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State Senator objects to Thruway toll increase for those without E-ZPass

New York State Thruway Authority
These large gantries replaced the traditional tollbooth on the New York State Thruway this month

A state Senator is objecting to a proposal by the New York State Thruway Authority to raise tolls by 30% for drivers who don’t have an E-ZPass.

The Thruway Authority Board of Directors is poised to approve a 30% increase for cars without the electronic toll pass at its Dec. 1 meeting. The increase would become effective in January.

The Thruway recently switched to cashless tolling, and for those who have an E-ZPass, there will be no increase. The price hike is aimed at encouraging people to sign up for the electronic pass.

State Sen. Jim Tedisco, a Republican from the Schenectady area, said the plan discriminates against the state’s poorest individuals who might not have a credit card or bank account, which are needed to activate an E-ZPass account. He said the program also requires a $10 initial deposit, and mandates that there always be a positive cash balance in the account.

“It’s a terrible plan,” said Tedisco, who added that there are many New Yorkers at or below the poverty level who don’t have a credit card or a checking account. 

But he said they still need to use the Thruway for needed medical treatment, or they could be essential but low-paid workers who need to get to their jobs.

“It makes no sense whatsoever,” he said.

Tedisco compared the Thruway Authority’s decision in the midst of the holiday season to the Grinch stealing Christmas. He is drafting legislation that would waive any toll increase, fee or surcharge for New York state motorists who are at or below the federal poverty line.

The Legislature currently has no set date to return to session before the end of the year, although legislative leaders have not ruled one out. 

The Thruway Authority said there are alternatives available for those who can’t afford the standard method of using the E-ZPass. Spokeswoman Jennifer Givner said a pre-paid credit card or money order can be used, and there is also a pay-per-trip option, where a pre-paid balance is not required. A $10 deposit is still required for the electronic tag.

“With the holiday season quickly approaching, we’re glad Senator Tedisco is focused on saving money for his constituents, which is exactly what E-ZPass does,” Givner said.

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.