outdated coin baskets. In fact, those should be phased out completely with modern cash machines in place. Let's face it, most of us don't carry around buckets of change to put into those things anyway.
Going beyond the cash
Let's say cash doesn't cut it for some drivers. Most don't carry cash anymore as it is, so why not have machines that can cater to that? Perhaps one that takes credit cards as well.
Of course, there would most likely be a fee for using that feature (because, why not), but at least the option would be there. Just take out your credit card, pay the fee, and be on your way. Plus, it's probably a lot more affordable and simpler to process a payment that way than to deal with pay-by-mail.
Or, being we're in a very digital world now, why not introduce an app you can use to pay with? Can you imagine pulling up to a toll plaza and having just your phone scanned?
I just never understood why we insist on dealing with back-and-forth mail when so many other options are available to us. Get with the times, New Jersey.
This solution would require honesty, which right there is why I doubt would ever happen. But just to throw it out there, what if E-ZPass just owned up to its mistakes?
All too often we have to fight these unfair fines for a ridiculous amount of time. It's beyond exhausting, but usually, it's the only way. If you got charged a violation in error, then you shouldn't have to pay anything at all, including the toll. Hard stop.
See, that would take honesty, which is why we shouldn't hold our breath from this happening. Maybe the next best thing we can ask for is some sort of law mandating errors like this to be dismissed. An unlikely possibility, but still a possible solution.
One big lesson we all should take from this is to check our statements for errors and report them immediately. And if it's a pay-by-mail scenario, make sure the amount being asked for is accurate for the toll in question.
As for future solutions? Just install updated equipment and let us have MODERN ways to pay as an alternative. Cash, credit cards, and apps are all modern forms of payment that a properly equipped cash machine can handle.
The tolls are already high enough and are here to stay (yeah, who remembers that promise), so the least we should do is modernize our equipment.