Maine Turnpike upping cash tolls most steeply on November 1, E-ZPass up 15%

August 16, 2012

2012-08-16: After months of discussion of alternatives the Maine Turnpike board has this week unanimously voted toll increases to take effect November 1. The increases are designed to raise annual toll revenues $21m from the current $102m/year to $123m, suggesting an average increase in rates of slightly over 20%.

The last increase was in 2009.

The November 1 toll increases are steepest for cash payment.

Cars paying cash will pay $3.00 instead of $2.00 at the main southern toll plaza near York, a 50% increase.

New Gloucester car cash tolls go up from $1.75 to $2.25, 29% at this mainline plaza.

The same toll at West Gardiner mainline plaza goes up 50c also from $1.25 to $1.75, 40%.

Side cash tolls at Wells NB and Gray SB go up 50c from $1.00 to $1.50, 50%.

Cash tolling is done at toll points with multiple tolls paid for longer journeys on the Maine Turnpike, whereas electronic tolling is trip-based tolling in which entry and exit points are recorded and the toll for the trip assessed by applying a per-mile rate to the distance traveled - subject to some rounding, and a rule that the E-ZPass toll can never exceed the cash toll.

Cash tolls from the York plaza then going the length of the Turnpike to Augusta, about 100 miles will rise from the present $5 to $7 for cars. The increases apply proportionately to higher classes of vehicles so a 5-axle tractor trailer now paying $20 for that trip will pay $28 cash after Nov 1.

E-ZPass tolls

E-ZPass tolls for cars go to 7.7c/mile base rate November 1st vs 6.7c/mile now, a 15% hike, but many actual E-ZPass tolls are lower per mile due to rounding and the never-greater-than-cash rule.

Another change is that a commuter discount system is replaced by a volume based discount on E-ZPass that rises as follows:

10% off for 30 trips/month, 20% off for 40 trips, 30% off for 50 trips, 40% off for 60 trips to a maximum 50% off for 70 trips/month.

The old commuter discount and the new volume based discount each cost about $3m/year in lost revenue but the new discount will spread smaller benefits more widely, Turnpike staff say.

To avoid default

A board of directors "Order and Finding" of August 16 says the toll increases are needed to avoid defaulting on three key requirements of its revenue bond contracts with investors.  When the Turnpike started out to get the toll increases it said it needed $26m/year extra.

The reduced $21m extra target has been balanced withd eferral of some capital projects and other economies.

Extra revenue is needed to pay for a surge of debt service occurring between now and 2018. Much of that relates to debt incurred ten to 15 years ago when there was a long stretch of 3rd laning, new bridges and interchanges and new toll systems.

The "Order & Finding" says the Turnpike will defer any replacement of the controversial York toll plaza from the 2014-16 timeframe to 2017-19 "to allow time to complete further studies and permitting."  The Turnpike is now looking at all-electronic as a possibility, but CEO Peter Mills says this will only proceed when they are sure there won't be significant revenue losses. He thinks it is five to ten years off.

In other changes the cost of an E-ZPass is being reduced from $25 to $10.

And the structuring of the toll increases is also designed to boost E-ZPass usage. Systemwide it is current;y at the rather low level of 62%. Fairly typical is York toll plaza where the transponders do 56% of car transactions and 81% for trucks.

The board wants the Turnpike to make arrangements for cash top-ups of E-ZPass accounts at convenient locations off the Turnpike such as gas stations and fast food joints. That's an effort to sell electronic tolling to motorists reluctant to allow the Turnpike to dip into their bank account or hit their credit card.

The Turnpike financial planning assumes a longterm 1.5% annual average increase in traffic.

see Order & Finding on the toll increases:

TOLLROADSnews 2012-08-16

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