The Crosstown Expressway: pioneering new ways of taking your money

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by Mike on 4/26/2010

in Cold Hard Cash, Insecurity, Perpetual Beta : Release

Want to use a toll road, but don’t have change or a pre-paid device like SunPass? Soon, all you’ll need is a license plate – and a high tolerance for being tracked wherever you go.

The St. Pete Times reports that Tampa’s Lee Roy Selmon Crosstown Expressway will ditch all toll booths as soon as September.

[V]ideo cameras will snap pictures of vehicle tags as they travel at highway speed past collection spots. The tag number will be matched to vehicle owners, who will get a bill in the mail that can be paid with cash, credit card or money order.

“There’s still a cash option. You just don’t pay it on the road,” said Joe Waggoner, executive director of the Tampa-Hillsborough Expressway Authority.

From an innovation standpoint, this is great. It reduces costs, speeds up the toll-collection process, reduces traffic congestion, and will reduce the kind of accidents that occur at toll plazas. And while I’m fine with toll roads as a concept – self-funding roadways definitely appeal to me – I’ve always been a hater of the congestion caused by the collection process. So this solution fixes a lot of what I hate about tolls.

But it comes with a price. Before now, toll-road travelers who wanted to remain untracked had the option of just paying cash. They paid a higher price, both in terms of money and speed, than those who opted to pay electronically, but the choice always remained with the traveler.

Now? Sunpass or snapshot. No other options. If you use the toll road, you’re on record, and there’s no way to dodge it.

I’m not surprised that the tech is moving in this direction, nor do I think it will slow down. But when my children grow up, I know that their location will probably be tracked and recorded at all times, whether by video cameras, cell phone providers, or technology we might not even imagine yet. And that involuntary loss of privacy will make their world very different from the one I grew up in.

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