Saturday, October 11, 2014

Saving green at the tollbooth is a big plus for drivers of hybrid and electric cars

Tree trimmed in shape of car in rural landscape
Tree trimmed in the shape of a car. (Getty Images)

By VICTOR E. SASSON
EDITOR

Owners of hybrid and all-electric cars know how much they save on gasoline. They're also proud of their role in helping make the air cleaner.

But in New Jersey, New York and other states with toll roads and crossings, green cars also get a break on those dreaded levies. 

The Port Authority, which gouges drivers at the Hudson River crossings, issues a Green Pass, a special E-ZPass that gives discounts to drivers of nine green models, including the Toyota Prius, Chevrolet Volt and Nissan Leaf.

Those drivers also get toll discounts on one of the most expensive toll roads in the nation, the New Jersey Turnpike (30%), as well as the Garden State Parkway (10%).

But the discounts are given grudgingly -- what the Port Authority euphemistically calls "off peak" -- and many owners aren't aware of the unpublicized Green Pass program.

Cars with a Green Pass pay only $5.50 during off-peak hours, compared to the regular $9 E-ZPass toll.

Still, off-peak hours are restrictive, both on weekdays and weekends: 

On weekdays, off-peak discounts are available between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. On Saturday and Sundays, off-peak deals are in play only before 11 a.m. and after 9 p.m.

New York State has a similar program, Clean Pass.

New Jersey E-ZPass officials look to New York to determine which cars are eligible for the toll discounts:

UPDATE (September 12, 2014):

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation has recently added the following vehicle models to the eligibility list:
  • 2015 Cadillac ELR (Only models with "L" or "M" in the 5th position of the VIN)
  • 2015 Chevrolet Spark
  • 2015 Chevrolet Volt (Only models with "C" or "D" in the 5th position of the VIN)
  • 2015 Fiat 500e
  • 2015 Ford Fusion Energi
  • 2015 Kia Soul EV
  • 2015 Nissan Leaf
  • 2015 Toyota Prius
  • 2015 Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrid

No cross-honoring

Now, it turns out, the Green Pass I have from New Jersey is not honored in New York.

This year and last, I drove to Montreal for the International Jazz Festival in late June, but when I got my E-ZPass statement, I didn't see any discounted tolls on the New York State Thruway.

Today, New York E-ZPass said to get the Green Pass discounts, I would have to open a separate account and pay a $1-a-month administrative fee, like I already do in New Jersey.

The discount in New York is 10% off of tolls, and I'm not sure what I would save on the trip to Montreal would come close to the $12-a-year administrative fees (10/22/14).

Eligibility list

Click on the link below for a list of all eligible vehicles under New York's and New Jersey's Green Pass Discount Plans: