Once in a while, a good idea evolves into something tangible. Electronic toll collection is one such idea. In the Northeast, motorists can now travel from New Jersey to New Hampshire without having to stop once and search for change to pay a bridge toll. This new ease of travel is thanks to E-ZPass, which, as the largest electronic toll collection system in the country, is setting a standard.

Electronic toll collection is making commutes more bearable in other regions as well, with as many as 20 agencies across thecountryusing someformofit. Otherstatesthat have adopted it so far include Florida, Texas, California, Oklahoma, Kansas, Georgia and Colorado.

In New Jersey, the E-ZPass system developed by Mark IV Industries produced results immediately, although some of the benefits, such as a reduction in air pollution, will have to be measured over time.

"Its extremely complex, but what it has done as far as clearing out the congestion in our toll plazas is absolutely incredible, and that was apparent within a few hours of opening," said Lynn Fleeger, director of public affairs of the New Jersey Turnpike Authority.

Changing the Roads Character

Motorists pass through E-ZPass toll lanes without stopping. An overhead antenna reads account information from a three-by-four-inch elec- tronic tag (transponder) affixed to the inside of the motorists windshield. The appropriate toll is automatically deducted from the motorists prepaid account. Those motorists without an account can use the cash lane as before.

"We have a closed ticket system where we charge our tolls by a point of origin and point of destination based on the distance traveled," Fleeger said. "So we required whats called a read-write technology, which reads the tag on entry, writes the information on the tag and stores it until the vehicle exits where its read again and the appropriate toll is calculated."

Previous to E-ZPass, a half-mile or more of cars inching up to the cash lane on the New Jersey Turnpike was a common sight. Now a line of six or seven cars in the cash lane is considered a traffic jam.

"E-ZPass on the turnpike has changed the roads character," said Edward Gross, executive director of the New Jersey Turnpike Authority. "In fact, Id say the turnpike is a brand new road in that we have no appreciable queues during our commute hours at virtually every one of our interchanges."

Reducing traffic jams at toll plazas will inevitably result in reduced fuel consumption and a reduction in air pollution. "The benefits are enormous," Gross said. "Experts have the capacity through statistics to determine the type of pollution in the air based on the length and time of the queue, then compare it to current queues. Its highly technical but statistically it certainly can be documented, and were going to embark upon that."

Collaborative Collection

The E-ZPass system was implemented by the Regional Consortium, an organization comprised of five transportation agencies representing Delaware, New Jersey and New York. The E-ZPass system links those states to Maryland, Massachusetts and West Virginia. There are an estimated 5 million transponders circulating among those states, and the number is growing.

Maine will convert its 85,000 Transpass accounts to E-ZPass, despite the fact that polls showed that most Maine residents liked the Transpass system and thought it saved them time. The move is being made to help standardize electronic toll collection in the region. "Our system works only in Maine," said Bruce Pelletier, public affairs assistant of the Maine Turnpike. "With the E-ZPass system you can travel through many different states with the same device." Pelletier also said that Maines Transpass system is more complicated than E-ZPass, and that finding manufacturers of the Transpass device has been difficult.

With the growth of electronic toll collection

Jim McKay, Justice and Public Safety Editor  |  Justice and Public Safety Editor