Ditching E-ZPass for Increased Privacy and Cheaper Tolls
As a resident of the state of New York who likes to use the I-90 interstate on occasion, I was practically required to get an E-ZPass tag in 2021, when the I-90 switched exclusively to cash-less tolling. I have a number of privacy concerns with both E-ZPass and Automatic License Plate Recognition (ALPR) systems, so my decision to get one was not made lightly.
Privacy concerns around E-ZPass and ALPR systems are nothing new. Pukingmonkey has a great presentation from DEFCON 21 (2013) on various forms of vehicle tracking. However, at the time of his presentation, you weren’t forced to have an E-ZPass to travel on the interstate. With cash-less tolling, NY offers you the option of either signing up with E-ZPass or getting your plate scanned by an ALPR system at each interstate plaza. If you elect for the ALPR option, you must proactively check for a bill on NY’s Tolls by Mail site. I’ve heard that they will also send bills by mail, but I’ve yet to go through that process. At this point, I figured that I’d try driving without my E-ZPass and check in to Tolls by Mail to see how frequently they’d successfully scan my plate. However, I found that if your license plate is signed up for E-ZPass, they bill you through E-ZPass with the E-ZPass toll rate. To repeat - if you are signed up for E-ZPass (in NY, at least) there is no reason to keep the E-ZPass transmitter in your car. By forcing the gates to use ALPR instead of the E-ZPass radio communciations, the door is opened for false negatives plate reads, which could potentially save you money. Besides that, some areas of NY like to use E-ZPass radio communications for non-tolling purposes, such as traffic monitoring. Being from “upstate” NY, I haven’t seen too many RFID scanners for E-ZPass outside of tolling, though perhaps I’m not looking closely enough.
For those really looking to save on tolls, below are some methods (both legal and otherwise) that may increase the failure rate of ALPR systems. Pukingmonkey goes over these in depth in his talk, but here’s a short list:
- Using a single plate instead of two
- Exposing your plates to road salt
- Vanity plates with alpha-numeric characters to the left of the plate number (eg. a large “S” for the University of Syracuse)
- Physically obscuring plates
- Active/passive IR jamming in front of plates
I can’t speak about other states, but if you’re just driving in NY, there is no reason to carry an E-ZPass transmitter in your vehicle.