You see, most of our trips were to our families in central PA. We were only on the PA Turnpike from Breezewood-Bedford (one exit) and for the first 5 years of living in the DC area, there was no toll between these two exits due to construction on Route 30. We still had to turn in a ticket, but it was a quick exchange as there was no cash involved.
Now that there is a $1.25 toll in effect on the turnpike, and we’re making more trips to PA, NJ, NY and above Baltimore, MD to see friends, we finally took the initiative to sign up for an E-ZPass (E-ZPass Maryland). That is, Stacie nagged me for months and I finally signed up through the website.
The “Personal Account” Registration Process
The process to sign up for the E-ZPass was fairly simple. There were some terms & conditions to confirm and then you’re taken to the application. You’re told up front that you’ll receive the transponder(s) within 5-7 business days.
The application requires the standard contact information such as name, address, phone and email address (for electronic statements and email correspondence). Next up, you need to list each vehicle’s license plate, make, model, year and type (car, truck, van).
Here is one confusing bit: The site says you can transfer the same transponder between vehicles of the same type. They have 3 type codes (car, truck, van), but they’re all 2 axle vehicles. I wasn’t sure whether I needed another transponder for my pickup truck as, well, it’s on a car chassis 🙂 I only chose a single transponder for all three of our vehicles. It’s not like I’m ever going to tow something with my truck.
Next up is billing information. I won’t go into the details of all the options. I’ll just explain our billing method. We chose the Standard Plan as we only need to load up the card as-needed. We chose a minimum prepaid toll amount of $10, which means when it dips below that amount, it automatically charges our credit card $25. I’ll explain how this worked out for us on our first big trip. You can also load the card up whenever you need if you know you’ll be spending more than $25 in tolls.
Lastly, you put in your actual credit card information. I chose this method because:
- I don’t need to mail them a check
- I don’t need to leave an extra deposit for the transponder
- I can use the automatic recharging method and
- I can only use the online registration if I’m using credit card
I ordered the E-ZPass before the Christmas holiday and got the transponder just in time for our trip to see our families. I called in to activate the transponder, and then applied the sticky Velcro-like tabs to the windshield to hold the pass. My one complaint is it’s not actually Velcro. It’s this stiffer stuff that is very difficult to separate, and thus difficult to remove the E-ZPass from the windshield and store it in safe keeping (or transfer it to another car). I think I’d like to just go buy some Velcro and use that instead.
When we approached the toll plaza in Breezewood, we were delighted to avoid the backup and go straight to the E-ZPass Only lane. I watched the vehicle in front of me go very slowly (they check your speed and will fine you). There’s only a green light to indicate you’ve paid, so I followed through and did the same. Success! I did the same in Bedford and then on the way home. Total cost: $2.50. Cold arm: No.
Next up: Trip to New Jersey
Our biggest test of the E-ZPass was this past weekend when we took a one-day trip to southern Jersey for a baby shower. We passed through 6 toll plazas with a total cost of almost $20, but we didn’t know it up-front. If you’re keeping tabs, we only had $22.50 left on our pass at the start of this trip. That means we would hit the reload point on our account during the trip, and if we weren’t careful, we could go negative.
Additionaly, on this trip, we took the Pontiac Grand Am. It didn’t have any “Velcro” attachments for the pass, so we just had to hold it up as we passed through the toll gates. Also, since these gates were different than the turnpike ones, I had to pay attention to the speed limits and indicators that we’ve paid. We went up with $11 in tolls, so I got pretty worried that we would hit more on the way back. Luckily, we had more tolls going up because we hit the Jersey Turnpike accidentally so the way back was cheaper.
I was able to login to my account tonight and check out the timestamps and amounts for each toll plaza. One important note is the posting and transaction dates differ drastically depending on the state who’s charging it. For example, PA went through 2 days later, DE went through the same day and NJ took a full 4 days to post the charges.
Additionally, the reload charge of $25 went through 4 days later. That’s good to know for us that we need to charge up the pass if we’re running low before a long trip! I was told by my more experienced E-ZPass buddies that you can get them to waive the fine for going negative fairly easily, but I don’t want to deal with that. I’ll just try to pay attention and charge it up appropriately.
The online access, at least for E-ZPass Maryland, lets you edit your account information, add more vehicles, and see your transaction history. One worrisome thing, of course, is that now “Big Brother” can watch your travels too!
I really don’t know why we didn’t get an E-ZPass earlier as it would have saved us at least 20-30 minutes per year on waiting in line at toll plazas during holidays alone. It doesn’t sound like much, but when you’re already battling traffic for 3-4 hours, it’s nice to have something go easily for you. It also saves on gas by not having to stop completely, and it saves my arm from the bitter cold Pennsylvania air.
So my recommendation is to just bite the bullet and get an E-ZPass if you travel through a toll area in the northeast U.S. at least 2-3 times per year. You’d be surprised at the convenience!
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