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The Peace Bridge is considering switching its new electronic toll system to the E-ZPass device now used by thousands of area Thruway drivers, a move that would mark the multistate program's first venture into international crossings.

Stephen F. Mayer, operations manager, said bridge officials will be in Albany this week to further explore joining the 11 transportation agencies in five states that use or plan to use E-ZPass.

"It provides a seamless transfer from one agency to another using only one transponder," Mayer said. "It streamlines the process for the public and is easier for our accounting."

The device automatically deducts a prepaid toll as a vehicle passes through a special lane. About 20 percent of drivers using the Thruway in Western New York are E-ZPass subscribers, but no exact count was available from the Thruway Authority.

Assemblyman Sam Hoyt, D-Buffalo, is encouraging the Thruway Authority, which uses E-ZPass throughout New York, and the Peace Bridge to coordinate their systems. The bridge is in the middle of a one-year pilot program with a transponder that could be adapted to E-ZPass.

"We've introduced E-ZPass statewide, and now we need to integrate the Peace Bridge and any other electronic or other toll crossings in the state," Hoyt said. "One should be able to travel anywhere in North America and be able to use this compatible electronic toll system."

One hurdle to joining the E-ZPass Interagency Group is the steep admission price. The group currently charges new member agencies $175,000 to help recoup the investment required to get E-ZPass started.

Mayer said the Peace Bridge Bridge Authority needs to learn more about the program to determine whether it would be worthwhile. He said E-ZPass could prove popular with the large number of drivers, about 30 percent, who currently use the Peace Bridge for commuting.

"Maybe a lot of them would opt for E-ZPass," he said.

Mark IV Industries of Amherst currently has a contract with the Interagency Group to provide the tags and reading equipment used in the E-ZPass system. The contract expires in 1999.

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