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Cashless tolls considered on bridges, tunnels between NYC and NJ
15 May 2007

NEW YORK (AP) - Bridges and tunnels taking millions of drivers from New Jersey to New York City could become the first in the nation to eliminate cash tolls, instead taking photographs of cars and billing them later, the head of a bistate agency said Tuesday.

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates six crossings linking the two states, will study cashless tolls and possible higher tolls during congested traffic times. The possible toll increase mirrors a separate plan by Mayor Michael Bloomberg to charge drivers more to enter the city at certain locations.

"An all-electronic toll system could be a tremendous boon to our road transportation system, helping to smooth the choke points at bridges and tunnels," said Anthony Shorris, the Port Authority's executive director. "This would mark end of the toll booth as we know it, replacing these brick-and-mortar symbols of the 20th century with the digital-imaging technology of the 21st century."

Shorris said the agency would begin a study on the toll system within weeks; a no-cash system on crossings like the George Washington Bridge and Lincoln Tunnel wouldn't take effect for at least five years.

The goal is to reduce the vicious rush-hour traffic jams that are commonplace at crossings like the Lincoln Tunnel and George Washington Bridge, where tolls cost cars up to $6 to enter New York City. The cash exchange between drivers and toll-booth operators can create long lines of cars entering the city, while an electronic system keeps vehicles moving at a faster rate.

Several transit agencies around the country already have electronic tolls, including the E-ZPass system at all New York City crossings and on many highways in the Northeast. The E-ZPass system tracks drivers with electronic devices attached to their windshields and bills them later for the tolls.

Over 70 percent of motorists using the Port Authority's six crossings already use E-ZPass. Under the new idea, drivers without E-ZPass would be billed after security cameras photographed their license plate and sent invoices in the mail, Shorris said.

A Toronto highway operates a cashless toll system and London roads charge motorists more to drive in traffic. But no U.S. toll roads have adopted a system where cash is not accepted, transit experts said.

Jon Orcutt, president of Tri-State Transportation Campaign, said eliminating tollbooths would end the need to have multiple lanes of cars trying to drive around each other to get into the toll lane that is cash-only or E-ZPass-only.

"Once you have nonstop, free-flowing tolls you don't even need nearly as many lanes," he said.

Shorris said the agency would also consider charging drivers more for traveling across bridges and tunnels at certain times, similar to Bloomberg's proposal to charge vehicles for entering congested parts of the city during rush hours.

Some commuter groups wondered how cashless tolls would be enforced, or whether motorists without E-ZPass would be charged more for getting billed in the mail.

"It may effectively be a higher toll if they charge a processing fee to send you the bill," said Stephen Carrellas, New Jersey's coordinator for the National Motorists Association. He added: "What happens if you ignore the bill?"

The Port Authority has sought out local prosecutors' help to charge scofflaws with theft of services and could do the same with other motorists who wouldn't pay bills in the mail, agency spokesman John McCarthy said.

Besides the George Washington Bridge and Lincoln Tunnel, the agency operates the Holland Tunnel, the Bayonne Bridge, Goethals Bridge and Outerbridge Crossing. Last year more than 126 million vehicles paid tolls to enter the city.
 
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