NY Thruway toll discounts are not universal
Only E-ZPass, high-volume users get the breaks

By Aaron Ladage
Staff Writer

Daryl Smith is ready to start paying his tolls in small change – lots of change.

Each week, the OOIDA member from Cranberry Lake, NY, travels about 400 miles on the New York State Thruway. Since May 15, when the road’s toll hike went into effect, he’s been spending about $130 more a week to drive the same stretch of road he’s been traveling for years.

Who gets the discounts?

  • A special E-ZPass discount program will bring drivers of tractor-trailer combinations of less than 48 feet back to the 35 percent increase range;
  • There is a 5 percent E-ZPass discount for tractor-trailer combinations longer than 48 feet and 10 percent discount for passenger vehicles that use the E-ZPass system. However, truckers must post a minimum $1,000 cash bond to enroll in E-ZPass; and
  • A volume discount will provide a 10 percent discount for drivers who spend over $1,000 a month, an additional 10 percent for $2,000 a month and 5 percent for over $3,000 a month. In 2006, the discounted rate will decrease to 5 percent for spending $2,000 a month. 

Drivers must enroll in the Thruway’s charge account program to receive the volume discount.

Source: New York Thruway Authority

Smith and his father, who is also an owner-operator, don’t have a lot of options, but they’re planning to fight the authority in the only grassroots way they can think of.

“They nickel-and-dime us, so we need to nickel-and-dime them back,” Smith said, describing his plan to pay with coins.

On April 25 the Thruway Authority approved a $2.6 billion improvement plan for the 641-mile stretch of road. The measure includes an “average” toll increase of 25 percent for four-wheelers and 35 percent for some commercial trucks, officials said in a press release.

Michael Fleischer, executive director for the authority, said there were three different methods for commercial drivers to reduce their toll payments, including: a special E-ZPass discount for tractor-trailer combinations up to 48 feet; a 5 percent discount for trucks and 10 percent discount for passenger vehicles who use the E-ZPass system; and a graduated volume discount for frequent users.

Unfortunately for Smith, his rig doesn’t fit the authority’s idea of “average.”

He, like many OOIDA members, pulls a 53-foot trailer and therefore isn’t eligible for the special toll discounts.

According to a calculator on the authority’s Web site, he expected his weekly toll charges to jump from approximately $60 to $189.40 – more than a 300 percent increase with the new plan.

Even if Smith were eligible for the special discounts, he still might not be able to afford to enroll in the E-ZPass system.

Like many owner-operators who lack the financial backing of a larger company, Smith must pay cash for his tolls. E-ZPass users must post a bond or cash deposit totaling three times their monthly toll expenses, with a minimum of $1,000 down, according to the authority Web site.

Todd Spencer, executive vice president of OOIDA, said that even with the special E-ZPass discount, 35 percent is an unrealistic rate hike.

“It’s amazing that turnpike officials would entertain increases in tolls of this magnitude and this level – it’s unconscionable,” Spencer said.

“The fact that we have lawmakers in Washington that would like to put every state in that position, to treat highway users in that fashion, is outrageous.”

Originally, tolls on the New York State Thruway were to end after the original bonds that funded the project were paid off in 1996. However, Thruway officials later changed that and said users of the road, not all of the state’s taxpayers, should pay for its upkeep.