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OpinionColumnistsMichael Dobie

Dobie: Why don't all drivers take the 'E-Z' way?

E-ZPass signs posted on the Rockland County side

E-ZPass signs posted on the Rockland County side of the Tappan Zee Bridge direct Westchester-bound motorists to the tolls on the other side of the Hudson River. (May 10, 2012) Credit: Angela Gaul

I have a bifurcated relationship with lines. I accept them when they're unavoidable. And I avoid them whenever I can.

Some things I don't mind waiting on line for -- like a great roller-coaster ride.

But mostly I'm a devotee of Brazilian novelist Paulo Coelho, who penned this profound plaint: Waiting is painful.

Which brings me to E-ZPass.

Every time I head into the city or drive off Long Island via bridge or tunnel and pass long ribbons of cars backed up in the cash lanes, I mutter to myself some variation of, "Why don't you fools have E-ZPass?"

Normally, I'm a your-business-is-your-business kind of guy -- until it becomes my business. Like when I'm driving from upstate or New England back to the Island on a Sunday night and hit the Throgs Neck Bridge and can't get to the E-ZPass lanes because the cash lanes are so long they're clogging everything. Exhale. The situation has improved some since the cash lanes were moved over to the right, true, but it's still an issue.

So, what about those fools? Well, they have their reasons for spurning modernity.

For my sister from Brooklyn, who's nobody's fool, paying in cash is all about the human connection. She likes to interact with people. I get enough of that with rest area baristas and Jersey pump jockeys, where the waiting is not optional.

But my sister recalls forking over a fare while Al Green was on the radio and the toll taker smiling and saying, "That's God passing through."

My dad cheerfully blamed inertia. Then he added that he seldom has been tied up paying cash, even when visiting Long Island from Connecticut. I thought: Take that luck to Vegas. But when I rediscovered my incredulity and pressed him, he allowed that his no-E-ZPass strategy might be related to his definition of annoying. "Maybe being 20th on line is a problem," he said, with a twinkle in his eye I could see over the phone, "and maybe being the 20th car isn't so bad at all."

Some freedom lovers eschew E-ZPass because they don't want the government to have another way to track them. OK, I, too, am alarmed about recent revelations about the National Security Agency, but toll plazas are under video surveillance anyway. And then there are all those traffic cams. Let's face it: Snoops don't need E-ZPass to monitor you.

I wonder whether part of the cash draw is nostalgia. As kids, we used to fight for the privilege of leaning out the backseat window and tossing the coins in the toll basket. Then again, I'm not exactly pining for the Pinto I drove as a teenager.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority has done surveys on the topic. The most-cited reason, far and away, is financial -- not having a charge card or a flush bank account for the automatic replenishment. I get that.

But consider the E-ZPass positives: It saves time and gas, reduces pollution and gives discounts on every toll. You can use it to drive from Shoreham to Chicago. And there is this indisputable fact, captured in a recent headline in The Onion: Sonny Corleone would still be alive today if he had E-ZPass.

More than 80 percent of those using metro area crossings use E-ZPass, including 82 percent of those on the Throgs Neck. But those 1-in-5 holdouts can cause big problems, and their numbers rise in the summer, as does traffic overall.

So, to tag or not to tag?

As you ponder that in the cash lane of the next toll plaza, I'll be 10 miles down the road.

Michael Dobie is a member of Newsday's editorial board.