SACO – For the third consecutive evening, Maine Turnpike Authority officials heard criticism of proposed toll increases that could take effect later this year.

A few dozen people turned out Thursday at Saco City Hall — fewer than the number who attended a meeting Tuesday in Auburn but more than the number who showed up Wednesday in Portland.

Rodney Anderson of Gorham opened the meeting by saying he doesn’t understand the inequity of the turnpike toll system — why drivers have to pay when they get on in one place but not another, or why they have to pay to go through some towns but not others.

“Do you have an E-ZPass?” asked Peter Mills, the turnpike authority’s executive director.

“I do now because I had to have one,” Anderson shot back. “It was either that or rob a bank.”

“That usually resolves most of the inequity,” Mills said, referring to the E-ZPass system, which charges users based on how many miles they drive.

Anderson said the turnpike authority still needs to come up with an equitable toll system — or at least a comprehensible one.

State Sen. Ronald Collins, R-Wells, has been on the Legislature’s Transportation Committee for years, and said he still has a hard time comprehending the toll system.

His advice was the same as Mills’ advice: “If you don’t have (an E-ZPass), I strongly suggest you get one,” he said.

More than 60 percent of turnpike customers use the E-ZPass, and that number could grow, Mills said.

Some who spoke Thursday pointed out that E-ZPass users would not escape toll increases under some of the options being considered by turnpike officials.

Susan Gallant uses her E-ZPass every day, commuting from Saco to Portland.

“I can’t afford a 20 percent increase,” she said, referring to the proposed E-ZPass increase under the option favored by the turnpike authority’s staff.

The authority is considering a total of 10 options for raising tolls to generate an additional $26 million in annual revenue to pay for debt service, maintenance and operating expenses. The options involve raising tolls in varying amounts at various locations and, in some cases, raising the mileage rate for E-ZPass customers.

Diane Robbins of Arundel said she remembers when the turnpike authority held public hearings on the last toll increases, in 2009. She said it seemed then that officials had already decided what to do, and she feels that way this time.

“But I think it’s important to come out and speak and be part of the process,” she said.

Tim Doyle spoke for the Maine Motor Transport Association, a statewide group that lobbies for truckers. He expressed concerns that commercial truckers could be hurt by any increases because many truckers and their companies operate close to the margin.

Shawn Moody of Gorham, a businessman who was an independent candidate for governor two years ago, said he thinks the turnpike authority should merge with the Maine Department of Transportation. Others have made that suggestion this week.

Mills said he understands why people might think that’s a good idea, but he’s not convinced. If the MDOT took over the turnpike, it would add more than $400 million in debt, which would harm the state’s credit rating. And such a merger would not necessarily eliminate the need for a toll increase.

Before Thursday’s meeting, turnpike officials said that they will host two more sessions, in July in York County. The first will be July 9 at the American Legion Post in York, and the second will be July 11 at Wells High School. Both will start at 6:30 p.m.

Staff Writer Eric Russell can be contacted at 791-6344 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: @PPHEricRussell