For motorists in New York, the only things that may rival death and taxes as certainties are traffic and tolls — the latter of which, for the better part of the last 80 years, have been collected by hand.
Those near-certainties are soon to change.
In an effort to reduce congestion, tollbooths will be eliminated at all Metropolitan Transportation Authority bridges and tunnels next year, and replaced with automatic tolling, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced on Wednesday.
Instead of charging drivers who are stopped at toll plazas, the authority will use sensors and cameras to automatically charge cars that have been equipped with E-ZPass; those without it will have their license plates recorded by camera, and a bill will be mailed to the registered owner of the vehicle.
The move is part of a national trend, with tolling authorities adapting to E-ZPass or similar electronic toll systems, allowing participating drivers to whisk through toll plazas as the ever-shrinking cash-only lanes pile with traffic.
But the move also heralds the end of an era and a way of life that precedes even the opening of the Triborough Bridge in 1936, when collectors would extend a hand — and perhaps exchange some pleasantries or worse — as they collected a 25-cent toll.
The conversion to automatic tolling, along with changes to the lighting of the bridges and tunnels, will cost $500 million from the authority’s capital budget. The electronic tolling will begin in January at its two tunnels — the Brooklyn-Battery and Queens-Midtown Tunnels — and will be completed at all its toll bridges by the end of 2017, Mr. Cuomo, a Democrat, said.
On average, 800,000 vehicles use the authority’s seven bridges and two tunnels each day, and as a whole, New York drivers spend more than 6,400 hours per day waiting to pay tolls. Commuters were projected to save 21 hours of driving time each year as a result of the electronic tolls, the authority said in a news release.
Credit Yeong-Ung Yang for The New York Times
In addition, eliminating tollbooth delays will conserve about one million gallons of fuel and save $2.3 million each year.
“There are some bugs that need to be worked out, especially with people not paying,” said Robert Sinclair Jr., AAA New York’s manager of media relations. “Over all, it’s certainly a very good thing,” especially on holidays, he added.
AAA analyzed city toll data and found that on Labor Day, the use of cash tolls increased by 34 percent, Mr. Sinclair said, leading to worse traffic and pollution.
Automated tolls have already been in place on the Tappan Zee Bridge and the Henry Hudson Bridge, a smaller Metropolitan Transportation Authority crossing. Collisions on the Henry Hudson have been reduced from 32 before automatic tolling to seven so far this year.
Of the vehicles on the Henry Hudson Bridge, 94 percent had E-ZPass and 6 percent were billed by mail, Mr. Cuomo said. Only two-thirds of those drivers paid their tolls by mail, but, Mr. Cuomo said, penalties made up for the loss.
Likewise, the transportation authority did not anticipate a loss in revenue as a result of the elimination of cash fares. Beth DeFalco, a spokeswoman for the authority, added that no jobs would be cut as bridges and tunnels transitioned to automated tolls; tollbooth personnel will be reassigned to other posts focused on safety, security and enforcement.
Wayne Joseph, the president of Bridge and Tunnel Officers Benevolent Association, said the changes announced by the governor had been foreseen for years.
Credit Emon Hassan for The New York Times
Through attrition, the union’s membership had been reduced to 525 from 790 in 2009, Mr. Joseph said, with many of those cuts affecting security positions.
“We have no idea what they’re going to be doing,” he added. “I’m almost certain it’s going to create a decline in our head count.”
The announcement on Wednesday also included a major security component: Mr. Cuomo said an extra 150 state troopers and 150 National Guard members will be placed at the ends of tunnels or bridges.
Sensors and cameras will be suspended over the highway to capture E-ZPass transactions and record license plate numbers at each tolling site. Along with the additional security personnel, each crossing will incorporate new facial recognition software and equipment.
“There are security concerns about our tunnels and bridges in this age of terrorist activity and lone wolves,” Mr. Cuomo said. “If you look at points of vulnerability, you’ll go to our tunnels and our bridges.”
Video message boards at tunnels and bridges will display real-time communication to update drivers on routes and accidents. In addition, as part of the transportation authority’s adoption of LED lighting at bridges and tunnels, each crossing — as well as the George Washington Bridge — will be illuminated in multicolor light shows from dawn until dusk, similar to those displayed on the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge and the Benjamin Franklin Bridge in Philadelphia.
Funding for all crossing transformation projects is already secured as part of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s $27 billion capital plan. Many of the contractors have already been selected, and much of the work is already underway, Mr. Cuomo said.
“This is not a proposal,” he said. “This is going to be a reality.”