Hudson Valley residents who use E-ZPass at the region's low-speed tolls are accustomed to messages that caution them if their balance is dwindling.
But for drivers who utilize high-speed tolls—where you can maintain highway speeds by driving under the E-ZPass gantry—there is no such warning. And passing through without sufficient funds has a pricey penalty: the fee for crossing the Tappan Zee Bridge without enough money is $25. And doing so at other tolls in the New York metropolitan area can trigger charges up to $50.
It is a penalty U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-NY, sees as a major problem, primarily because affected drivers don't receive fair warning, he said.
"As you all know too well, Hudson Valley and New York residents have some of the most expensive commutes in the country, mainly because of sky-high tolls," he said Thursday afternoon, speaking at Losee Park in Tarrytown under the shadow of the Tappan Zee Bridge. "With , the last thing we need are even more expensive commutes."
Schumer praised E-ZPass for its ability to discount fares for frequent travelers and reduce congestion at toll plazas, but noted the fee system can sometimes leave drivers in the red, describing the charge as "highway robbery" and a burden for the middle class. Over 400,000 Hudson Valley resident use E-ZPass, and crossings like the Tappan Zee Bridge can see nearly 140,000 commuters each day.
His solution? Create a text-messaging system that alerts drivers when their balance is almost exhausted.
"Today, I am calling on the four toll agencies that operate E-ZPass in New York State—the NY Thruway, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the MTA, and the NY State Bridge Authority—to work together to create a text-message alert system to warn E-ZPass users of low balances, impending charges or problems with their accounts," Schumer said.
"This text message alert system would allow E-ZPass users to keep track of their account balance before they are hit with significant fees, and notifying them immediately if they have been, so the problem can be fixed before the charges pile up," he added.
It is a proposal that has several Hudson Valley residents listening.
"It's absolutely a good idea," said Jonathan Jagielski, a 22-year-old Yonkers resident. Jagielski often uses E-ZPass when commuting into the city or traveling to Rockland or New Jersey. "$50 is a huge fee."
Schumer's plan to action could potentially affect the 2.76 million New Yorkers who use E-ZPass.