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Thruway Board votes to raise tolls for drivers without E-ZPass

New York State Thruway Authority

The New York State Thruway Board voted Tuesday to raise tolls by nearly a third for drivers who don’t have an electronic E-ZPass, beginning in January. The change has so far drawn little reaction among the public, but two state senators are against parts of the plan.

The Thruway converted to all cashless tolling in mid-November, after work crews mounted cameras on 70 steel gantries that span the lanes at 58 locations on the toll road.

The remaining toll booths will be removed by next summer, and toll collectors have been reassigned or laid off.

Drivers who have the electronic tolling E-ZPass devices on their vehicle will continue to pay the same rates. But those without an E-ZPass will pay 30% more to drive the toll road, beginning Jan. 1. The bill will be sent by mail, and a $2 service charge will also be included. There will be late fees for delinquent motorists.

The board passed the measure, along with four other proposals, with no discussion.

The Thruway Authority held three virtual public hearings on the toll increase in October that drew little public interest. Democratic state Sen. David Carlucci, however, testified against additional fees for motorists without an E-ZPass who frequently cross the Gov. Mario M. Cuomo bridge -- formerly known as the Tappan Zee bridge -- between Rockland and Westchester counties.

Carlucci, who represents portions of those counties, said in one case, a nurse commuting to work without an E-ZPass to care for COVID-19 patients was charged $160 in tolls, but racked up $3,260 in fees and fines when she was late with the payments. Carlucci said she’s not the only one of his constituents who has run into trouble with the tolls and related fees -- even before the new rules take effect.

“And (it) has just been a snowballing effect for an economic personal disaster for them,” said Carlucci.

Another state senator, Republican Jim Tedisco of the Schenectady area, has proposed legislation to waive the fees and surcharges for low-income New Yorkers.

He calls the toll increase a “terrible” plan.

“There are many, many New Yorkers at or below the poverty level who don’t have credit to begin with, and they certainly don’t have a credit card. And they don’t have a checking account,” Tedisco said. “It makes no sense whatsoever.” 

With no scheduled legislative session so far for December, his bill stands little chance of passing.

The Thruway Authority said there are other choices available for those who can’t afford the standard way of paying for E-ZPass. Spokeswoman Jennifer Givner said a prepaid credit card or money order can be used, and there is also a pay-per-trip option. A $10 deposit is still required, though, for the electronic tag.

The increase comes as the total intake from tolls is down 17% in 2020, due to reduced travel during the pandemic. That’s far below the modest growth rate of 1% to 2% predicted by the Thruway Authority at this time last year. And they expect to continue seeing fewer vehicles on the road in 2021.

According to the Authority’s annual report and budget, presented at the meeting, steps were taken to mitigate the loss in revenue. The Authority took out a short-term loan of $225 million from JPMorgan Chase. It has also reduced its reimbursement for services of the New York State Troopers in Troop T, the division dedicated to enforcing speed limits and other rules on the Thruway. It also had to eliminate 76 positions at the Authority through attrition.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.