Garden State Parkway to cease accepting toll coins in the mail - end of an era

September 8, 2011

Many people have called it the "honor system" on New Jersey's Garden State Parkway. If you find you don't have the necessary coins in an Automatic Coin Machine (ACM) lane there's a box dispenser of pre-addressed envelopes. If you are a good guy you grab an envelope from the box, and go on your way. Then at home or the office you write in your vehicle license plate number and other information on the envelope, stick the owed toll coins inside, seal it up, place a postage stamp, and mail the toll to the Parkway (now the New Jersey Turnpike Authority.)

But come October 17 the envelope dispensers will go and also the toller's longstanding acceptance of toll coins in the mail.

Instead motorists driving through the coin lanes without paying in coins will have their license plate photographed by fixed cameras and, after automatic optical character recognition and motor registry database search, they'll be billed in the mail for the toll - plus a $50 administrative fee. That's the now familiar image-based or 'video toll.'

34 toll points, 84 ACM lanes

The Parkway has eleven mainline barrier toll plazas and 23 interchanges with ramp tolls.

84 toll lanes spread among the 34 toll points are normally operated as "EXACT CHANGE" lanes with automatic coin machines. There are no gates.

At 17 of the 23 points with ramp tolls the toll rate is just 35c for cars (and most of the Parkway is cars-only.)

Two are 50c tolls, and four ramp tolls are $1.00.

All but one of the mainline plazas are $1.00 tolls and they have some ACM lanes too.

Last year the ACMs grossed $38.1m but the Parkway missed out on about $4 million from people who didn't pay.

And of the $4m owing just $28,000 or less than one percent used envelopes and actually paid by mail. 99.3% didn't.

Honor seems to be in short supply in the "honor system."

Enforcement via peep-hole

Actually spokesman Tom Feeney says they haven't been relying on honor alone. There has been some enforcement of the coins-now-or-by-mail-later. This has used a system about as old as coins, envelopes and the mails. Enforcement has consisted of staff assigned the job of recording the license plate numbers and description of cars of non-payers from a concealed position in a nearby toll booth.

We guess these violation spotters were supplied a pen and notebook and a low-slung chair.

The concealed position was rigged up with some kind of peephole or two-way mirror. The enforcement officers - there were about five who moved around among the 84 ACM lanes - job was simply to watch motorists coming by and to record the time and identifying details of non-payers who were subsequently hit with a toll evasion ticket.

Feeney said the number of motorists paying by mail has been dwindling in recent years  - not surprising in an age in which so many payments are made by bank card or over the internet. And people use the mails less and less, so it is probably unfair to attribute dwindling payment entirely to dwindling honor.

The envelope system is also vulnerable to motorists inclined to vandalism, who grab all the envelopes in the dispenser and take them away or scatter them to the winds, leaving no envelopes for following motorists.

TOLLROADSnews 2011-09-08

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