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.