Finances & Money

First Time User Experience with E-ZPass

First Time User Experience with E-ZPass
For almost 7 years, Stacie and I have been driving around the northeastern United States and paying tolls the old-fashioned way: with cash. A number of our trips to NY, NJ, DE, PA and even MD required tolls along the way, and every time, we (I) had to roll down the window, stick my arm out, pay the nice person and wait for change. All while watching the cars “fly” through the E-ZPass lane.

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:

  1. I don’t need to mail them a check
  2. I don’t need to leave an extra deposit for the transponder
  3. I can use the automatic recharging method and
  4. I can only use the online registration if I’m using credit card

User Experience

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.

Online Access

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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  • Even though you signed up for the $25 plan, just be weary of EZ Pass taking more money out than that. They will adjust how much to take out based on your activity. When I was commuting to NJ from NYC on a regular basis EZ Pass would take out at first $50 then $100. So just a warning. Also you can use EZ Pass anywhere in the United States as each state has their own “EZ Pass” program but they call it something else. I’ve used it in Illinois and Virginia so far.

  • I would make sure your account isn’t signed up to get mailed monthly statements – they charge you $4 for that.

    I never have put the velcro inside my windshield – i hold it up every time.

    And when you hold the transponder up to the windshield, make sure you have it right up against the glass, or it won’t read and they’ll charge you some arbitrary fee. You can call them, though, and have it changed to the right amount really easily.

    Bedford’s my exit to go to my parents’ house! There’s never ANYONE in the EZPass lane there!

  • We use the same type of system here, and it is very popular. We used to have a large box, I imagine like you do, that would affix to the window. But – we need one box for each car. Why? I imagine because they made you rent the boxes and put in an $80 deposit for each. If the box didn’t match the plate number, you would get a huge fine.

    Best part was a couple years ago they made everyone return the boxes, sent them a simple sticker with an RFID tag in it, and then charged everyone $80 for each sticker. Ie: they found a cheaper way to produce the tags, collected all their boxes back, and then stole everyone’s deposit. I bet someone got a huge year end bonus for that crooked scheme.

    I have one in each car but I try to avoid tolls as much as possible.

  • In Texas we have the sticker with RFID and they have promotions all through the year to get a free one. Don’t know how much they cost normally.

    The even better thing is that if you use the “TexTag” you get 20% off the regular toll price. It’s a no brainer!

  • I have had EZ-Pass for 6-7 years, and it is awesome.

    They have adjusted my account to take $35 down from $50.

    I have always wondered why people(daily commuters) sit in line to pay tolls, when the Ez-pass line are always moving.

  • ez pass is evil.

    first off, you PRE-PAY for the “convienance” of it. that could be cash making more money in the bank.

    second, the more people that get ez-pass, the more people that will use the line.

    thirdly, the system is not 100%…you may get errand charges (Yeah, it happens) when the thing misreads.

    fourthly, it doesn’t always read, so you then have to mail in the thing.

    fifthly, more big brother intrusion. if you don’t believe that they will start tracking to see if you are getting to places to quickly and charging you a speeding ticket, you are sadly mistaken.

    sixthly (maybe not a word) ever been to florida…ever see their sunshine pass…all blue hairs have them…yes mike, PA is florida jr, so if old people start to get that, then you may as well throw it away

    stay away from ezpass!!!!!

  • I love EZ Pass. We signed up the first day it was available in PA and have one in each car. My husband commutes to NJ several days each week and we go to Manhattan frequently (or at least we did before we had kids) and it saves an enormous amount of time on those trips alone (for those of you who aren’t familiar with traveling in the northeast, you ALWAYS have to pay to get out of New Jersey, so getting into the city can be a hassle). At any rate, at least in PA, they’ll send you an extra set of the sticky velcro like things, so you can easily move the unit from car to car. Happy travels.

  • Chris, you can wait in the crazy long lines for the manual tolls if you’d like. I’ll be breezing through the high-speed lanes.

    Out here in Chicago, we have I-Pass. Same hardware as the EZPass, but different system. Cool part is that it is integrated into the systems on the east coast (PA, VA, NJ is where I have used it).

    Here in Illinois that even use it to speed up traffic. They have installed high-speed automatic toll lanes, so that as long as it is in your windshield, you can go through the toll at full- highway speeds. Additionally, if you use the manual tolls (meaning you don’t have an i-pass or ezpass), then you pay DOUBLE the amount that the people with transponders pay. It has TREMENDOUSLY sped up traffic here in Chicago.

    Other quick thoughts for you , Cleverdude:
    – I tried the regular velcro thing. Didn’t work. The heat in the summer made it come loose. The harder plastic velcro that works with it works very well. You should be able to get additional sets of the plastic velcro (out here was stop by any of the sales offices and can get them for free). Mount it once in each car and then the stuff is on the windshield already, making it easy. After a while you forget it is even there. (We used to have just one, but realized how much we were swapping it and just paid the deposit for the second one, as you can now register multiple transponders on the same account)
    – As someone indicated above, they have a minimum replenish amount (its $40 out here), but they will adjust the amount automatically every 6 months based on your usage. i use it alot but they have never charged me more that $40.
    – As was pointed out with the same old argument that can be blindly applied to any use of your money, your don’t earn any interest on your transponder account, so your money could clearly be working harder for your in some other place. but the convenience of the high-speed lanes and the fact I don’t have to manually add money to the account all the time is fine with me. YMMV. (But to say EZPass is evil is just plain silly.)
    – Lastly, I know that NJ si adding high-speed lanes (I know of two on the southern end of the GSP)

    In summary: Very worthwhile. very convenient. Use it very frequently and never look back.

  • Eventually they’ll make all EZ-Pass roads with the tolls you can pass through at highway speeds and have maybe one cash lane. Toll plazas are a nightmare for transportation officials.

    As for the lost interest, I use EZ-Pass in Boston, and I save $.25 every time I go through the tolls I use. This savings is far higher than the interest I would gain by keeping my money in a high-yield savings account. This doens’t include the savings in gas, time, and sanity.

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