Sep
29

Why cashless tolling on the Henry Hudson matters

By

Throughout the debates surrounding both congestion pricing and East River bridge tolls, one spurious argument set forth by opponents of the plans considered the impact toll devices would have on traffic. Installing tollbooths on the East River bridges would create traffic jams on local streets in Brooklyn and Manhattan as drivers slowed to pay the toll, they said.

Now, this argument was clearly a flawed one at the time because new tollbooths simply do not have cash collectors or levered arms that raise upon receipt of the toll. Rather, new tollbooths rely on high-speed E-ZPass readers and license plate camera technology to capture revenue. New Yorkers aren’t familiar with this idea because the technology hasn’t been implemented within the five boroughs, but we need to look no further than the New Jersey Turnpike to see high-speed tolling in action.

Recently, though, the MTA announced that cashless tolls will be coming to New York. As part of a pilot program that may see the technology in use on every Bridges & Tunnels crossing, the MTA is beginning to ready the Henry Hudson Bridge for cashless tolling. As part of the plan, the authority is cutting the southbound bridge from four lanes to three and installing camera equipement, computer software and overhead gantries that allow for gateless tolling.

The gateless tolling, says the MTA, will begin late this year or early next, and according to Tom Namako of The Post, by 2012, the entire bridge will be gateless. “We can move 600 to 800 vehicles an hour with gates,” James Ferrara, head of MTA Bridges and Tunnels said. “This is not high-speed tolling.”

Namako fills in some details:

The speed limit at the new, gateless, E-ZPass lanes will likely be set at 15 mph, officials said. Ferrara said one of the goals of the pilot project will be to analyze the rate of traffic without the gates. “Presumably, we will move traffic faster without [them],” he said.

Then, by 2012, all of the toll-gate arms will be gone, and the bridge will go totally cashless. The lanes will either be E-ZPass or set up for video tolling. Video tolling means that drivers will be billed for the toll based on their license-plate information, which will be taken from video footage at the crossing. The move will allow drivers to pass though the toll without stopping — a speedier system currently used in Dallas, Denver and Sydney, Australia, Ferrara said.

It also will save money by eliminating the salaries of toll-booth clerks and costs associated with rehabbing and repairing aging toll plazas, officials said Still, the agency said no jobs would be lost during the pilot program. If successful, the test project — expected to cost between $10 million and $16 million — will spread to all of the MTA’s crossings, the agency said.

To many, this might seem like a minor move and one the MTA should have taken years ago. Cashless tolling, after all, can save on personnel costs and speeds up traffic as well. But for those who still harbor dreams of East River bridge tolls, the first cashless, gate-less operation in New York City is a small beacon of hope. If this pilot is successful, if traffic picks up across the Spuyten Duyvil, if New York’s drivers see how gateless tolling works, those who oppose tolling on these spurious grounds will see their argument dissolve right before their eyes.



46 Responses to “Why cashless tolling on the Henry Hudson matters”

  1. John says:

    Why are they getting rid of a lane?

  2. Dave 'Paco' Abraham says:

    Can’t wait to see this become the new standard. It could and should really be a game changing in the congestion pricing debate.

    As they’re removing the Brooklyn bound toll booths on the Verrazano I’d love to see them install high speed tolls there as well to finally correct the one way pricing debacle that brings so much traffic to the city.

    • Al D says:

      They haven’t collected tolls at these booths since the mid 80’s. It’s now, only 25 or so years later that they are physically removing them.

    • Sharon says:

      why are you so in favor of putting yet another tax on the economy in the state is the most taxed in the country. It is clear that all the taxes set aside(tolls are taxes my friend) has led to mismanagement and sky high salaries. We are paying cleaners $23 an hour cash and another $10-$15 in benefits. Far more than at other city agencies. We have kept thousands of station agents on the job for near 15 years after most were no longer needed to sell fares at a cost of multiple billion of dollars. Not to mention conductors on subway trains even the si railway which has two man crews for 2 to 4 car trains (same r-44 that run on the subway) MY POINT IS SIMPLE, MORE MONEY WILL NOT SOLVE THE MTA’S PROBLEMS, AGGRESSIVE WORK RULE CHANGES and years of no raises until salaries come down to where they need to be is the answer. PLAIN and simple. May be then nyct can offer the services that many who are driving into the city need at an affordable price and frequency.

