Bumper to Bumper: Finding an E-ZPass that’s right for the ICC (and you) -- Gazette.Net


As The Gazette’s new Bumper to Bumper columnist, I am here to answer your questions and listen to your qualms regarding transportation in the county, be it by car, train, foot or bicycle.

The Gazette received an email last week from a driver who was fined $50 after traveling on the Intercounty Connector without an E-ZPass in March, then failing to pay the toll until June.

According to the driver, who could not be reached for comment, had there been a toll booth on the highway that accepted cash, there wouldn’t be a problem.

Could there ever be a toll booth on the ICC, staffed by a person who accepted cash in return for swift passage across the county?

Don’t count on it. The Maryland Transportation Authority has no plans to build toll booths, according to spokeswoman Kelly Melhem.

Booths would require more land for toll collection and would slow traffic on the highway, Melhem wrote in an email.

Who wants to pay for that?

With the next segment of the ICC from Georgia Avenue to Interstate 95 in Prince George’s County slated to open by the end of this year or early 2012, we think it’s worth jumping on the E-ZPass bandwagon.

With the E-ZPass electronic toll collection system, a driver opens an account and receives a transponder to be placed on the dashboard of the car. When the driver goes through an E-ZPass toll booth, an antenna on the toll booth reads the transponder and collects the toll from an pre-paid E-ZPass account, thereby eliminating the need to sit in long lines for cash-only toll booths.

A car can travel on the ICC with or without an E-ZPass, but for each trip without the transponder, a $3 administrative fee will be slapped on a bill with the toll and mailed to the car’s owner, said ICC spokesman Ray Feldmann.

In the case of our reader, he incurred $50 in administrative fees after failing to respond to three Notice of Toll Due requests mailed to him over three months, according to a letter from ICC officials declining to have the fees expunged.

Of the over 12 million E-ZPass accounts activated in the 14 states where the passes are accepted, fewer than 5 percent about 578,000 are registered through Maryland, according to the Maryland Transportation Authority.

A driver can open an E-ZPass account in any of those 14 states, and each state has its own policies and cost structure.

Some, like Indiana and New Jersey, charge a monthly fee for each account. Others, like Delaware and Maine, require a deposit for the transponder, anywhere from $3 up to $25.

Maryland E-ZPass charges both: a $1.50 monthly fee and a $21 transponder deposit.

Of all the E-ZPass options, Massachusetts’s FAST LANE program sounds the most enticing. For $20 to be paid toward your first trips through the tolls, you can open a FAST LANE account, and unlike other E-ZPass states, FAST LANE does not charge a monthly fee or a transponder deposit. As an added bonus, the pass can be presented to a loved one with a gift certificate, making it a lovely present for holidays, birthdays and graduations, according the Massachusetts Department of Transportation website.

Of the 2,919 FAST LANE accounts opened by Marylanders since 1998, 540 were activated since February, the month ICC opened its first segment from Interstate 270 to Georgia Ave, according to Michael Verseckes, a Massachusetts Department of Transportation spokesman, and 1,018 FAST LANE transponders were mailed to Maryland households.

Either a lot of folks celebrate birthdays within those four months, or the advantages to having a FAST LANE accounts have been noticed by Maryland residents.nnourmohammadi@gazette.net