It's 2 am on the Parkway. You're tired, you're almost home, and you exit by one of the little side ramps that comes with an exact change lane basket, and no Parkway personnel in sight.
You suddenly discover you don't have any change. Not a quarter, not a dime, not even an errant nickel stuck deep down in the seat.
Or perhaps you find you don't have exact change.
What do you do? Is a $50 ticket plus tolls from the Parkway inevitable after the new Parkway cameras take a snapshot of your license plate?
Technically, if you don't have the exact change, you shouldn't be using the ramp plaza - those are the exit or entrance ramps to the Parkway that sometimes charge a toll, said NJ Turnpike Authority (NJTA) spokesman Tom Feeney.
"You need to have change with you before you go on the road," Feeney said. "The envelopes that used to be available to pay tolls aren't there anymore."
There are 84 exact change lanes on the entire length of the Parkway, and 11 toll plazas. While the envelope system is no more, there are ways to avoid getting nailed with the $50 administrative fee.
If you find you don't have change or you left your wallet at home so you are short of dollar bills, you can contact one of the toll collectors at the manned toll plazas, Feeney said.
"They can give you an address where you can send the money in," he said. It's not exactly the envelope system, but if you remit the owed toll fee within five days, you can avoid the $50 administrative charge.
But let's say you're trying to exit at an unmanned ramp plaza. Some of them have toll collectors only a few months of the year; there are 9, at Paramus, Clifton, Watchung, Matawan, Holmdel, Lakewood, Berkeley, Waretown, and Wildwood, who are always vacant, except for the toll basket, and now the new cameras that takes pictures of the plates of fare beaters.
There are a few things you can do:
- You can pay with pennies. Yes, you really can, Feeney said. "The machine will process pennies. It may take some time for the machine to count them, which may not make you many friends with the people lined up behind you."
- You can overpay. Suppose you have two quarters, and the toll at the ramp plaza is 35 cents. Just throw the two quarters in. That'll clear you with the Parkway. ("Sorry, no change, though," Feeney said.)
- You can go through and get the ticket - although getting a ticket really isn't as automatic as it appears.
"The point of this system is to get the people to pay the tolls. We're looking for the people who continually try to beat the system," Feeney said. "You can explain, and we will listen."
But that probably doesn't include the folks who make a gesture to throw change in with nothing in their hand, or those who throw in slugs or a few pennies instead of a few quarters.
"If you go through once at a ramp plaza and don't pay the toll, you probably won't get a ticket. If you keep doing it, yes, you will get a ticket. And each one comes with a $50 administrative fee, plus the cost of the toll you beat," he said.
Although the Parkway and Turnpike are state-owned roads, there aren't any license points or police involved with accumulating unpaid tickets. Instead, fines that aren't paid can be given to a collection agency to deal with, and Feeney warned it can hurt one's credit rating.
The other end is that the state may suspend the car's registration if the tickets remain unpaid.
Feeney admitted it's true that the person to whom the vehicle is registered will be getting the tickets, although it may be someone else doing the actual driving.
There is also the possibility that there may be the occasional glitch - like you know you paid the toll, but it didn't register, and the dreaded ticket comes in the mail.
"We're confident our software works very well. But there's always the possibility that there could be a malfunction," Feeney said.
If a certain number of cars go through and no fares are registered, the system flags that lane as needing attention, and no violation notices will be sent to the cars that went through.
But if worse comes to worse, and you get a ticket you don't think you deserved, there's a section on the ticket that allows you to file a dispute, Feeney said.