Goodbye, tollbooth: E-ZPass will soon retire a turnpike icon

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The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission is moving ahead with plans to convert to an all-electronic toll collection system by 2018, an inevitable nod to technology that will improve the situation for motorists.

Once fully implemented, the 545-mile turnpike's 76 tollbooths will be a thing of the past. Vehicles would maintain normal highway speeds as they pass under overhead stanchions equipped with electronic readers, which is what happens now in some E-ZPass lanes.

The turnpike commission has not determined yet what method will be used to charge motorists who don't have an E-ZPass transponder. One option is electronically reading their license plate numbers for billing. In Florida, for instance, drivers who don't have a pass can either prepay into an account based on their vehicle license plate or they are billed after the fact, with a surcharge tacked on.

Regardless of the process selected, E-ZPass customers will continue to pay a lower rate in tolls than drivers without the devices. Currently, it costs the turnpike just 20 cents to process an E-ZPass transaction versus $1 for cash. The transponders cost $10 and drivers must set up an account with at least $35 in it, with tolls automatically deducted as they are incurred, plus a $3 per year fee. E-ZPass users receive a 25 percent average discount over cash customers now.

With a fully automated system, drivers will save more than money. All-electronic tolling saves gasoline, reduces emissions, speeds the flow of traffic, prevents backups and cuts down on the likelihood of rear-end collisions while lined up at a tollbooth.

There's no argument against this kind of progress.

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