All-electronic tolling has arrived in Massachusetts, and the world hasn’t ended.
In fact, it has been pretty smooth sailing so far, without the terrible traffic backups that many expected during the removal of the old toll plazas.
Still, there are many questions about how this brave new world will impact commutes, particularly for drivers who have managed to remain E-ZPass-free.
Luckily, at Starts and Stops, we have some answers. Read on for information about two frequently asked questions, and let me know if there’s anything else you need to know.
Rental car blues
Norman Ainbinder is one of several readers who wanted to know how all-electronic tolling will affect rental car drivers.
With cash tolls, it wasn’t a problem. If you had a rental car, you could just slide through the cash toll lane and pay the collector.
Now, with the cash lanes kicked to the curb, rental car drivers must think of another way.
“What are the car rental companies doing in response?” Ainbinder asked in an e-mail. “In Florida, you get ripped off by the companies charging high fees.”
The same appears be true in Massachusetts.
Most rental car companies allow you to rent an E-ZPass for the day, but the prices are significantly higher than what it would cost to drive just a few miles on the Massachusetts Turnpike.
Enterprise offers a “TollPass Automatic” plan in Massachusetts that might be a bit cheaper, but still charges you extra. With the plan, you don’t have to rent a transponder and won’t pay extra if you don’t pass through a toll. But if you do, you have to pay not only the toll but also an extra $3.95 for each transaction (with a maximum of $19.75 per rental).
Zipcars come equipped with E-ZPasses, according to the company’s website. You’ll be charged for the tolls you rack up, but it can sometimes take as long as three weeks for the company to see those charges.
The E-ZPass Massachusetts website also says you can use your own transponder when you’re renting a car. But you have to add the rental car’s license plate to the account with a start and end date for the rental period, since the gantry system is supposed to match accounts with a specific license plate.
For people who drive the Massachusetts Turnpike every day, getting an E-ZPass is an easy decision to make. It’s free, and lets you pay less in tolls, so you’ll save money each trip.
But what about the occasional Canadian visitor to our fair state?
Tom Tyler of Aylesford, Nova Scotia, says he drives into Boston every few years to catch a Red Sox game.
“This year, I went through a couple toll booths that were electronic and didn’t receive a bill in the mail,” he wrote. “Are they tracking Canadian license plates?”
So will Tyler get a free ride under the new system?
No, says Jacquelyn Goddard, spokeswoman for the state’s transportation department. The state will be tracking Canadian license plates, and the bill will arrive in the mail.
Of course, people from out of state or out of country can also get an E-ZPass Massachusetts transponder for their cars. There’s no residency requirement, so anyone can get the corresponding discounts.