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I have a Pennsylvania EZpass, and it's registered and my license plate is on the account. However, I rarely use EZpass, so I removed it from my car in a fit of cleaning up and put it in storage. I can't easily get to it.

I need to travel, and the trip will work much better on EZpass toll roads, and my account has a lot of stored value and I'd rather use it up.

So what happens if I use the EZpass lanes without the transponder? Will it snap a photo of my license plate and do the billing correctly without punishment? Or is it gonna hurt?

To clarify what I mean by punishment/hurt: not what FasTrak does. FasTrak, if your toll tag misreads, they use license plate and if that's in the system, done. Not a punishment. If not, they send you a letter with a $25 penalty plus the toll - punishment. Except they invite you to link the plate to a FasTrak account, and if you do that, the $25 is waived. Not a punishment after all. The Golden Gate Bridge doesn't even do the $25 because they have no room for toll booths, so they don't punish people for that.

I did research this on the Internet, and I found the EZpass states tossed the term "penalty" around quite a lot, using it to describe all mannner of system glitches, and from user anecdote, many of them simply get resolved with no extra cost or trivial extra cost. (I recall that earlier in EZpass‘ history, they did punish users for misreads and such, and perhaps they kept the term-of-art even after they got rid of the actual penalties.)

So... much of this question is asking beyond the web-published FAQs, and more about how it works real-world in practice today.

  • I found my EZpass, which removes the urgency of the question for me today. However I think it's a good question generally. – Harper Jul 3 '18 at 3:04
  • Don't think of EZPass as a single system or organization; it's more like a network of systems from a dozen local or state toll authorities that all talk to one another. Each state sets its own rules, and one might do a license plate fallback for its own customers, but not extend that courtesy to customers from other states. Some of this I cover in Not all tolls can be paid with cash. What are my options with a rental car? – choster Jul 3 '18 at 14:58
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From the PA E-ZPass site What is a Violation?

WHAT IS A VIOLATION?

  • Vehicle exits through an E-ZPass lane without a valid E-ZPass transponder.
  • Vehicle exits through an E-ZPass lane AND the license plate of the vehicle is not listed on an existing E-ZPass account.
  • Vehicle exits through an E-ZPass lane AND there are insufficient funds in the account to pay the toll

Given that the second point is explicit about not having an account I am inclined to believe that the first point applies to you as it does not mention an account registered to the car.

So it looks like you either have to manually pay tolls, or avoid toll roads if you don't want to get a nice violation (or 2 or 3 etc) in the mail.


Personal anecdote here. A few weeks ago I mistakenly went through a toll point in Norfolk VA (didn't even realize that I was in a toll lane). I got a violation notice in the mail for around $5, and they helpfully pointed out that if I had had an E-ZPass it would only have cost me around $3 for the toll. So be prepared to pay extra $$ for your toll violations.

BTW the VA E-ZPass site is a bit more verbose:

3. I am an E-ZPass Customer, why did I receive a Toll Violation Notice?

If you are an E-ZPass Customer and have received a violation notice(s), then one of the following situations may apply:

  • The transponder is not mounted properly in your vehicle

  • The transponder has been reported lost or stolen

  • The transponder is malfunctioning

  • Your account balance is negative

  • Your vehicle windshield blocks the transponder signal requiring that you use an externally mounted transponder

  • Your current license plate information has not been added to your account

  • You have not registered an On-the-Go transponder and you have exhausted the available funds

Please contact the E-ZPass Service Center at once to update your account information and receive instructions on how to correct the problem at 1-877-762-7824.

I'd say that not having the E-ZPass in your car is the equivalent of the transponder not being properly mounted.

  • Makes you wonder why the transponder is necessary in the first place given that they obviously have the technology for license plate recognition... – JonathanReez Jul 3 '18 at 2:19
  • In the VA instance did you have your license plate listed in any EZpass account? If it was not, I would expect the event you describe to occur, and am impressed at the low $2 effective penalty. Really, a big part of this question is countersemantic - not "do they label it a penalty" but rather, "does a person in my situation end up taking a serious hit when the dust has settled?" – Harper Jul 3 '18 at 2:34
  • @Harper I don't own a transponder. I would have avoided the toll road if I had known it was there, but I was driving in an unfamiliar location. And 50% penalty on the toll isn't insubstantial – Peter M Jul 3 '18 at 2:42
  • I'm sorry, I didn't mean to make light of your loss. It's a very aggravating situation to be sure. That sort of experiential evidence is helpful. – Harper Jul 3 '18 at 3:21

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