EDITORIAL: The price to pay

AAA argues against in-state rebates for motorists

Blog Entry May 04, 2012
Bill Wilson

Bill Wilson is the editorial director of ROADS & BRIDGES magazine and has been covering the industry since 1999. He has won seven Robert F. Boger Awards for editorial excellence, including three in 2011. He also was the creator of the Top 10, Contractor's Choice Awards and Recycling Awards platforms, as well as ROADS & BRIDGES Live.

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I always thought it was fun to picture AAA as a nice, fat Jack-O-Lantern.

When I was in grade school my mom received one of those American Automobile Association car stickers. The decal was oval-shaped and had the letters AAA spread across it, and if you focused on another dimension, on the triangles instead of the lines forming the A’s, it looked like a happy face you would carve at Halloween. I stuck it on something in my room, and I’m sure that something drew a gasp from the parent who made the initial discovery. Wherever it was, the design flirted with my eyes’ attention every so often, and it reached a point where AAA never registered with my brain.

The AAA has been spotted in the news recently in regards to New Hampshire’s use of the E-ZPass system. Since 2005, the slender state has granted drivers that have bought an E-ZPass transponder within its borders a 30% discount on tolls. Needless to say, the AAA has not put on a happy face with this move. Robert Darbelnet, president of the association, sent a letter to the New Hampshire Department of Transportation complaining about the special treatment.

He believes those holding out-of-state transponders should see the same rates, that the charge should not be part of another odd dimension. That, he argues, is the whole basis of electronic toll collection—the cost of providing the road and collecting the toll should be identical.

The AAA charged with the letter in hand all the way to Capitol Hill, presenting it during a U.S. Senate hearing on tolling. New Hampshire is not the only state AAA wants to toss pumpkins at, either. New Jersey also had its back against the target wall. There, according to the motorist association, those with transponders not stamped by the N.J. seal sometimes paid $3.45 more on the turnpike. Maine, New York, Rhode Island and West Virginia also take care of their own.

I took the issue to ROADS & BRIDGES readers in a recent poll question, asking if they thought the practice of variable rates was a fair one—and 79% thought E-ZPass fees should be flat.

To no surprise, I see things differently here. I look at it from a resident vs. nonresident perspective. If I want my son to play soccer in a neighboring town, I would have to pay a higher fee. The reasoning is simple—I am not burdened with the annual park district tax, so the higher cost makes sense if I want to enjoy the offerings of something outside of my boundaries. The same could be said for tolls. Motorists in New Hampshire are subjected to different taxes and rates than those in neighboring states, so why shouldn’t they receive a discount? Also, those motorists coming from other worlds are throwing an additional load of punches at the pavement. There should be a price for the beat down.

Hey, if you do not like it, then do not drive to places like New Jersey and Rhode Island. If you absolutely must make the trip, then avoid the toll roads. It’s really that simple.
Regardless, P.J. Wilkins, executive director of the E-ZPass Interagency Group, said the issue would be looked into. That’s the political response. However, I am afraid the AAA will experience more fits of rage in the near future. E-ZPass continues to talk to southern states in the hopes of forming a megatoll that stretches from Florida to Maine.

Perhaps AAA should be releasing its hounds on the federal government and push for a universal mileage-based tax. It is what this country really needs anyway, and you are guaranteed a universal fee system. Wave one of those cool psychedelic stickers, perhaps it will put lawmakers in the right trance—for once. R&B

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