Ohio Turnpike toll freeze proposed for drivers who use E-ZPass electronic tolling on short trips

The gov­er­nor has in­cluded a 10-year toll freeze in his Ohio Turnpike proposal for pas­sen­ger ve­hi­cles mak­ing trips of 30 miles or shorter while using E-ZPass elec­tronic tolling.
The gov­er­nor has in­cluded a 10-year toll freeze in his Ohio Turnpike proposal for pas­sen­ger ve­hi­cles mak­ing trips of 30 miles or shorter while using E-ZPass elec­tronic tolling.

Among the potential consequences of Gov. John Kasich’s proposal for using Ohio Turnpike-backed debt to finance highway construction elsewhere in Ohio is a surge in the number of turnpike patrons using E-ZPass.

The Jobs and Transportation Plan the governor announced Thursday included a 10-year toll freeze for passenger vehicles making trips of 30 miles or shorter on the turnpike — if they use electronic tolling.

Other turnpike travelers could face fare increases indexed to inflation during that time.

The rate freeze would be of greatest benefit to commuters who use the turnpike regularly.

Passenger-vehicle E-ZPass fares would stay the same, for example, for the 30-mile drive from the I-75 interchange in Perrysburg to the State Rt. 108 interchange near Wauseon, or the 27 miles to the State Rt. 53 interchange near Fremont.

But toll increases adopted during that time would apply to everyone driving from Wauseon to Fremont.

From I-75 to Route 53, the current Class 1 toll — for passenger cars, light trucks, and motorcycles — is $1.25 with E-ZPass and $1.75 without, while the respective tolls to Route 108 are $1.50 and $2.

Assuming a 2.7 percent annual inflation rate — the rate cited for discussion purposes in news releases the Kasich administration distributed — the cash tolls for those two trips could climb to $2.28 and $2.61, respectively, under the governor’s plan, although the turnpike now rounds all fares to the nearest quarter dollar, so the actual rates would be different.

But according to the Ohio Turnpike Commission, about three-fifths of those vehicles used E-ZPass during November, despite discounts of one-third or more for paying electronically.

Lauren Hakos, a turnpike spokesman, said 77.3 percent of trucks, buses, and other large vehicles on the turnpike last month paid electronically, while only 41.3 percent of small passenger vehicles did so.

During the 12 months that ended Nov. 30, she said, E-ZPass users accounted for just 38.8 percent of turnpike miles traveled by passenger vehicles, but 74.9 percent of miles traveled by larger vehicles.

Commerical vehicles generally make longer trips and are more likely to travel to or from neighboring states that also offer electronic tolling.

Electronic tolling works by using a small box, typically mounted on the windshield, that transmits a radio signal picked up by detection equipment at toll plazas.

Customers set up debit accounts with a toll authority affiliated with E-ZPass and their tolls are deducted from the account for each trip.

Replenishment of account balances is typically done automatically by charging a credit card.

One discouragement to E-ZPass use by Ohioans may be the relative difficulty of obtaining the toll transponders, compared with other states.

Electronic tolling began on the Ohio Turnpike in October, 2009.

The Illinois Tollway Authority, for example, markets its E-ZPass-compatible I-Pass transponders at service plazas as well as certain drug stores and truck stops in Illinois.

The Ohio Turnpike only issues E-ZPass at its Berea headquarters or via Web or telephone orders.

That could change, however.

“We are looking to start a retail program in 2013,” Ms. Hakos said.

The Ohio Turnpike is considering offering E-ZPass sign-up at its service plazas and possibly off-turnpike locations, she said.

A transponder issued by an E-ZPass agency is valid on other agency toll roads or bridges, so someone driving from Chicago to Boston doesn’t need a separate box for each state.

While officials encourage motorists to obtain E-ZPass transponders in their home states, it is not required, which enables users to shop for the toll tags that have the lowest service fees.

The Ohio Turnpike, for example, charges a $3 initial fee and 75 cents per month, while no charges are collected by Illinois.