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Monday, July 28, 2014

The Cash Penalty

I like cash. I mean, who doesn't? But I like actual cash, a pocket lined with cash, not a wallet stuffed with plastic cards, one with bills and coins. I like paying with cash. I like collecting cash. I like Johnny Cash too, but that's a post for another day. This one is about cash, or should I say, the stigma that has now become associated with using cash.

When I get gas, I pay first with cash. I've never swiped a credit or debit card at a pump. It's inconvenient in that I usually have to make two walks to the little window so I could get some money back from the gas that didn't fit in my tank, no matter how much I shake the car up and down, but I could use the walk, so I don't really mind. At least I'm offered the option, but there are some places where cash is no longer an option.

There's been many times driving up to a toll booth I'll get stuck in the long line of other cash-carrying cars at the only "cash" window available, while the E-Z-Passers fly through their empty lanes. It's particularly irksome at the bridges entering New York where there is literally only one cash booth, while there are many E-Z Pass ones, some of which have no cars flying through. On a recent trip to Virginia Beach I had to drive through a tunnel and was faced with something I've never encountered before, no cash toll booths at all, only Ez-Pass.

I was befuddled as to why no one wanted to make my money, until I found out I will be billed for the toll, and an additional $1.50 each time I used the tunnel would be added on. Yesterday I received the actual bill from Elizabeth River Tunnels. There's even a little photo of the front of my car on the $4.75 invoice which will jump to $29.75 if I don't pay it within two weeks. There's a blue box on it telling me I would have saved $3.00 with E-Z Pass. Apparently the toll also changes depending upon what time of the day you use it. An additional $.25 is added if you use it during rush-hour. I don't know what they consider Peak times, but when you have to use the tunnel, you have to use it. Now I really don't have a need for E-Z Pass since I do not encounter toll booths during my two mile commute to work each day, but I do travel a couple of times a year so I thought I would check out what getting an E-Z Pass would entail, and if it was worth it for me.

It seems you know longer have to "buy" the transponder. When you pick one up you have to put $35.00 on it, $15.00 of which you could use immediately. The remaining $20.00 will be available after you register the box. You also no longer have to pay the $1.00 monthly maintenance fee. From what I see on the site, the only place a Roanoker could get a transponder locally is the AAA office. For automatic replenishment, a credit card or checking account is linked to your device so when the money gets low, more can be added. I don't know if you can pay cash at AAA or somewhere else to add money on instead of using a credit card link. If you get a quarterly statement there is no charge, but if you want one monthly, it'll cost you $1.00/month.

So, I have a couple of questions. Is it easy enough to move the transponder from one car to another? Do I get a discount when I use it out of state? I would love to have that $15.00 Verrazano Bridge toll reduced, or is it even higher now, but I bet the discount only applies to New York residents. Do thieves break into the car to steal the transponders like they do for GPS systems?

For now, I'm not rushing out to open an E-Z Pass account so I will take the cash penalty, however, if/when I do relocate back up to New York I just might have to. Those tolls are ridiculous!

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