Do you seethe with envy when other cars whip past you through the EZ Pass toll booth lanes? Get used to living life in the slow lane.
BY GERALD NEILY
The Maryland Department of Transportation wants to impose a one-time $21 and monthly $1.50 fee on
users of its EZ Pass electronic toll collection system, saying that it would deter only infrequent
users of the toll roads.
This makes about as much sense as back when America On Line tried to charge people for using the
Internet. Do you remember AOL? Not long ago, they were bigger than Google, but they erroneously
thought that the Internet was a niche product which could be marketed like an exclusive club.
MDOT must know this is stupid. Right now, they are building the multi-billion dollar InterCounty
Connector in Montgomery County which will operate only through electronic tolls, with no toll
booths at all. Anyone without an EZ Pass will have to pay through a cumbersome and expensive video mail
billing system similar to that used when you run a red light. Or take the old slow free route.
Even more importantly, MDOT plans to start charging tolls on the ICC and I-95 that vary by time of
day and congestion levels. MDOT has justified this as a way of controlling traffic demand so that
the roads don’t become overclogged, by encouraging motorists to only use the roads when they really
need to and capacity is available. In effect, everyone would become a less frequent user. This makes great economic sense, and is why MDOT has been able to build the ICC as a six lane highway instead of twelve lanes like parts of nearby I-270.
The whole idea is to manage traffic demand by everyone – from hardcore commuters who might think
twice about taking the train instead of driving into Maryland everyday from Delaware or West
Virginia, to those driving only on Thanksgiving weekend.
But MDOT’s plan to charge a monthly EZ Pass fee is incredibly shortsighted. Instead of making electronic tolls an indispensible traffic management tool, they are attempting to make it an exclusive club with barriers to entry. Just ask AOL how successful that will be.