E-zpass is the way to go

North Penn Life - - Opinion -

With Thanks­giv­ing hav­ing just passed, hun­dreds of thou­sands of Penn­syl­va­nia res­i­dents hit lo­cal in­ter­states and toll roads to cel­e­brate with ex­tended fam­i­lies and friends.

To­day, when it comes to th­ese toll roads, there are two kinds of mo­torists — those with E-ZPass (S0 per­cent) and those with­out it (40 per­cent). Those with it barely slow down as they pass un­der scan­ners that charge their ac­counts elec­tron­i­cally. Those with­out it, find them­selves sit­ting in lines — some­times long ones — wait­ing for a hu­man toll taker to ac­cept cash and make change.

Well, if the Penn­syl­va­nia Turn­pike Com­mis­sion has its way, those lines will soon be dis­ap­pear­ing. Along with them so will 700 to 800 toll-tak­ing jobs. Just two weeks ago, act­ing com­mis­sion CEO Craig Shuey an­nounced a plan that would have the turn­pike toll­booth free by 2018.

This is, af­ter all, the 21st cen­tury. There was a time when the most ef­fi­cient way to col­lect tolls was to have a hu­man be­ing in a toll both all day and night putting out their hand. That day is gone. In the age of smart­phones, dig­i­tal cam­eras, and elec­tronic bank­ing there is a much bet­ter way.

There will be tran­si­tion costs. But in the long run they will pale in com­par­i­son to the cost of paying the salaries, health care and pen­sion ben­e­fits of the pro­fes­sional toll taker.

As it is, it costs the turn­pike com­mis­sion $S7 mil­lion a year to run the toll plazas. By 2014, that cost jumps to $77 mil­lion thanks mostly to those salaries and ben­e­fits.

For years, the tech­nol­ogy has been avail­able to make toll tak­ing faster, cheaper and more con­ve­nient. Health­ier, too.

Ob­vi­ously, hav­ing a job that re­quires in­hal­ing car fumes all day can’t be healthy. But what’s worse is that traf­fic con­ges­tion neg­a­tively af­fects the health of res­i­dents who live nearby, es­pe­cially chil­dren.

Ac­cord­ing to a study pub­lished in the Amer­i­can Eco­nomic Jour­nal, E-Z Pass-type tolling cuts down traf­fic con­ges­tion and hence the lo­cal pol­lu­tion that comes with it. Re­searchers found that ex­pec­tant moth­ers who lived within two miles of an EZPass plaza, as op­posed to a tra­di­tional stop-and-go toll sta­tion, gave birth to health­ier, heartier ba­bies.

For decades toll-taker unions have man­aged to im­prove mem­bers’ pay and work­ing con­di­tions. But in some places the amount of toll money coming in is barely enough to pay the work­ers, let alone road and bridge re­pairs for which tolls were orig­i­nally levied.

It can be ar­gued th­ese hard-work­ing toll tak­ers de­served ev­ery penny. Af­ter all, be­ing in a toll booth all day is bor­ing, un­healthy and de­serves good com­pen­sa­tion. But the bet­ter ar­gu­ment is that peo­ple shouldn’t be put to work do­ing bor­ing jobs that machines can do bet­ter, faster and cheaper.

As it is, Penn­syl­va­nia is start­ing to charge non-E-Z Passers more for the priv­i­lege of sit­ting in line than it does E-ZPass. cus­tomers to zip by toll sta­tions. Come 2018, you old-school types will still be able to go with­out E-ZPass. Turn­pike cam­eras will take a photo of your li­cense plate and send you a bill, oth­er­wise known as a ticket. There’s a smarter, E-wer way to go. Jour­nal Reg­is­ter News Ser­vice

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