A recent trip East revealed that there are many ways to buy the same transponder and where you buy it makes a big difference. Both the Ohio and Pennsylvania Turnpike are filled with signs promoting deep discounts and as much as 50% off on some tolls with EZ Pass. As with many deals, the real distinctions are in the fine print.
So when you elect where to buy your first or replace your current EZ Pass, consider the following:
- Monthly, annual fee?
- Minimum amount able to be carried, mandatory refills?
- Service fees?
- Price for the little white box?
BUT the main criterion is not how much the discounts are but where they apply. Let’s say I buy my EZ Pass in Ohio and I travel to New York. First off I will have to pay $.075 per month unless I use my EZ Pass a lot but the transponder is free . I can enjoy the OH discounts on tolls because it is a an Ohio EZ Pass, but not a big deal since Ohio honors all transponders for discounts. I then travel to Pennsylvania and there I can get an EZ Pass for $5 but will pay $3 annually. Probably should have bought it there. Good thing Pennsylvania offers the same 35% discount to EZ Pass holders from all states. But wait, Pennsylvania has a sweet deal – the first toll is on them! If you play your cards right, you will buy a PA transponder on the west side of the state and exit at the end and you will have saved almost $20 on tolls on this one trip! Now I go to New Jersey. Things get a little stickier. Your EZ Pass will get your through the tolls fast but you will be paying the same rate as cash drivers. Why? New Jersey only offers discounts to transponders bought in the Garden State, no matter where you reside. Big issue for Yidden who are going to Lakewood frequently. Now let’s head over to New York. Your New Jersey transponder won’t help there too much. You will pay the same rate as cash payers and you will miss out on the $1 – $4 discounts on the bridges and other percentage offer deals. Since the costs are high on the NY bridges, maybe you wished you had purchased a NY State transponder?
The following link has some tips about where to get the best initial purchase on EZ Pass but says nothing about how cost can vary with usage which to this writer is the key variable.
Wikipedia has an excellent comparison of the different states and their policies on tolls discounts for various transponders from both the home state and outside. Some of the info is a little dated and the seasonal discounts are not there.
Bottom line – don’t just buy in your home state, look more where you will be travelling and whether that state has reciprocal discounts. Or maybe even buy 2 transponders from 2 different states and use them intelligently. Just keep the special insulating packaging and stash the second transponder in the glove box when not using it (I am not 100% sure if this will work). Also, if you are real brave go into the Settings in your GPS and request that it “avoids tolls.” You might get some crazy detours or in some cases (esp in PA or MD) you may lose only a few minutes in travel but save some money or you might just infuriate your passengers and burn more gas.