E-ZPass bonus: The tolls are lower and the trip is faster

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Everybody loves a sale. There’s something about a quick calculation that says “You just saved $XX” that makes shoppers feel better than the corollary, “You just spent $XX.”

Doing the math that way should help motorists who use the Pennsylvania Turnpike feel a little better about a rate increase that goes into effect on Sunday, even though it is the sixth price hike in as many years for driving on the 359-mile highway and other state toll roads. Drivers who use E-ZPass transponders get a considerable price break over cash customers, and the price difference keeps getting larger.

The most recent toll increase is a 12 percent hike for cash customers but only 2 percent for E-ZPass users. For example, cash customers who drive all the way across the state in a passenger car would pay $43.90 eastbound compared to $31.38 for E-ZPass customers.

The policy that gives a discount for E-ZPass use makes sense for drivers and for Pennsylvania. Turnpike officials estimate that cash payments cost five to 10 times more to process, at least in part because of the need to have manned tollbooths where those fares can be collected. E-ZPass saves money for drivers and the state.

Although no one likes to see prices go up, the fare increases have been necessary so the turnpike commission can contribute $450 million a year to other state transportation projects. That requirement was part of a 2007 law designed to shore up transportation funding and was to run through 2057. However, because of the new funding law enacted last month, those payments are expected to drop to $50 million a year in 2022.

With fares expected to increase for at least several more years, and with plans for the turnpike to eliminate cash fares by 2018, there are good reasons to sign up for E-ZPass and, as the name suggests, it is easy.

If drivers sign up to have their E-ZPass account linked to a bank account or credit card, they pay a $3 per year fee and must put $35 in their toll account to start. When the balance drops below $10, another deduction is taken automatically from the debit or credit card. Those who wish to pay by check or with cash must also pay a $10 deposit on the transponder.

Getting a discount on the fares is part of the bargain. Zipping through toll booths without having to stop is just a bonus.

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