Home / Opinion / When getting stuck
in line takes a toll

When getting stuck
in line takes a toll

It’s an underappreciated job, counting change all day, dealing with a cranky public, standing in the booth, trying to stay warm in the winter and cool in the summer, responding again and again, all week long, to the same requests for directions from travelers.
“Which exit is the best for Niagara Falls? … What’s the shortest way to the Walden Galleria?”
Can you blame them if they avoid eye contact and sometimes appear to be a little disinterested?
I have nothing against toll collectors, but I have discovered it can be an exhilarating experience to drive through a toll lane and not have to deal with one. My hope is that I never again need to do business with a toll collector on the thruway. I’m doing well, so far.
I have an E-ZPass. Some of my friends are very impressed.
“You have an E-ZPass?” They appear startled at the news, as if they perceive me as a confirmed small- change guy. “How much do they cost?” they all ask.
I’m a private person, so I’m always slightly embarrassed to tell them. But I do tell them, and I’ll tell you, too: They’re free.
It’s a significant pleasure to get something free from the state of New York or any of its constituent agencies. It’s also a pleasure not to have to reach into your pocket or wallet to find the money to pay the toll while you’re approaching the toll booth.
An E-ZPass is an encoded card roughly the size of an audiocassette that is affixed to the inside of your windshield. As you drive slowly through a lane, the thruway’s E-ZPass system scans your card and deducts the toll from your account. Some people make advance payments by check or cash, but most have the money charged to their credit-card account.
Why do I have an E-ZPass? The price has something to do with it, of course. Free is free. But there is a more important reason. I do not like lines. In fact, I hate lines, lines of any kind: lines at the supermarket, lines at the ticket window, lines at the airport, lines at the toll booth. When confronted with a line I show immediate signs of falling apart.
“Oh, golly,” I exclaim (approximately), “look at that long line.”
I know it is supposed to be great stress relief to practice standing in line and smiling, not letting it bother you. I haven’t been successful doing that. So I saw the E-ZPass as a way to avoid lines, to cruise right through the booth without waiting or stopping. It could be that way, but it isn’t yet.
That’s because of the one disadvantage I have discovered so far while using the E-ZPass: There are not enough of them in use. Yet.
That’s a startling admission coming from me, because when I first signed up I decided it would remain an advantage until more drivers get them. I thought exclusivity would be a virtue. With more and more cars using the E-ZPass, I reasoned, the playing field eventually would be leveled and the advantage of speed and convenience offered by the pass would vanish. I was wrong.
It’s just the opposite. The Thruway Authority needs to enroll more motorists in the program, thus enabling them to dedicate specific lanes to E-ZPass users at major interchanges. They can’t always do that now, because during peak periods at busy toll plazas it would be self-defeating to restrict a lane for only E-ZPass cars.
In the Buffalo area, where I live, there are some 30,000 cars with the passes, and recent random samplings at the Williamsville and Lackawanna toll areas showed only some 13 percent of cars were using the passes. With such a low percentage it’s impossible to assign a lane for the passes, so E-ZPass cars follow the instructions, stand in line and go through any open lane.
They don’t have to deal with a toll collector or fish the payment out of their pocket, but they do have to stand in line at the booth. So I’m asking for your help. Call 800-222-8655 for information on E-ZPass.
The Thruway Authority is predicting motorists eventually will be able to drive from Buffalo to Washington, D.C., without dealing with a toll collector. I’m not a shill for the authority, but I just hate lines and I love cruising through at 5 miles per hour. And they’re free.
(Dick Hirsch also hates parades, but that’s another story.)


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