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Cash king for now at toll plazas in Maryland [Editorial]

Your money is no good here, long an expression associated with hospitality spoken by gracious benefactors doing the buying at a bar or restaurant, increasingly has a new meaning in the United States.

Though each banknote bears the familiar sentence, "This note is legal tender for all debts, public and private," in recent years the operative words "all debts" has come to mean some debts. Once cash was king; lately it has been demoted.

Part of it is a matter of convenience. Some form of plastic, be it credit or debit, is the most convenient way to buy gas.

Some businesses, however, won't deal in paper money.

Lately, there also has been a push on the part of the Maryland Transportation Authority to eliminate cash as an option at various toll facilities across Maryland. Rather, E-Zpass style electronic collections would become the order of the day. The Route 40 Thomas Hatem bridge over the Susquehanna River was to have been an early place where the change was to have been tried, but it appears action by the Maryland General Assembly is changing that. More about that in a paragraph or two.

It's worth noting there are some good reasons, and some bad reasons, for switching over to all electronic toll collection. On the good side, it would save in staffing costs as toll collectors would no longer be needed, and it would cut down on traffic jams at toll plazas. On the bad side, it lays open the potential for the state to collect various kinds of penalties for allowing E-Zpass accounts to run dry. It may seem a bit conspiracy theory oriented, but the fact is the state already is in the position of doubling tolls for certain kinds of use errors.

Then there's the whole matter of not accepting cash. Given the pre-eminent strength of the U.S. iconology, even in bad times, and the rise of the dollar as the default world currency, it almost seems un-American to not accept cash. It's bad enough that some businesses refuse to accept it. For a state to reject a dollar or five at a toll plaza almost could be seen as a minor challenge to the status of the federal government whose full faith and credit backs each dollar.

For the moment, such philosophical discussions relating to the importance of the symbolism of real currency as it relates to value and the increasing demand for convenient electronic currency because the Maryland Transportation Authority has backed off on its plan to go all-electronic toll at the Hatem Bridge (and the Bay Bridge as well) for at least two years.

It's not hard to figure out the reason behind the timing and the length of the delay. Doing away with the cash option at toll facilities is the kind of governmental change that has the potential to irritate a lot of voters, and there is an election on the calendar at the end of this year. Hence the likely reason for the timing of the change in policy.

As for the length of time before the issue will come up again, well, that would a future implementation date a year and a half after the coming election and two and a half years before the next one. It may be a coincidence, but it's not one worth betting a dollar (or even an electronic dollar) against it.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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