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Toll-Free Driving by Lawmakers Draws Fire
Lawmakers in Indiana offered toll free driving; New York and New Jersey forced to end illegal perk.

Free E-ZPass
Policymakers for not paying tolls that they impose on other motorists. Late last month, transportation board members in New York and New Jersey lost their access to special E-ZPass toll transponders that had promised free use of any toll road for life. Now state lawmakers in Indiana admit that toll road officials offered them a similar free ride.

On May 27, the New York Daily News uncovered the city's lifetime transponder program that allowed multimillionaire Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) board members -- including advocates for mass transit and cycling -- to drive without ever paying tolls for the rest of their life. State Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo's office immediately fired off a letter condemning the practice.

"The attorney general believes that providing E-ZPass tags for free is a form of compensation and therefore violates the attorney general's opinion and the MTA's own enabling legislation," Cuomo's office wrote. "Accordingly, the MTA should immediately terminate and rescind all free E-ZPass tags it has provided to its current and past board members."

New York's MTA dropped the free transponder program two days later. The New Jersey Turnpike Authority later followed New York's lead and ended free rides for board members.

Now several Indiana legislators have been caught accepting the perk from Macquarie-Cintra, the Australian-Spanish consortium to whom lawmakers handed operation of the Indiana Toll Road in 2006. In April, a letter was sent to every state representative and senator offering a special "i-Zoom" transponder that enabled free driving.

"As public officials who are often required to utilize the toll road in performing your official duties, we wanted to continue the privilege that has historically been extended to you and offer you each a non-revenue i-Zoom transponder, to be used free of charge on two-axle vehicles," toll road government affairs director Matt Pierce wrote in the letter. "With i-Zoom, you may travel through dedicated i-Zoom lanes virtually uninterrupted and up to 75 percent faster than traffic in cash lanes."

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