Cashless Tolling In NYC - Not Yet, But Moving Toward It

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Model of the Throgs Neck Bridge, part of the Panorama of the City of New York at the Queens Museum of Art. (Photo by bankbryan / Flickr.

(New York, NY - WNYC) If the NY MTA is on a ten-mile march toward cashless tolling on its nine bridges and crossings, it has, roughly speaking, just passed the two mile mark and is going strong. But authority spokesman Judie Glave insists it could still quit any time.

That's a far cry from my report of yesterday, which declared the NY MTA ready to go the distance and put cashless tolling on all its crossings. It turns out I read too much into the words, "The pilot has been a success," spoken at a committee meeting yesterday by Don Spero, the authority's chief financial officer of bridges and tunnels.

He was referring to an experiment on the Henry Hudson Bridge, which connects the Bronx with the northern end of Manhattan.

In January, the MTA removed the gates from the bridge's EZ Pass lanes, which sped up toll collection while reducing congestion and pollution. Six months later, cash-paying drivers were given the option of buying an EZ Pass from a toll-taker at the bridge. Spero reported 7,500 tags had been sold in four months, boosting the bridge's EZ Pass usage by more than 5 percent.

The MTA will now be moving into Phase 2 of its pilot program on the Henry Hudson Bridge, which is instituting cashless tolling in the spring. Drivers will have two payment options: cruise through with their EZ Pass tag and pay $2.20 or have their license plate photographed and a bill for $4 mailed to their home.

That's the change I mistakenly thought was coming to all the crossings. In fact, cashless tolling will be tested on the Henry Hudson Bridge for about nine months and then evaluated. If all goes well, it could spread to the NY MTA's other bridges and tunnels: the Bronx-Whitestone, Throgs Neck, Verrazano-Narrows, Robert F. Kennedy, Cross Bay and Marine Parkway Bridges, along with the Brooklyn Battery and Queens Midtown Tunnels.

What will now become standard at those crossings is on-site sale of EZ Pass tags. Glave said the more drivers who use EZ Pass, the less it costs the authority to collect their tolls. And thanks to a change of contractor earlier this year, the NY MTA now pays $8.90 for each tag, down from $20.95. Spero said that alone saved the authority $9.3 million dollars on a recent bulk purchase.

Though the NY MTA is unwilling to commit to anything beyond a pilot program on one bridge, it seems safe to say the incentives for putting cashless tolling at all its crossing at some time in the future is already strong--and that would mark a major change in the way drivers pay to get around.

We'll keep you posted.