      • Bolwerk says:

        I mostly agree about work rule changes, but smart tolling/pricing roads makes sense because it makes the transportation system more efficient. It’s a good idea even without the added bonus of revenue raising that could fund transit – which I think it should do, though only the capital program.

        Of course, ideally, it would make more sense to equalize tolls into Manhattan, and reduce or maybe even drop them from places like the Verrazano.

        • sharon says:

          I agree with the smart tolling as a better cheaper and friendlier to the environment . I don’t agree with tolling the east river bridges . We are taxed enough.

          The MTA needs two way tolling on the vz bridge. It adds tons of extra traffic through the holland tunnel, added traffic through the BQE in brooklyn as week spewing extra truck smoke.

          What has to change is motorist treated like the piggie bank to pay the unionize work force above average pay. Take a ride over to the VZ bridge, it has dozens of MTA police officers standing around for terrorism reasons while the far large target the Brooklyn Bridge has a police car and a extensive camera network . A security plan devised by the terrorism prevention experts the NYPD. I see mta police cars all the time in Bay Ridge driving agency vehicles to get food. At ikea in brooklyn you see MTA police all the time eating driving there agency vehicles.
          Let the NYPD take over policing at the bridges.
          Actually mta police is the wrong name they are the triborough bridge and tunnel authority police. the mta also operates another police force for the commuter railroads called mta police. Another unneeded cost that duplicates local police

          • Bolwerk says:

            It makes no sense to not toll the East River bridges. The failure to toll them is a reason for a good percentage of the congestion in Manhattan. There should simply be at least a consistent price for driving to Manhattan, just like there’s a consistent price for taking the train to Manhattan.

            It might even mean a lower price for other overcharged crossings.

      • J B says:

        There is a big difference between a tax and a toll. A toll pays (in theory anyway) for your use of a specific service (a bridge/ tunnel/ highway), and a tax pays for a wide range of government services you may or may not benefit from. If tolls are taxes aren’t subway fares taxes as well, and in that case shouldn’t subways and buses be free as well?

  3. Eric F. says:

    I encountered a truly cashless system in Australia. This was 4 years ago. Either your plate is set up with the toll authority, or, as was my case driving a rental, you can pay online within 48 hours of using the road. Sure enough, I logged on within the time period with my plate number and the owing amount was right up on the screen.

    I wonder how this will work in NY. We don’t “do” honor system very well in the U.S., and we’re even worse at it in NY than elsewhere. I wonder how high the evasion rate is going to be. Every so often NJ will collar some guy who owes thousands in unpaid Turnpike tolls, which always implied to me that lower levels of toll evasion were simply being tolerated.

    • Marc Shepherd says:

      My guess is that a certain percentage of fare evasion will be tolerated in exchange for saving money on fare-collection salaries and equipment.

      On top of that, traffic should move more quickly over the bridge, because people won’t have to stop for gates to go up.

    • Australian says:

      There’s no honour system! Many people have a dedicated transponder in their cars, or else a numberplate registered with the tollroad provider.

      If you don’t have either of these, then don’t pay after 72 hours, you receive a fine for non-payment of tolls. (The lane cameras just take a photo of your numberplate, a computer reads it, then mails the fine out…)

      What I don’t understand is why there’s a 15mph limit at these gates; in Australia, there’s no speed limit – 100km/h (62mph) would be a typical speed under a electronic reader.

      • Sharon says:

        NY state has issues yet another new licence plate to bilk motorists most who are working class and are looking to have a decent quality of life for more money and did not embed transponders in the plates that would make automated collection easier.

        In addition all the state would have to do if you want to use video is to pass a law that if the tolls are not paid the person would not be able to renew ones license and a lien placed against the auto. Problem solved. Most states in the north east have interstate packs if you get a speeding ticket in one it come up against you in the other. Make the tolls on the same level

  4. Bolwerk says:

    I guess this is good news, but still stupid on one level. Why the hell does this require a 1-2-year pilot? This is the problem with the MTA. This kind of implementation has been done before. A month or so should be sufficient to test individual implementations. If not laying off employees is such a big deal, I’m sure this tiny fraction of a percentage point of the MTA workforce could be transferred elsewhere, perhaps where other employees are leaving by attrition.

