ALBANY – New York Thruway officials once again are floating the idea of someday instituting an all-electronic system of collecting tolls without drivers going through booths.
The idea is partially in place at one downstate interchange, and even if it takes off there, don’t expect it to make it across the Thruway for many years.
First needed, Thruway officials say, is passage of a plan in Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s budget to make it easier for the state’s toll collection agencies – from the Thruway to downstate bridges – to go after people who evade tolls.
“We need that enforcement mechanism so we’ll have the ability in the future to do things like video license plate capture and end up getting the revenue from customers in a more convenient, modern and technological way,” Thomas Madison, executive director of the Thruway Authority, told lawmakers during a state budget hearing this week.
Madison said the Thruway collects 99.7 percent of all tolls owed but said that number would be “reduced significantly’’ – he estimated 30 percent of those revenues could “leak’’ – without the infrastructure and enforcement mechanisms to stop toll cheats.
The downstate Woodbury exchange has a highway-speed, all-electronic toll collection area for E-ZPass customers. Those without E-ZPass, who account for about 30 percent of Thruway drivers, still have to go through traditional toll booths at that stop.
The Thruway board has authorized the agency to move to an all-electronic toll system, which officials are studying. Plans now call for such systems only at three downstate spots: Yonkers, Woodbury and the new, $4 billion Tappan Zee Bridge, which is expected to be completed in 2018.
During the budget hearing, Assemblyman Raymond Walter, an Erie County Republican, said drivers see little major difference in toll technology today than they did a couple of generations ago.
“It really is an antiquated system,” Walter told Madison.
Madison disagreed but said improved toll-collection systems – which the agency has talked about at annual legislative budget hearings for years – first need approval of the new enforcement techniques. One provision of the proposed Cuomo bill would ban repeat toll cheats from registering vehicles at the Department of Motor Vehicles.
The legislation also would increase penalties for not paying tolls and make the act of intentionally evading a toll a crime of “theft of services,” which is a Class A misdemeanor.
The bill would have no financial impact on the state’s general fund because all of the covered agencies are off-budget authorities.
And what about more automatic ticket-dispensing stations at toll stops?
“Our emphasis is really going the other direction, to try and have our motorists not stop whenever possible,” Madison said.
When that might be, no one could say.