Worth the Wait? Some Resist Toll-Payment Devices

Several days per week, Rodney Brown rolls up to a toll plaza in his home state of Texas and waits in line.

And waits.

And waits some more -- even as other cars zip by.

Brown is a holdout against the EZ Tag system in the Houston area. So he and others like him must crowd into the increasingly scarce toll lanes that still accept cash.

"It's mind-boggling, isn't it?" said Michael Kolb, vice president of Traffic Technologies Inc., which helps public agencies set up automated toll systems. "Every day I pass through a toll plaza, and the cash line is five, six and 10 cars deep. I scratch my head and say, 'What are these people doing?' "

They may believe they're playing it safe. In response to an online query, dozens told ABCNEWS.com via e-mail why they think getting an electronic toll device increases their risk of being monitored, accidentally overcharged, ticketed for speeding and more.

Brown, an attorney, said he resists the automation because he doesn't like the way his local authority draws money directly from bank accounts or credit cards to keep the toll devices funded. And that's not all.

"What if they have a computer glitch and they debit too much?" he asked. "If I stop using the toll road, how easy would it be to cancel the auto-debits? And since a computer records each time I pass through the toll booth, I also don't like the idea of someone knowing each and every time I drive on a particular road. That's kind of intrusive, I think. That means the toll authority would have a pretty good idea of which part of the city I'm in at just about all times. Scary!"

Still, after two years of waiting in line or avoiding the toll road on principle, Brown might be wavering.

"Up until the last few months or so, I adamantly opposed the EZ Tag for the reasons I stated," he wrote. "But the lines/wait are now becoming so annoying that I'm seriously thinking about getting it."

Driven by promises of shorter waits, discounts and convenience, millions of Americans have signed up for EZ Tag, E-ZPass and other automated toll systems. In many areas, significant majorities of toll users have switched over, and lanes staffed with toll-takers have been cut back or even eliminated completely.

Benefits

Automated toll advocates say switching to devices like windshield- or bumper-mounted transponders is no immediate money saver for toll agencies, as some think. After all, equipment and construction can be pricey, as can shifting manpower to customer service and data processing, and creating technical compatibility with neighboring systems.

However, automated tolls offer more flexibility and the potential for innovation, proponents say.

For example, they say, rapid toll collection can relieve traffic choke points, and cut down on emissions from idling cars. Electronic systems can make it less confusing to vary toll rates based upon congestion and time of day. Checking transponders can help officials monitor traffic flow for more accurate traffic reports. And eventually, the technology may allow operators to dismantle traditional toll plazas entirely and replace them with checkpoints that collect fees without slowing traffic at all.

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