NJ E-ZPass tolls: How about a 24-hour electronic reminder of charges?

Legislation would give option of email, text or other electronic notification within a day of being tolled
Credit: (AP Photo/Matt Slocum, File)
File photo: Toll signage on the New Jersey Turnpike in Carneys Point

Drivers who use E-ZPass on New Jersey’s major toll roads should be able to get electronic notifications each time their account is charged, say lawmakers now trying to make that happen.

Their effort comes as highway tolls have increased in recent months and as toll-road operators have indicated a desire to expand cashless tolling.

Under current law, New Jersey’s E-ZPass system gives motorists the option of viewing a list of their latest toll transactions online. They can also receive monthly or bimonthly statements, via email or letter.

But legislation easily passed by the state Senate last week would force the operators of the Garden State Parkway, New Jersey Turnpike and Atlantic City Expressway to begin offering New Jersey E-ZPass customers the option of receiving an email, text or other form of electronic notification within a day of being tolled.

Lawmakers have argued that, as technology has improved and many companies have begun offering electronic receipts for a wide range of retail services, it’s time for the state’s toll roads to begin providing more immediate notifications as well.

Such notifications could also make motorists more aware of what they are being charged to use the toll roads in addition to  enabling them to quickly detect any problems or mistaken charges, according to bill sponsors.

‘A more seamless process’

“Electronic notifications will allow customers to more immediately know that the toll was processed through their account correctly, making paying tolls a more seamless process,” said Sen. Linda Greenstein (D-Mercer).

The E-ZPass system was launched in the 1990s by toll agencies in New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania to allow motorists to automatically pay tolls by using a transponder attached to their vehicle’s windshield.

The system is now used by tolling agencies in 19 states, with 43 million tags or transponders issued and more than $11 billion in toll revenues collected annually nationwide, according to stats compiled by the E-ZPass Interagency Group. In some places, E-ZPass can also be used to pay for parking at airports and parking garages. It’s unclear which agencies, if any, offer automatic electronic notifications.

In New Jersey, E-ZPass accounts are offered to motorists who use the parkway and turnpike — which are both operated by the New Jersey Turnpike Authority — and the Atlantic City Expressway, operated by the South Jersey Transportation Authority.

Both agencies report that about 80% of motorists who use these roads use E-ZPass to pay their tolls.

New Jersey’s E-ZPass system links a motorist’s transponder directly to a prepaid account. Bills can be paid using a credit card, check or cash. The credit card option allows for automatic replenishment and billing so that an E-ZPass account can be reloaded anytime it falls below a preset amount.

Currently can view activity online

Itemized monthly statements are provided to customers for the first six months after they set up an account, but motorists are then charged a fee to continue receiving monthly statements. Motorists are not able to get receipts after each transaction, but they can view their activity online by visiting their account page.

The legislation that cleared the Senate in a 33-0 vote last week would require both the New Jersey Turnpike Authority and the South Jersey Transportation Authority to provide E-ZPass motorists with a new option of receiving electronic notifications each time their account is tolled by one of the toll roads.

Motorists would not be forced to receive the notifications, but if they did opt in, the notifications would have to be sent to them within 24 hours of each transaction, the bill says.

The notifications could be delivered via email, text message or application software, and only to those with active New Jersey E-ZPass accounts, according to the bill.

The measure appears to give the toll roads and their vendors some flexibility in when electronic notifications would begin — if enacted into law it would not immediately override the “terms of any contract or agreement in effect as of the effective date of this act.”

The Assembly approved a similar version of the same legislation in 2019, but it never came up for consideration in the Senate. This time around, the bill has cleared the Senate and is now pending in the Assembly.

Toll hikes

Since the last time the legislation came up in the State House, toll hikes have been implemented — with an official sign-off from Gov. Phil Murphy — on all three of the state’s major toll roads. The tolls were increased to support new capital plans enacted last year by the New Jersey Turnpike Authority and South Jersey Transportation Authority.

The latest legislative effort comes just months after the toll hikes went into effect, but also after a temporary shift to mandatory cashless tolling occurred in New Jersey as a public-health precaution during the early months of the coronavirus pandemic.

Sen. Nellie Pou (D-Passaic) said the state’s current E-ZPass notification policies can “make it difficult to keep track of tolls.”

“This bill would provide an additional, immediate notification whenever a customer passes through a toll plaza, allowing customers to be more informed of their toll usage,” said Pou, a primary sponsor of the bill along with Greenstein.

A spokeswoman for the South Jersey Transportation Authority declined comment when asked for a response to the bill. A spokesman for the New Jersey Turnpike Authority  did not respond to a request for comment on the bill. A lobbyist for Conduent, a Florham Park-based company that has a contract with the state to handle E-ZPass services, also did not respond to a request for comment.