Fast Lane Follies

This morning’s Boston Herald reports that some people have been having trouble with the EZ Pass system on highways. (For those not familiar with it, the EZ Pass system allows motorists to get a transponder that lets them drive right through toll gates with slowing down, not stopping; the transponder records their passage, and bills them later. It’s currently in use in 11 northeast states.)
It seems that some people are getting billed for trips through the tolls that they didn’t take.

The problem comes from the practice of states of issuing “custom” themed plates. For an additional fee, drivers can get special plates that celebrate some event, organization, or cause. Sports teams, conservation programs, and historic events are the most popular.

The catch is that the states tend to re-use numbers for those plates, so there can be several New Hampshire plates with the numbers “1234567” on them.

The police have managed to adapt to this quite readily. They simply distinguish “NH 1234567” from “NH Moose 1234567” on their records.

But EZPass cameras don’t make that distinction. A New Hampshire tag is a New Hampshire tag, and they’re gonna get their money from SOMEONE.

The company that does EZPass’s billing says that the solution is simple: get rid of the custom plates.

I have a couple of problems with that: one pragmatic, one philosophical.

The pragmatic one is that the custom plates are one of the few ways people voluntarily pay MORE money to the state than they are legally obliged to. It’s a great money-maker for the state, and the people who get them don’t mind paying for them. It would cost the states money to oblige the billing company.

The philosophical issue is this: the custom plates pre-date the agreement with EZPass. The plates were there first. The boobs in charge of the EZPass billing program should have known that they existed and taken steps to deal with it.

The EZPass system is a good idea, and if I regularly took toll roads, I’d probably get it, myself. But I think I’d get a vanity plate (I wonder if “JAY TEA” is available?) just to decrease the chances I’d get nailed by accident.

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