EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

January 25, 2008

Toll hikes driving more motorists to get E-ZPass

By Rebecca Correa , Staff writer

More residents than ever are zooming through tolls with an E-ZPass transponder, and it could be because of the state's recent toll increases.

When toll prices increased between 25 percent and 50 percent in October, the number of New Hampshire residents who signed up for an E-ZPass transponder soared, too. The transponder allows motorists to drive through specially designated lanes at tolls, saving them time - and 30 percent on the toll charge.

About 2,500 new accounts were opened in October, said Bill Boynton, public information officer for the New Hampshire Department of Transportation. That's 40 percent higher than the average number of accounts opened every other month last year.

It was the largest spike in transponder sales the state has seen since the device was introduced to New Hampshire drivers in the summer of 2005, he said. That summer, 79,500 E-ZPass accounts were opened, partially because of a six-week introductory deal that allowed residents to purchase a transponder for $5. Transponders now cost just under $25.

David Ingalls of Kingston is one of thousands of E-ZPass users from Southern New Hampshire. He said his only regret about opening an account with his wife a year and a half ago is that he didn't do it sooner. "We should've gotten it when they first started, because they were cheaper then," he said.

And since many share Ingalls' sentiments about saving money, the state's E-ZPass office knew October's toll increases would affect sales, said John Corcoran, E-ZPass program manager for New Hampshire.

"We were prepared," he said. "We thought there might be a spike in open accounts, so we ordered more transponders."

The state didn't run out of the devices, but did sell more in October than in any other month for the past two years.

Now, E-ZPass traffic is at an all-time high in the state. Before the toll increase, about 51 percent of motorists who passed through the tolls each week used an E-ZPass. In recent weeks, that number has grown to 58 percent, the highest Boynton said he's ever seen.

And Corcoran said that 58 percent is right in line with 11 other states, including Maine, Massachusetts and New York.

"Some states are lower (than New Hampshire) and some are a little higher and reach the 60s (percent)," he said. "But remember, we've only been (using E-Z Pass on the roads) for two and a half years; some have been doing this for five years."

Those numbers don't surprise Ingalls, who said it was a no-brainer to purchase an E-ZPass.

"There's no backup going through the tolls and it's a lot quicker," he said.

But he does have one complaint.

"The only thing I liked better was when we had discounted (tokens)," Ingalls said. "That was a little cheaper, but this is as good of a program and it keeps the traffic flowing."

Ingalls didn't complain about toll increases last fall.

Corcoran said that's likely because it was the first toll increase the state's turnpike system had asked for since 1989.

"Surprisingly, there was really no complaints with the toll increase," he said. "Even our front office thought they'd get calls at the time, but they barely got anything."

Executive councilors instituted the rate increases on interstates 93 and 95 and the Everett and Spaulding turnpikes. The increases averaged 25 cents, although the I-95 toll increased by 50 cents, which could cost a commuter an additional $200 a year.

Corcoran said the turnpike system is on pace to generate an anticipated $24 million more in revenue. In one year, tolls will generate about $82 million.

"I think (the public) realized the increase was to fix the roads, they're paying for it because they want it," Corcoran said. "Even the toll attendants didn't hear much complaining; it was a surprise to everybody."

Want the discount?

E-ZPass transponder costs $24.61

A mandatory $30 deposit to open an E-ZPass account.

Call 1-877-NHEZPAS or visit www.ezpassnh.com

N.H. E-ZPass Account Openings

October 2005: 5,780

October 2006: 1,830

October 2007: 2,500