    I could understand a 2-year pilot program for a game-changing technology invented in the bowels of MTA Research Labs. But this is something that’s been around for decades.

    • Eric F. says:

      If I had to guess, it’s because they want to see what the evasion level will be. I’m sure every toller in the area would love to go all-electronic, but what kind of leakage can they tolerate? This exact point has led to Maine not putting all electronic tolling on their section of I-95. They don’t want to have to collect $2 from every New Brunswick and New Hampshire driver who decides to blow off the toll. On the other hand, if this works well enough they’ll be putting it all over the place about 10 minutes later.

      • Bolwerk says:

        Why would it be more here than it is in other places with automatic collection? It sounds like something that must have been addressed at some point.

        • Eric F. says:

          The view is that the cash lane induces “fence sitters” not hooked up to transponders to pay. If your only choice is electronic and you don’t have a transponder, a certain percentage of people will glide through and never pay, even though they would have stopped at a cash booth if available.

          • Bolwerk says:

            That’s barely a problem. Camera enforcement apparently solves that problem in cases where there is no transponder available. The agency simply mails a bill, perhaps one high enough to be redeemed for an E-ZPass is the driver chooses.

  5. petey says:

    “by 2012, the entire bridge will be gateless.”
    not even one lane for those of us who don’t ezpass?

    • Al D says:

      It’s OK. You can run the toll plaza like most everyone else will. Why do you think that, to this day, even the EZ Pass lanes still have gates?

      • Sharon says:

        Only on mTA bridges, Not on port authority bridges. A huge waist of money that they union wanted . they claimed safety hazzard. Funny the si expressway connects the gothals bridge(PA) to the VZ bridge(mta) same drivers . HUM.

  6. Al D says:

    The argument is not flawed, sorry. It is valid. The Hank Hudson Bridge is a more lightly travelled bridge than say the Brooklyn Bridge, and additionally this is only a pilot. Let’s see how revenues dip once cars start dodging the tolls by driving through these lanes without EZ Pass. Then, let’s see how much Accounts Receivables collections costs go into recouping these tolls.

    I read about the NJ Tpke. A few years back, they had a horrible payment problem, specifically collecting on tolls that weren’t paid, and they blundered terribly in collecting on these tolls. Is that fixed today? I don’t know.

    Additionally, the VZB has no Brooklyn-bound tolls and yet traffic still backs up into Staten Island.

  7. urban conservative says:

    The debate about tolls is that the people don’t want government to have another reason to steal our money. When the State has a budget larger than a $130 billion, it doesn’t need more money. It needs to grow the economy by allowing the private sector to expand. It should also privatize some things that it controls.

    • Bolwerk says:

      I would think the “conservative” position would be to expect users to pay their own way. The government is already “stealing” our money to pay for roads. Instead of doing it with tolls, they’re doing it with confiscatory taxes that transfer money from non-drivers to drivers, from light drivers to heavy drivers, and from NYC to the suburbs and Upstate. It’s a significant part of that $130B number.

    • Boris says:

      When you buy diapers for your kids at WalMart, is WalMart stealing your money?

      • Bolwerk says:

        By his narrative, it’s when someone else buys diapers at your local Wal-Mart that Wal-Mart is stealing your money. Extra Low Prices are in part because of government subsidies (traffic, tax abatement, government entitlements for Wal-Mart’s slave labor, etc.).

    • Sharon says:

      It is doing the direct opposite. It is shrinking the private sector more and more each year. The mta is just one of hundreds of state agencies where the public money is misspent. I have worked at a few city and state agencies over the years. More tea time than work time. At one we would spend a good deal of the day chatting waiting for work. When work came the unpaid college did a large majority of the work. They were hungry for a job. I was told to slow it down when I first started. Had to leave, i felt so unproductive.

      The mta could save $2 billion per year if it was run properly. This does not include reducing some work titles to the prevailing wage of the work performed. On average mta workers get paid more than many city workers get paid for the same title

      • The mta could save $2 billion per year if it was run properly.

