RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - Amid public outcry, the Virginia Department of Transportation announced Monday that it would step back its plans to charge E-ZPass users a $1 monthly fee.
The department said it will not charge existing customers the fee unless they order new transponders, which allow tolls to be paid electronically. Instead, those customers will be charged a 50-cent monthly fee for each new transponder they order or $1 per month for each Flex transponder, which allows them to switch to a free mode on certain roads when they're carpooling.
All new E-ZPass customers who sign up for service after Monday will pay the monthly fees.
VDOT had planned to begin charging the monthly fees on July 1, hoping to generate $13.8 million a year over five years to keep up with the costs of operating the E-ZPass program. Several new toll roads are scheduled to open over the next few years, and the agency said the money would be used to buy nearly 500,000 E-ZPass transponders, upgrade technology and other services, and to begin selling them in stores in northern Virginia, Hampton Roads and at DMV locations to keep up with the demand.
About 900,000 E-ZPass transponders are in service in Virginia. The program costs VDOT $10 million a year to operate and is paid for by charging transaction fees to the toll facilities.
The department didn't hold public hearings on the proposal, but instead opened it up to public comment. Last month, department officials said most of the nearly 25,000 public comments submitted on the proposed fee opposed it.
VDOT Commissioner Greg Whirley said in a release that the agency tried to balance public outcry over the proposed fees with the agency's needs to cover the rising cost of the program.
"I directed VDOT to consider several options and chose the one that was the most reasonable, splitting the costs between the customers and the toll facilities," he said.
New customers will be charged 50 cents for standard transponders and Flex transponders until Jan. 1, 2013, when the Interstate 495 Express Lanes open and the monthly cost of Flex transponders will increase to $1 per month.
The monthly fee will be waived when the transponder is used exclusively for carpooling on the 495 Express Lanes and the planned I-95 Express Lanes.
VDOT will waive the current $25 deposit for new transponders. New customers still will be required to pay $35 in pre-paid tolls when opening an account.