Home MTA Bridges and Tunnels Video of the Day: Cashless tolling on the HHP

Video of the Day: Cashless tolling on the HHP

by Benjamin Kabak

No longer will E-ZPass-equipped cars have to slow down as they pass through the tollbooths at the Spuyten Duyvil Bridge along the Henry Hudson Parkway. The MTA last week kicked off its cashless tolling pilot in north Manhattan, and to coincide with the new program, they released the video embedded above.

“There’s a better way to collect tolls in the 21st century, and it’s called all-electronic tolling,” MTA Chairman and CEO Jay H. Walder said during the gate-removal ceremonial. “By removing the gate arms, we begin the process of ushering in this new era in toll collection.”

For now, the pilot will begin with gateless tolling on the E-ZPass side. Three cash lanes will remain open during the gateless part of the trial, and three E-ZPass lanes will be open for cars. The concept behind gateless tolling is both simple and not a new one outside of the confines of New York City. High-speed equipment can read the E-ZPass devices, and those cars who pass through the E-ZPass-only lanes without an E-ZPass will receive a $50 ticket in the mail.

Early next year, the MTA will unveil cashless tolling as well. The camera technology will be in place, and those cars without an E-ZPass will receive an invoice instead of a summons in the mail. The authority says it chose the Henry Hudson Bridge as the pilot for the first-ever fully-automated toll crossing because of its market share. Currently, 85 percent of cars passing over the bridge during the week use E-ZPass, and the ban on commercial traffic on the Henry Hudson Parkway make the pilot easier to manage.

For the MTA, this pilot is a big deal because of the impact a gateless and cashless tolling can have on its operations. Without the need to slow down to pay a toll, traffic will flow smoother through the Bridges & Tunnels crossings thus improving car efficiency and reducing emissions. The MTA can reduce its own toll-collection costs as well.

On 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 traffic. By installing toll booths, the spurious argument went, the city would contribute to congestion on local streets leading into Manhattan.

Of course, congestion pricing proponents knew that high-speed tolling was a real option, and now everyone will get to see it in action. The anti-congestion pricing congestion argument will disappear right before our eyes.

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John January 25, 2011 - 3:02 pm

So the toll for people without ez-pass is $50? Seems like a steep toll.

Benjamin Kabak January 25, 2011 - 3:04 pm

The toll for people without E-ZPass is $4 in the cash lane. The toll for people without E-ZPass who go through the E-ZPass lanes is a $50 ticket.

John January 25, 2011 - 4:26 pm

Right, but isn’t the idea to eventually get rid of the cash lanes altogether?

Benjamin Kabak January 25, 2011 - 4:27 pm

Yes. And when they do that, they’ll reset the non-E-ZPass fare to something less than $50 but higher than the current E-ZPass toll. My guess is that it’ll be around $5, but that’s a completely uninformed guess.

Gary Reilly January 25, 2011 - 3:09 pm

I’m excited to see this prove the case and roll out to the MTA’s other bridge and tunnel properties.

Then to see true full-speed tolling like on the Garden State Parkway and the elimination of all booths. Finally, to see the East River bridges get tolls.

Andrew D. Smith January 25, 2011 - 3:23 pm

The MTA could take it a step further and eliminate the cash lanes. Cars without EZPass would get bills in the mail. The do this along the Dallas North Tollway now. Cars with the Texas equivalent of EZPass pay one rate. Other cars pay about twice as much, presumably to account for the higher cost of billing.

Benjamin Kabak January 25, 2011 - 3:25 pm

That’s what they’re doing next year. It’s a two-tiered pilot program. Perhaps I wasn’t clear about that in the post.

R. Graham January 25, 2011 - 3:47 pm

I’m in the camp that the MTA should have “Manned Up” and went straight to the all electronic tolling. They know high speed cameras would work. They don’t need that much testing since you have other E-ZPass partners doing high speed tolling already.

Even the MTA is ALREADY doing high speed tolling itself with the E-ZPass express lanes coming off of the Tappen Zee. My problem with doing the two-tiered is that you are trying to bait drivers into a $50 toll violation and then transition them into driving through an all electronic system without and E-ZPass. Can you imagine how many drivers who are still too stubborn to get a pass will say “wait, not I have no choice but to pay a $50 toll violation?” We know how good the MTA is at getting all the information out there and then there are those who continue to ignore the warnings provided to them.

