Detroit Windsor Tunnel begins phase-out of tokens, prox card replacement
By Peter Samuel
The Detroit Windsor Tunnel (DWT) is taking another step toward the phase-out of tokens once the major currency in which commuters paid their tolls. Starting officially Monday Nov 12 they will read proximity ('prox') cards brandnamed NEXPRESS in the toll lanes on the Canadian side. The cards are already read on the US side.
Early in the new year, says DWT president Neal Beltisky, they'll cease selling tokens. And probably around the end of the year (2013) they'll cease accepting them.
Still accepting coins
They'll retain coin baskets to take US and Canadian coins for those who want to pay with such "change" as it is commonly called.
Belitsky says they have a good stock of old TDC coin machines from the 1990s. (TDC is now CS America.)
In the frugal ways of a small business they follow who is scrapping coin machines and get surplus ones, and often strip them down for parts. By throwing out worn parts they can rebuild machines in their small shop and make machines that are near-new in performance.
Token era coming to a close
But an era of collecting tolls from commuters by tokens is coming to an end.
In an increasingly bygone age of coins having value tokens were popular with commuters because they avoid the nuisance of assembling multiple coins for the coin machine, or waiting to take change from a toll collector.
Token sales hold up traffic
But Belitsky says his major objection to tokens is that their sale to motorists holds up traffic. People buy the rolls of tokens from a toll collector in a toll booth, and the $77 transaction delays traffic behind.
Also people are increasingly accustomed to paying with a 'card' - that familiar 3 3/8" x 2 1/8", 85mm x 55mm plastic bank card with the magstripe or a nearfield RF chip embedded.
22% discount on cash vs 15% discount with tokens
When drivers pay with the NEXPRESS prox card they pay $3.50/trip for cars.
That's a 22% discount on cash, and about a 7% discount on tokens.
The Tunnel has several thousand NEXPRESS cards out there already and Belitsky says he expects that to double during the first quarter of 2013.
At the Tunnel they'll continue selling tokens for a few more weeks. The tokens sell in rolls of 20 for $77 or $3.85/trip versus the cash toll of $4.50 - approximately a 15% discount.
Some 15,000 tokens are still out there in motorists' inventory in cars, pockets or purses in the Detroit Windsor area. Some of course will be kept as a collectors' item.
Cards easier to handle, now more familiar
Rolls of tokens are awkward for the Tunnel staff to handle and he says the cards will be easier for customers and for the Tunnel. A prox card simply has to be waved near (in the 'proximity' of) a reader antenna and its near field RFID signal is registered.
Such cards with an RF range of several feet, a meter, have become the major payment mode on rail transit systems around the world.
The Tunnel has gone for the proximity cards because regular travelers are already familiar with them as part of the NEXUS program of the US border protection that uses similar cards for the pre-clearance trusted traveler program of US Customers and Border Protection and the Canada Border Services Agency.
Specialize in multimode payment machines
The Tunnel owned by the cities of Windsor and Detroit is operated by American Roads LLC that owns an operates four toll bridges and toll roads in Alabama and a subsidiary American Roads Technologies does system integration for toll collection at lower speed facilities, and is something of a leader in mobile payments technology.
They put together a multimode toll collection machine - which they call a Patron Unit, the idea being that it is patron or customer friendly in the great variety of payment modes available. As well as it takes regular magstripe debt and credit cards as well as the prox card reader.
Called the NEXPRESS® Patron Unit the system accepts US and Canadian coins, near-field/proximity and transponder RFID, regular magnetic stripe cards either debit or credit cards, bar codes, QR codes and has 2-way communications, video, and a receipt printer.
The unit is designed for any type of barrier payment - toll, parking, ferry, parks.
Their system can be configured to handle transponders and they regularly set them up to provide for non-payment passage by staff or emergency vehicles with a transponder.
But Belitsky is in no hurry to go to transponders for regular toll collection. There are too many different types and back-office billing complications.
CORRECTIONS/ADDITIONS Saturday am.