BOSTON — As Massachusetts moves towards all-electronic tolling on the Massachusetts Turnpike, the Pioneer Institute is urging the state to look into expanding the use of tolling transponders to pay for parking and retail.
In a white paper released on Wednesday, Pioneer researchers suggest that the E-Z Pass transponders already in many cars could be used to pay for parking, car washes, drive-thru fast food and other "in-car commerce."
The transponders already can be used to pay at the Boston Common Parking Garage and the parking lot for the MBTA's Route 128 station, but Pioneer says the same devices could be used for much more.
"Whether it's dealing with a parking lot ticket machine or sitting in line at a drive-thru window, Massachusetts commuters face a number of unnecessary hurdles," Pioneer Executive Director Jim Stergios said in a statement. "Transponder technology has the capacity to consolidate these different services and extend their use, to make life easier for millions of people."
Transponders were used to pay for 78 percent of Western Turnpike transactions, 81 percent of Boston extension tolls, and 74 percent of bridge and tunnel charges as of November, according to the report.
By October, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation plans to activate all-electronic tolling gantries already installed over the turnpike and allow drivers to pay their toll without ever having to pass through a toll booth. Drivers who do not have a transponder will be billed by the pay-by-plate system, which captures an image of the car's license plate to send a bill to the vehicle's owner.
"The planned upgrade to Massachusetts' tolling system is a laudable advancement, but should only be considered the beginning of a transportation transformation fueled by technology," Pioneer researchers Wendy Murphy and Scott Haller wrote. "The transponder could be re-imagined more creatively as a tool with broad applications instead of a simple tolling device."
Pioneer urged MassDOT to hire a chief technology officer to oversee the transponder program, and work with public and private groups to expand the use of transponders beyond tolling. The organization also suggested MassDOT develop a web portal and mobile app to link tolling, parking and commerce into one consolidated account.
MassDOT did not respond to a News Service request for information about the number of transponders in use in Massachusetts and the agency's consideration of expanding the use of them beyond tolling.
The Pioneer report recommends that MassDOT install a radio frequency reader and antenna at as many as 30 MBTA parking lots or garages, and Logan Airport parking facilities to allow drivers to be charged for parking through their transponder. It also suggests testing pay-by-transponder at Mass Pike rest stop drive-thru fast food restaurants.
"Focusing on the transponder as a tolling device severely limits the applications of a versatile technology," the report states. "Instead, it needs to be viewed as a crucial component of the transit system at-large as well as a commerce tool."