By MIAWLING LAM
The Henry Hudson Bridge will become entirely cashless within two months, the Riverdale Review has learned.
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority revealed it would push ahead with plans to implement all-electronic tolling and remove all means of cash collection by mid-November.
The MTA’s plan, which was obtained by the Review, was unveiled during a closed private meeting on Thursday, September 20.
Under cashless operations, all tolls will be levied via E-ZPass, meaning motorists will be able to zip through any open lane on the Bronx-Manhattan bridge without stopping.
Those who drive through the toll plaza without an E-ZPass will be identified by license plate images and will receive a statement in the mail. Drivers who pay the $2.20 toll within 30 days of receiving the bill will not be penalized.
However, customers who fail to cough up funds will be sent a second invoice and be slapped with a $5 fine. The penalty then rises to $50 if motorists fail to pay within 30 days of receiving the second bill. Recalcitrant drivers who still refuse to pay the toll and fine could then face civil action.
According to sources, the MTA will work with motor vehicle departments across the country and match license plates with vehicle registration records to track down out-of-state drivers.
A similar cashless system in effect for several years in Sydney, Australia, is serving as a model in the current initiative.
A source said the pilot program, which began with the removal of toll gates in January 2011, is being expanded to reduce travel times and to encourage drivers to switch from cash to E-ZPass.
The person said the Henry Hudson Bridge could ultimately serve as a litmus test for the eight other MTA crossings.
“They’re using the Henry Hudson as the test because it had the highest percentage of drivers using E-ZPass for the last three years,” the source said.
“They’re hoping that if it’s successful, they can implement it on other bridges in the city.”
According to MTA figures, 86 percent of motorists who crossed the Henry Hudson Bridge in 2011 paid the toll with an E-ZPass. In comparison, just 65 percent of drivers who crossed the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge used an E-ZPass.
A market research study commissioned by the MTA also revealed that Marble Hill, Spuyten Duyvil and the South Bronx were the areas with the highest concentrations of cash toll payers.
MTA spokeswoman Judie Glave confirmed the briefing session took place but declined to provide further details.
She said officials would present the plan to the relevant community boards at a future date, but until then, little could be revealed.
“You will be hearing about it very soon. We’re not ready to go out to the public just yet,” she said.
“This isn’t anything we’ve kept secret. We have said publicly that it is coming in the fall.”
Another person familiar with the plans also said officials will use the pending cashless announcement to push its new Cash Reload Card.
The card, which can be purchased from more than 2,500 retail stores, allows motorists to load their E-ZPass with cash instead of linking it to a personal bank account or credit card.
The automatic deductions and the lack of control over cash flow are often cited as the main reasons customers haven’t switched to E-ZPass.
In response to these concerns, sources said, the MTA plans to set up a system where motorists can pay on a per-trip through an automatic deduction from a checking account.
MTA officials estimate around 63,000 cars cross the bridge each day.
The expanded cashless pilot program came a couple of days after reports suggested MTA officials were mulling a 15 percent toll hike for drivers who continue to shun E-ZPass.
According to the New York Daily News, the MTA has proposed raising the cash toll on the Henry Hudson Bridge by $1, making it $5.