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Where to Buy an E-ZPass

Heather 0

In my last blog post, I talked about how to pay tolls while on a baseball road trip. I noted that the cost of the E-ZPass depends on where you purchase it. This post will look at where to buy an E-ZPass to minimize costs and maximize benefits!

What is an E-ZPass?

An E-ZPass is a transponder that is affixed inside the windshield of your car. As you pass through gantries, the system scans your transponder and the number of axels on your vehicle and charges your account for the tolls you have incurred.

Most states with toll roads have a license plate recognition system that allows the state to mail you a bill after you use their toll roads. The E-ZPass gives you an online account that prepays for those tolls so that you don’t have to worry about paying the bills (and any late fees) when you get home from your trip.

Do I really need one?

No. Technically, you don’t. Most places will scan your license plate and send you a bill. However, the rate will be higher, and there will be a charge for mailing the bill. On top of that, you’ll only have a few weeks to make the payment and could incur late fees if you don’t intercept and pay the bill quickly. If you are on the road for more than a couple of weeks, this can be problematic.

If you’re not in a hurry, you can often avoid toll roads altogether with some careful planning. However, on our Baseball Fan Grand Slam trip, we’ll need to get from one stadium to another relatively quickly. As a result, we’ll generally choose the most direct route. On the east coast and in the Midwest, most of those roads are toll roads.

Why do I need to choose where to buy an E-ZPass?

If you live in one of the states served by the E-ZPass (under that or any other name), you probably already have one. You’re good to go!

If you don’t live in an E-ZPass state, you’ll want to compare the various plans. The charges vary, as do the benefits. For example, if you have a fifth wheel or motorhome, you might want to look at the New Jersey E-ZPass, as it provides a discount for those vehicles.

You might also consider purchasing your pass in a state in which you will be doing a lot of travelling, as some E-ZPass providers give higher discounts to people with passes from their state.

Do I need a second one for my trailer?

This is an excellent question, and it isn’t well covered on any state’s site.

The technology in the gantries can assess the number of axles you have and should charge you accordingly. Some states ask you to have two transponders: one for your tow vehicle and one for your trailer. Others simply ask you to list both license plates.

I’ve noted in my analysis where I think there might be issues with a trailer.

How many states sell the E-ZPass and what is the cost?

When this blog was written, 19 states use the E-ZPass. You can find the current listing here.

Different states call their E-ZPasses by different names. For example, in Kentucky and Indiana, the E-ZPass is called Riverlink. In North Carolina, it’s called the QuickPass. Illinois calls it the I-Pass. However, the pass will work the same way in all of the states covered by the E-ZPass system.

In some states, the tolls strictly cover Express lanes (or High Occupancy Vehicle (“HOV”) lanes). That’s true in Minnesota, for example. However, in other areas, the major freeways (turnpikes) are tolled, and the tolls apply to all vehicles that use them. Many bridges also have tolls that are covered by the E-ZPass.

I looked through the terms and conditions for each E-ZPass vendor. Here’s what I found:

Does mileage matter?

After I finished the chart above, I wondered whether the distance I was going in any particular state would make a significant difference in cost. I used to calculate the cost on the routes through states that differentiate between in-state and out-of-state E-ZPasses. Based on our route, the savings in states with differentiation weren’t significant enough to make that state’s pass an obvious choice for the purchase.

Many of the in-state discounts have a threshold of trips before you qualify. For example, there are discounts available for the Baltimore Harbor Tunnel, but you must make 25 trips within 45 days. Unless you are traveling extensively in a particular state, mileage doesn’t seem to matter.

So, what’s the answer?

In my opinion, here’s where to buy an E-ZPass: a state without a purchase cost and monthly fees. If you plan to travel without your trailer on express lanes, you might want to choose a state that has an HOV setting.

In our case, we narrowed our selection to:

  • Massachusetts: no purchase cost or deposit, no monthly fees, some potential advantage for our Maryland trips, but no HOV mode.
  • Minnesota: no purchase cost or deposit, no monthly fees, HOV mode, but no discounted rate advantage.
  • Virginia: no purchase cost or deposit, no monthly fees, HOV mode, but no discounted rate advantage.

In the end, we chose the Minnesota E-ZPass. It offered the HOV mode and we don’t anticipate using any toll roads in West Virginia.

What happens after the trip?

What you do after the trip will depend on which transponder you choose and when and where you plan to travel in the future. In every case except for that of Uni (Florida), the transponder belongs to the state and must be returned. If you don’t return it, you will be assessed a fee (usually $10) for a lost or stolen transponder. And, of course, some E-ZPasses’ fee structures include a monthly fee.

Since we don’t have another epic trip like this one planned in the near future, we’ll close our account as soon as we get home.

If you do plan to do this, be sure to wrap the transponder in foil and/or put it back in the original packaging. Otherwise, you may end up with surprise charges on your account as it travels through the mail service back to its state of origin!

And one more tip:

Make sure you keep plenty of funds in the account. If the account goes negative, you’ll incur additional fees. Also, remember that the replenishment is based on recent usage. If you travel a lot and it gets replenished, it could be pricey!