        Do you have actual proof for that number or did you just pull it out of thin air? You’re claiming that the MTA could save nearly 25 percent of its operating budget by reforming work rules. That’s not a tenable position.

        • Bolwerk says:

          We can do some of the math ourselves, but I’m having a hard time finding hard data.

          How much can be saved be eliminating unnecessary conductors*? If they cost $75,000/year to employ (salaries + benefits, probably a conservative estimate), eliminating 1000 of them saves $75M.

          A reasonable guestimate with extraneous labor is that it might save somewhere in the low $100 million range. Changing work rules for remaining employees, and reducing managerial overhead, might yield some more savings, but $2B sounds wildly optimistic.

          * I’m not willing to say all conductors are unnecessary.

          • Alon Levy says:

            There are 3,000 conductors, but they’re not all full-time, and they only average about $60,000 a year, including benefits. It’s about $180 million. You could also cut some drivers: the MTA uses 50% more drivers per revenue train-hour than Toei. That would save another $80 million. Anything else would have to come from administration.

    • petey says:

      how much were you paid to post that?

    • J B says:

      If we feel that way let’s start with the services you benefit most from. No more wasting taxpayer dollars on roads!

  8. Gary says:

    Ben, you must have arrived to be drawing so many ignorant conservative trolls!

    This is a big deal. Once MTA has any indication of success from this program (and they will) we’ll see a full rollout. And then it’s time to completely revisit the tolling scheme on our various bridges and tunnels. I’d like to see MTA coordinate rates with the PA to create an equitable regional tolling scheme. And of course, to toll the “free” East River crossings and generate an ongoing revenue stream for transit.

    And I second what paco said.

  9. Alon Levy says:

    Cashless tolling is 1980s technology. Singapore installed it to make the congestion pricing scheme more efficient; a similar scheme was experimented with in Hong Kong and succeeded, but was never rolled out because of public opposition. Nowadays, every car in Singapore is fit with a transponder, in which you insert a rechargeable smartcard. The smartcard has since been used for parking and vending machines, and is now compatible with the transit smartcard.

  10. wayne's world says:

    What happens to the unfortunate souls driving down from Great Barrington who don’t have an EZ pass?

    • You have an E-ZPass!

      But the answer is camera technology. High-speed tolling captures your license plate and then sends you a bill in the mail. The issue is convincing people from Great Barrington to pay a bill to New York State.

  11. jim says:

    There’s a drive-through EZ-Pass in Staten Island at Outerbridge Crossing, so this won’t be the first in the five boroughs.

    Last time I went through it, the motor-cyclist in front of me reached back and covered his license plate with his hand as he went through.

  12. Hector rivera says:

    The MTA never does anything for you or me only for themselves . They are a business not a neighborhood store . When the gateless kinks are worked out the free bridges are next no plazas just arches with cameras and readers ….. Why should drivers go over for free when passengers on a train pay a fare . Becareful what you wish for you might get it and regret it . The MTA doesn’t care how fast u go thru only that u pay … How much would that be adding all crossings …..

  13. um, yeah. says:

    1. folks: read the article. EZpass or not, you will still be able to use the bridge (or other future ‘cashless’ toll facilities) — you’ll simply get the bill in the mail. It’ll still be cheaper with EZPass.

    2. for the guy who said he was for cashless for environmental reasons, but against tolling the east river because ‘we are taxed enough’, think again: the environmental benefits of high-speed toll are limited to the small amount of emissions in local area of the toll facility. Cordon pricing however, will get people who can to use public transit and will make ALL traffic in the city smoother, with much larger environmental and health benefits. In addition, this doesn’t need to be a ‘tax’ — it could be revenue neutral by lowering other taxes. Even if it isn’t, that ‘tax’ will go to improving our transit system which benefits everybody and saving time for businesses who need to use the roads. It’s a good investment.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. […] next year, the MTA will implement cashless tolling on the Henry Hudson Bridge across the Spuyten Duyvil. Using high-speed E-ZPass readers and license […]

  2. […] a grander scheme, though, gateless, cashless tolling matters because of the way it disarms an anti-congestion pricing argument. As I wrote in September, one of the main contentions from the anti-pricing lobby concerned surface […]

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