They should have just pulled the band aid off. Right now as is more questions and confusion is being created for next year.

Benjamin Kabak January 25, 2011 - 3:48 pm

It’s probably a minor point, but the Tappan Zee isn’t an MTA bridge. They’re not running electronic tolling there.

R. Graham January 25, 2011 - 3:52 pm

I keep forgetting the Tappen Zee is part of the NYS Thruway and not the MTA.

From what it seems the MTA always finds a way to remain behind the curve while everyone else is already moving through it. Toll gates, E-ZPass express lanes, high speed cameras and the list goes on.

Andrew January 25, 2011 - 6:38 pm

Virtually every other toll agency removed the arms with EZ-Pass from day one. I don’t know why the MTA refused until now. This should have happened in the 90’s.

Better late than never, I guess.

Incidentally, why do the MTA’s cash lanes not accept EZ-Pass? Many other agencies allow EZ-Pass in all lanes. (Hopefully the point will be moot next year.)

Mike G January 25, 2011 - 7:17 pm

Somehow new technology is a challenge for the MTA. Gateless tolls are used all over the world, but the MTA has to run a “pilot” program here. Just like they are “testing” the turbine busses, even though they’re in everyday use in Baltimore, or running the “pilot” program for Paypass even though contactless payment is in use in LA, DC, Boston…

Andrew January 25, 2011 - 10:07 pm

This has nothing to do with new technology. The MTA was introducing the same EZ-Pass technology at basically the same time as the other agencies in the region. For some reason, the policy decision was made to keep the gates, even though the technology obviously didn’t require them.

From what I hear, the turbine buses failed the tests (I don’t know why). It’s probably a good thing the MTA didn’t order a large number of them off the bat. It looks like the turbine buses failed in Baltimore too, according to http://articles.baltimoresun.c.....le-route/2:

The money was used to acquire a fleet of 13 low-emission diesel-hybrid buses from Design Line — a decision the city would come to regret. The vehicles displayed a tendency to break down in hot weather – a failing that seriously disrupted service last summer.

Kendrick said the city has ended its agreement with Design Line and has placed an order for 13 new non-turbine Orion buses that may not be as “green” but are considered more reliable. The Design Line buses will be phased out, he said.

The contactless pilot wasn’t to test the concept – which obviously works elsewhere – but rather to test elements of the specific installation in the NYC region, such as integration with the various communication networks.

Scott E January 25, 2011 - 10:18 pm

I think they are not testing the technology, but the ability to recover tolls. How many New York drivers have Pennsylvania, Florida, or North Carolina license plates to save money on insurance? These are the same drivers that will likely try to dodge the tolls, and tracking them down through out-of-state DMV’s could be an onerous task.

Andrew January 25, 2011 - 10:38 pm

Couldn’t B&T simply ask the other agencies in the region how they solve this problem and what their success rate is? Is there some reason it would be notably different here than on the George Washington Bridge (PANYNJ) or the Tappan Zee Bridge (NYSTA)? If anything, it would probably be less of a problem here, since the bridges across the Hudson get far more long distance traffic.

Andrew D. Smith January 26, 2011 - 9:38 am

No. You made it perfectly clear. My reading skills apparently need some work. Sorry.

Donald January 25, 2011 - 11:35 pm

Toll booths without arms is nothing new. The Port Authority has been using them since the beginning of time. Why it took the MTA so long to adopt the same system is beyond me.

Also, taking pictures of cars’ license plates and mailing them ticket/ summons will NOT work. What about cars with out of state plates? What about Candadian license plates? What about brand new cars right out of the show room that don’t yet have license plates? How aze they going to get their invoice in the mail if you have no clue who owns the car?

Andrew S January 26, 2011 - 3:34 am

While I don’t know about brand new cars they are perfectly able to bill people with other states licensee plates. It also works with out of country plates as far as I know. When I was in Canada I was on an all electronic tolls highway(http://www.407etr.com/) and a few weeks after I got back to the US I received a bill for the road.

