When Ben commented on Maryland’s loss of 19,000 EZ-Pass customers he included mention of the most stunning number in the article: the claim that the state actually still loses money because the accounts supposedly cost the state $2.25 per month. In the comments we hashed this out a bit. I expressed disbelief that the Examiner got this right because that figure, across all of Maryland’s half-million EZ-Pass customers, would total up at over 13 Million a year, about one-third of what the state pays for all transit salary and engineering expenses.
Apparently I under-estimated the ability for the state to ink a bad deal with a contractor. The Washington Post covered this issue on Sunday and had a more complete description of how Maryland manages to spend $2.25 per account per month.
The fee was announced in January as part of a revenue initiative spurred by the struggling economy, skyrocketing material prices, and declining traffic and income. It is intended to help offset the $2.25 per month per account that the agency pays Affiliated Computer Services, the contractor that oversees E-ZPass, for maintenance.
This may still represent an over-simplification, or represent all the costs of running electronic tolls divided by the number of customers. My faith in the WaPo article plunged somewhat when it made the rather large error of claiming that Virginia customers don’t have to pay a deposit for their electronic pass if they choose “to have the account automatically replenished each month.”
If Maryland’s deal requires them to pay on a non-sliding scale for pass-holders that’s a pretty awful deal; the cost of installing and maintaining the sensors at the toll booths doesn’t increase every time a new customer comes on board. Collecting on and tracking 500,000 accounts costs about the same as doing it for 500,900 accounts. If this number is simply a shorthand for communicating the total costs of the program then that’s just misleading: it doesn’t credit the books with the saved money on salaries for toll collectors required for drivers who pay cash.
Perhaps Ben assessed it best. “It’s Maryland.”