Bridge multi-trip toll deal cut short; leaving transponder at home doesn't work


Their E-ZPass account balances have declined faster than some Sakonnet River Bridge users say they had expected, even at the 10-cent per crossing rate now in place.

For one thing, the 'pay for just one round trip per day' E-Zpass deal at the bridge is no more. And drivers have also discovered that putting the transponder away is not enough to keep bridge tolls from being charged to their account.

The Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority (RITBA) board voted recently to cancel the discount for multiple bridge crossings that had been designed to benefit local residents.

David Darlington, RITBA chairman, said the board took the action after the legislature reduced the bridge toll to 10 cents per crossing.

The board decided that the "discounts offered were no longer affordable," Mr. Darlington said Friday.

Some motorists learned of the switch upon receiving their E-ZPass account credit card billings which showed charges for multiple round trips in the same day.

At the same time, RITBA's on-line E-ZPass page continued to state that "E-Zpass holders do not pay more than one (1) round trip per transponder, per calendar day, per bridge."

RITBA is in the process of changing that language to reflect the policy change, Mr. Darlington said, adding that the change was posted promptly at RITBA headquarters in Jamestown.

And he said that RITBA has always stipulated that toll rates are subject to change.

Some motorists have also said that the practice of leaving the E-ZPass transponder at home or covering it with the foil bag does not prevent charges from being incurred.

If the tolling equipment at the bridge does not detect a transponder, it works instead with a photo of the license plate, Mr. Darlington said. A computer then checks that license plate against the E-ZPass database.

Mr. Darlington said the practice is the same wherever E-ZPass is used and is meant to protect against a malfunction in which the EZ-Pass transponder is not read which might result in a motorist having to pay a higher cash toll rate.

Drivers who don't want such a backup may access their E-ZPass account on-line and remove the license plate number that is associated with it," he said.

But if they do, "no other EZ-Pass system in any other state will be able to match your license to your E-ZPass account … so any toll rate advantage you might have enjoyed would be lost."

Some bridge toll opponents have campaigned for bridge users to leave their transponders at home, aiming to force RITBA to engage in a costly and time consuming effort to collect dime tolls using license plate numbers.

"I don't believe that," John Vitkevich of Portsmouth, a leader of that effort, said Monday after being told that the ploy does not work.

"Their website doesn't say anything about that … They have waffled so many times on so many things you don't know what to believe out of them."

RITBA records indicate that about 55 percent of vehicles crossing the bridge have EZ-Pass accounts and 45 percent do not.

Mr. Darlington said RITBA is still in the process of determining how best to deal with the toll debts of non-E-ZPass bridge users.


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Jim McGaw

A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.