Massachusetts to Eliminate Toll Takers

Mass DOT plans to eliminate human toll takers and move to a passive tolling system, starting with the Tobin Bridge, but moving quickly into the tunnels and the Mass Pike, according to sources in the department. A memo to "Statewide Tolling Staff" from the Deputy Administrator and Chief of Operations for the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, explains that the changes are being prepared now:

That means if you don't have a transponder, the system will take a picture of your license plate and send you an invoice.

While this is appealing on one level - fewer $70,000 guys doing a $12/hour job - there is a larger concern. This is the first step toward what will one day, inevitably, be a London style system where the state will monitor the movement of all vehicles and charge drivers based on where they drive and when they drive there.

Congestion pricing, as it is called, is being pursued in American cities such as New York and San Francisco. The big government folks love the idea that they can turn a free society into one where you're charged a fee for your movements.

San Francisco congestion pricing is a proposed traffic congestion user fee for vehicles traveling into the most congested areas of the city of San Francisco at certain periods of peak demand. The charge would be combined with other traffic reduction projects. The proposed congestion pricing charge is part of a mobility and pricing study being carried out by the San Francisco County Transportation Authority (SFCTA) to reduce congestion at and near central locations and to reduce its associated environmental impacts, including cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

The funds raised through the charge will be used for public transit improvement projects, and for pedestrian and bike infrastructure and enhancements. This initiative is supported by the U.S. Department of Transportation. To go into effect it will need approval at the local and state legislative levels.

As the New York congestion pricing scheme stalled in 2008, if approved, San Francisco would be the first city in the United States to implement a congestion charge, similar to those existing in Singapore, London, Stockholm, and Milan. The initial charging scenarios considered were presented in public meetings held in December 2008, and the final draft proposal was discussed by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors (SFBS) in December 2010. This proposal calls for implementing a six-month to one-year trial by 2015. The SFBS decided to exclude the Southern Gateway scenario and authorized SFCTA to seek federal financing to continue further planning for the two Northeast Cordon options.

The Mass DOT memo from Steve Collins is dated December 7, 2011, and suggests that regulatory changes will be sought to the Code of Massachusetts Regulations (CMR) to make the passive tolling possible.