JK January 26, 2011 - 9:01 am

The comment by Andrew at 10:38 about collecting penalty fees from out of state motorists is bulls-eye. For a long-time MTA B@T managers were convinced they would lose too much money from non-stop tolling because not enough motorists had E-ZPass, and that collecting penalties would be too expensive to be worthwhile. A good guess is that MTA felt that enough bridge/tunnel users had E-ZPass to make the operational benefits of gate-less tolling worth the compliance/enforcement costs. In other words, market penetration of E-ZPass hit some target. NYS, NJ and Penn need to further improve their cooperation on vehicle insurance, fine collection etc. Maybe NYS should give those states a share of fines it collects from motorists registered in their states. The non-resident insurance/registration scam is out of hand.

R. Graham January 26, 2011 - 9:15 am

As unpopular as this will sound, I don’t have a problem with people playing the non-resident game. As the old saying goes, if you’re going to play the game, play it right. If you register your car in Penn or NC. GET E-ZPASS!

If you don’t for whatever stupid reason get mail forward and pay what you owe or don’t complain when you get caught and marshalls come for your car.

Gary Reilly January 26, 2011 - 10:08 am

Electronic camera enabled tolling is an excellent technology. Any car owner should be responsible for the tolls incurred by that vehicle.

And collection should be easily enforceable – deadbeats could see their licenses suspended or revoked and potentially even a lien against the title. It is a very workable system. Ingenius really.

As for the trial: with any change like this you can expect political and even legal challenges. MTA will be able to point to this data in their decision making process. I have no doubt that (a) the MTA already knows it will work and (b) intends a full roll-out. Conducting the pilot provides the evidence and will ensure a smooth rollout.

As for why MTA took so long to remove the gates – you’ve got me. It should have been done a decade ago at least. The only thing I can think of is the security fetishists who have defended the gates in past debates as a place to stop vehicles for greater potential scrutiny (a totally bogus argument, IMO).

R. Graham January 26, 2011 - 12:06 pm

Nothing is more embarrassing than being stuck behind that gate if your E-ZPass is slightly short. I may forget to replenish my account when going in and out of NJ without worry and just replenish it that same night, but NEVER with a MTA toll. I always double check before using the Tri-borough.

Also nothing is more frustrating than being stuck behind someone who is stuck behind the gate. No way out but waiting unless you are far enough back to change lanes prior to reaching the safety cones.

SubwayNut January 26, 2011 - 6:04 pm

Out here in Colorado the ridiculously overpriced E-470 tollway has done the transition from ExpressToll open-road high speed tolling and regular toll booths (that were to the side of the regular lanes that had their own deceleration/acceleration lanes like you were getting off the highway) to simply using the ExpressToll and License Plate Tolling methods. When they did the transition in 2008 there was a six month period when License Plate Tolling was activated in the ExpressToll Lanes but the regular toll booths remained open to help people transition, this is what the MTA should be doing now, to help people transition over to License Plate Tolling and doing a dry low-volume try out of their mailing billing system before it is used on a full basis

This also brings up one small but important particular to New Yorkers segment of the car market what to do about rental cars. For example DIA Airport is the most major destination directly served by E-470 and rental car companies charge ridiculous fees to drive on E-470 with high service fees on top of E-470s tolls. Renting a car from Payless Car Rental last year wanted $30 to drive an unlimited use of the highway, we would have probably ranked up maybe $10 in tolls if we had decided to take E-470, but decided to avoid it because of the ridiculous fees. Guess we could have gotten an ExpressToll Tag for rental cars and called it in at the airport (done that with EzPass before). Still something that should be know particularly to non-vehicle owning New Yorkers or out of towners renting cars. ZipCar I just checked and has EzPasses in their New York cars and simply bills users without any service fees.

R. Graham January 26, 2011 - 7:19 pm

Rental car companies here in NY regularly charge a credit card deposit. Enterprise car rental charges a $250 deposit. If all goes well with the car and other unmentioned issues. You get that deposit back. If not, if you pick up a red light camera ticket, said deposit will be used to pay for that ticket.

That should likely help to cover the cost of tolling as well. They might increase the deposit and maybe charge a separate tolling deposit. Either way they have you credit card information and can easily come back and charge you for anything they missed.

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[…] been nearly four years since the MTA introduced cashless tolling on the Henry Hudson Parkway, but here we are. While I had originally hoped this would do away with a major objection to congestion pricing, the […]


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