The Virginia Department of Transportation is not exactly considered the brightest department in the Commonwealth and their plan to soak Virginians even more by charging fees to use SmartTags, also called EZ Pass, is a case in point.
When the devices first came out, there were a number of reasons to open an account that made a lot of sense. Mostly, there was a considerable discount on the tolls we must pay to use roads that, for the most part, have already been paid for by tax dollars. But as more and more people obtained SmartTags, the discounts began evaporating to feed the Pig of State. Now, there is very little savings involved at all and it has simply come to be a means to get through the toll booths faster.
So, essentially, the Commonwealth lured you into using the EZ Pass by charging more to use cash, and now wants to sock it to you. That is a bit dishonest. And if this fee causes occasional users to turn in their device and move back to coins, VDOT will see their coin processing costs go up as a result. It costs to sort, count and roll all those coins!
Paying a monthly fee, which is really a tax, will negate the value of the device for the occasional user, and actually end up costing more when you add in the fees. Many of us fall into that category.
And the fees will diminish the value for the daily toll road commuter.
In the end, many will now be paying more for the added convenience of paying the state your money faster.
Just as in the early days of the ATM machine, banks were eager to persuade customers to use the machines. They claimed that ATM’s will actually increase customer service and save the bank money by allowing them to serve more customers with longer hours without adding more tellers. So it was a win – win.
Until they got us all hooked. And along came the fees. ATM’s were no longer a way to add customer service and save the bank money. They became a major cash cow.
So, VDOT is following the same game plan as the banks. Get customers hooked and then sock it to them with fees.
Their explanation has moved from the original benefits to the environment and the driver. They no longer care about the added pollution and wasted gas, not to mention the wear and tear on our vehicles. Nor do they use the savings on tolls as a selling feature because they have already taken that away.
And they are no longer interested in bragging about the ability to get more travelers through the tolls faster and not needing as many manual toll collectors, a major savings that has made the SmartTags a financial boon for VDOT.
No, they now want to ignore the savings the devices have brought them and have the already overburdened commuters pay even more, taking yet another bite out of the private sector’s expendable income.
And they don’t seem to add in the interest they make (or should be making) from the money that sits in your account. There are no figures available on this and it is irresponsible at best not to let taxpayers know that they are already making money from us by requiring a balance sit in our accounts at all times.
But the fact is, if Virginia moves to a fee for the SmartTags, you can simply move your account to another state. If enough people start doing that, perhaps VDOT will notice the loss of interest revenue and realize that this was a mistake.
Several states actually have offers to move your account. Simply provide the unit ID number and a credit card and close your Virginia account. The problem with that is that Virginia charges $25 if you do not return it. So it is probably better to get one from out of state.
There are a number of positive reviews from people who ordered their devices from Massachusetts. You can get up to 4 units with no set up charges, no monthly fees and no charge for the unit. And all work off of the same account, so you can put one in each car and never have to move them from vehicle to vehicle.
The chart below shows the fees charged by various states if using a credit card for replenishment. New York and New Jersey are also free, but MassDot has the best deal, which is where I plan to do business if VDOT adds a fee.
And yes, they work in all of the EZ-Pass states!
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