Thursday, July 02, 2009

Your Money Isn't Good Here Anymore... least if you're driving the President George Bush Turnpike. As of yesterday, the toll road was switched over to all-electronic toll collection, also known as ETC. (I understand that some of the portable signs that were flashing the message ALL-ETC BEGINS JULY 1 were confusing to some people who thought ETC meant "et cetera.") This means that it's no longer possible to pay tolls in cash on the highway; your choices are now either to get a TollTag (which is what the North Texas Tollway Authority wants you to do) or have your license plate recorded by the readers and get a bill for it later; this process is known as ZipCash.

While the NTTA has a brief explanation of ZipCash on its website, it doesn't answer the question of how frequently those customers will be billed. Elsewhere on the site, it states that ZipCash "will generate a mailed invoice after several transactions have occurred." I have to think that, when all is said and done, it's likely to be a monthly thing; it seems like it would be a ridiculous waste of paper, postage and workforce to send a bill any more frequently than that.

This is not the first time that an all-ETC tollway has been used in Texas; the Westpark Toll Road in the Houston area has been all-ETC since its opening (which meant that I wouldn't have been able to drive on it back in the days when the Houston and NTTA TollTags weren't configured to "talk" to each other yet; what a pain that was), and the tolled sections of State Highway 121 (is anyone calling it "the Sam" yet?) opened as an all-ETC facility in this area. But the Bush is by far the longest section of roadway to do this in the Metroplex at this point.

I should point out that I don't have a personal dog in this hunt; I've been a TollTagger since 1997, when I started using the Dallas North Tollway to get to church. (When I bought my tag, I asked if it was going to be valid on the George Bush when it opened a few years later, and the lady behind the counter said, "The what?") I've never had any problems with NTTA's customer service, and I was really happy to learn a few years ago that the toll collectors who were about to be displaced by the all-ETC switch were given the option to be retrained for other positions within the organization. And with this switch, I'll never have to gripe at someone in front of me who slows down in order to pay cash (I tended to refer to them as "those lame money people") anymore. But I do hope that the NTTA will be very careful to keep updated records of the registered owners of cars so that people won't be sent bills for tolls incurred by vehicles they no longer own. (WHen I got my new car last year, I was required to take the license plates from the old one and put them on the new one; I think that's a fairly recent state law, and it seems like that would solve quite a few problems of that kind.)

There is one glitch that has yet to be solved: The NTTA does not yet have an agreement with the state of Oklahoma to get drivers license information from pictures taken of that state's plates. So what happens? Well, Oklahoma drivers drive for free, at least for now.

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