Cash tolls on the Maine Turnpike are likely to become a thing of the past in coming years as highway officials experiment with new electronic collection systems.

Drivers used to be familiar with stopping at a toll plaza to hand over some dollar bills or a few quarters for the privilege of cruising on the 107-mile highway from the New Hampshire border to Augusta.

Historically, Maine’s mix of road users, especially out-of-state summer tourists, made cash a reliable revenue source for the turnpike. Most tourists drive to the state, and nearly all pass through toll plazas in York and elsewhere during their trip.

But technological advancements in recent decades have made the cash toll experience alien to many drivers. Widespread adoption of E-ZPass transponders and high-speed electric toll lanes have dramatically reduced the number of cash transactions on the Maine Turnpike.

“The cash lane in Maine is a very good, effective way of collecting revenue,” Turnpike Authority Executive Director Peter Mills said. “But there is less and less of it going on because so many people have indeed come around to buying the E-ZPass.”

About 20 years ago, cash tolls accounted for almost 78 percent of the turnpike’s revenue. Last year, that figure was almost the mirror opposite – just 15 percent of the agency’s toll revenue was paid in cash.


Turnpike-wide technology improvements and new noncash payment options will likely make cash transactions obsolete in the near future, Mills said.

“As the alternatives to cash begin to open up, we are going to be thinking very intensely about how to abandon cash as a mode of ordinary collection,” he said.

The Turnpike Authority has no firm deadline to eliminate cash tolls or a plan on how to replace them. It could be at least four years before cash collection is completely dropped, Mills said.


The turnpike employs about 95 full-time toll collectors, half the number it did about 15 years ago, Mills said. As that workforce dwindles, full-time retirees are not being replaced, and workers are offered different agency jobs such as in maintenance or customer service.

“There is such a labor shortage right now that when a toll collector says, ‘I still want to work here, but do you have something else?’ We often do,” Mills said. “We are not laying people off out there in the toll lanes, but when people retire, it is not uncommon that we do not replace them.”


At the same time, as technology improves and cash lanes bring in less revenue, staffing costs can pose a budget drag.

“The incentive to diminish cash is the cost of personnel,” Mills said. “That is the operating incentive.”

By the end of 2022, new sensor and camera technology installed at every turnpike plaza will enable officials to experiment with new toll collection. It intends to replace bulky, plastic E-ZPass transponders with transponder stickers that adhere to windshields.

Those stickers cost about 70 cents, a bargain compared to the $10 per E-ZPass transponder the turnpike charges drivers. The new technology may allow drivers to buy prepaid stickers so they can use the Turnpike for a week or two while vacationing in Maine. The proliferation of smartphones also gives drivers the choice to install and use apps such as Paytollo that work like a transponder for tolling agencies across the United States.

Combined, those improvements could offer substitutes for cash tolls. The turnpike does not intend to abandon its enforcement efforts for drivers who habitually dodge tolls.

The turnpike’s plans follow a trend toward cashless tolls across the globe. In the United States, six out of 10 toll facilities operate without a cash payment option, and 55 percent of all tolled miles are cashless, according to the International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association.


“Particularly as new toll systems and programs are being implemented, agencies are not opting for something that would put cash toll collectors in a toll lane in a very traditional toll plaza,” said Mark Muriello, the association’s director of policy and government affairs.


Electronic tolling may be safer because it helps eliminate the chance of collisions at busy tollbooths. It also can relieve congestion and delays, Muriello said. Still, it can result in lost revenue if drivers don’t use a transponder and then can’t be located or simply don’t pay an invoice from the toll agency, he added.

As more agencies adopt advanced transponders, it increases the possibility U.S. drivers could seamlessly use toll roads across the country in the future.

“It would really allow tolling throughout the U.S. to be more interoperable,” Muriello said.

Even when cash goes away on the Maine Turnpike, it is unlikely to reconfigure the physical plazas, Mills said. Most of the agency’s plazas now have a central, high-speed toll station flanked by a handful of cash tollbooths also set up for electronic payment.


The likelihood of an all-electronic tolling future was a major source of contention during a decade-long fight against the construction of a new toll plaza in York.

The $39 million plaza, including a large electronic fast lane, opened last fall. Opponents of the development, including the town of York and local residents, repeatedly made the argument that the Turnpike Authority could have built a simpler, cheaper all-electronic version without as much construction disturbance.

“York’s argument back then was that the cash tolls were going away, it was already happening and there was a huge cost differential between doing a traditional toll plaza and an all-electric version,” said Robert Palmer, vice chair of the York Board of Selectmen. “We thought it would happen, the people in town said this was going to be a dinosaur. We didn’t realize it would be a dinosaur this quickly.”

Mills disagrees that the new plaza will become obsolete that quickly. Even if it stops accepting cash, cash lanes can still collect electronic tolls. That provides a crucial stopgap if there is a malfunction of the mainline electronic tolling lanes, he said.

Last year, vehicles were routed through the cash lanes at the New Gloucester toll plaza because of damage to underground sensors in the electronic lanes.

“If our lanes all went down for some period of time, that is a financial casualty of the first order,” Mills said. “Having an extra lane here and there is trivial if it provides the protection we need.”

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