E-ZPass and Florida working on toll interoperability - startup by end of year?
By Peter Samuel
E-ZPass and Florida's SunPass have established a working group on interoperability and the executive director of the E-ZPass Group PJ Wilkins has said it should be possible to have this working by the end of this year. He was speaking from the podium Sunday in front of 500 attendees at the IBTTA's Interoperability conference at the Legacy Marriott in Plano/Dallas Texas.
Interoperability between E-ZPass and Florida would mean that vehicles with E-ZPass transponder accounts would be able to drive on Florida's many tollroads and have their regular E-ZPass/I-Pass/iZoom/FAST LANE accounts debited for the tolls. Also Florida motorists with SunPass or the compatible Orlando brand E-PASS could drive throughout E-ZPass territory and have their Florida accounts debited. Tolls in North Carolina would also be part of E-ZPass/SunPass interoperability.
This would bring together two of four large electronic toll blocs in the US accounting for about 70% of the country's transponder and license plate tolls - the remaining two blocs being Texas and California. A fifth smaller bloc based on ISO 18000 6C protocols is Washington state, Georgia, Utah and Colorado.
The Alliance for Toll Interoperability and IBTTA are also involved in the effort with E-ZPass and the Florida toll operations. Wilkins told TOLLROADSnews afterwards that interoperability can and will be made to work between his E-ZPass group and the big Florida toll operation. And he reiterated that he was confident it can be done this year.
He did however note that final decisions will be made by the actual toll agencies themselves, and he joked that he no longer has a vote. (Prior to taking on the executive-director position he was the Delaware delegate to the E-ZPass group and had a vote.)
His counterpart in Florida, the Turnpike's deputy executive director and chief financial officer Nicola Liquori was less committal, telling us that the discussions are under way but that it is too early to tell when interoperability up and down the east coast will actually be achieved.
Of Wilkins statement that E-ZPass/SunPass interoperability can be achieved by year's end Florida's Liquori told us: "People will have different opinions on that."
License plate reads to start with
Early on it seems likely that E-ZPass/SunPass collaboration will be based heavily on license plate reads with cameras because there are limited opportunities to read one another's toll transponders or tags.
The Florida area has many dual mode TransCore E6 readers that can in theory read the present E-ZPass IAG protocols. Trouble is the E6's two channels need to be set to the old Allegro protocols with which electronic tolling was launched in Florida as well as the TransCore SeGo or ISO 18000 6B protocol used in the sticker tags now being issued. The older Allegro protocol tags still constitute about 40% of Florida's toll tags.
Only when Allegro protocol tags are completely phased out - several years seems likely - would it be possible to switch the second channel on the state's many E6 readers to E-ZPass IAG protocols.
Three channel readers are widely expected to be available in new readers from major manufactures: TransCore, Federal Signal/Sirit, and Kapsch (formerly Mark IV).
There are Mark IV, now Kapsch readers that can read SunPass style SeGo or Allegro but few are deployed. A huge swapout of IAG readers - some 3,000 - would be needed to read the Florida tags coming up north.
More likely, the reading of transponders to provide interoperability will wait on the next generation of E-ZPass technology - the subject of a procurement now in its sixth year.
IAG selection this summer - PJ
Wilkins says the procurement of a new tag/reader combination - the subject of competing bids from Kapsch and TransCore - will finally see a selection made this summer!
Both contending E-ZPass vendors say they have an offering that will cater to national interoperability.
And TransCore has an eZGo Anywhere transponder designed to operate in different protocol and capable of being read by single mode readers in IAG, SeGo or ATA (Texas) protocol. But at up to $30 each it remains to be seen how many would be bought by motorists.
For the moment most of the toll reads of SunPass accountholders in the north and of E-ZPass accountholders in Florida will be by camera and license late recognition systems.
The IAG has agreed to waive its normal $250k membership fees for Florida and to enter into some kind of licensing contract.
They will have multimode readers with the ability to read two or more selected protocols of tags mixed in the traffic stream.
Florida has two hubs - the big multi-toller SunPass hub in Boca Raton and the OOCEA E-PASS center in the Orlando area. There is also a LEE WAY toll center for Lee County on the Gulf coast.
The state has an active state organization TEAMFL (for Team Florida) devoted to coordinating state activity on tolls.
E-ZPass's IAG is a policymaking body of all the toll agencies, not an operator. E-ZPass tollers have some 14 backoffices each of which exchange overnight batches of the day's transactions with all the other 14 on a one-on-one basis.
ATI's hub a dub hub
The Alliance for Toll Interoperability (ATI) gets bids Monday for a pilot 'hub' which will be trialed for some months with the external tolls of seven tollers. ATI officials have said they are hopeful there could be a full national hub or even a couple of competing hubs by next year.
Such an ATI Hub could be in time to prevent the need for Florida to be one or two new E-ZPass backoffices in addition to the 14 existing E-Zpass backoffices.
The ATI hub is intended to handle transaction data regardless of whether it is derived from transponder or license plate reads so it could start off with a heavy amount of plate image data and then move to higher volumes of transponder derived data.
A major requirement for interoperability is ensuring transactions fit one another's formatting and also business rules.
Mica got cranky for interop over the uselessness of his SunPass up north
Some of the impetus for toll interoperability came from the experience of House transportation chairman John Mica of Florida a couple of years ago when drove north up I-95 with a SunPass on his windshield and discovered it wasn't recognized when his car was in Delaware.
So in a House transportation committee hearing last month nationwide interoperability was the issue once again. Previous mandates enacted by the US Congress have foundered on the USDOT's recognition of its inability to make a choice of toll technology and to deal with the complex transition issues.
Interoperability is now being left to the toll industry to do itself, but commitments have been made to a 5-year deadline.
In discussions recently most IAG member tollers thought it was realistic to have a three year deadline for national interoperability. But we understand the New Jersey Turnpike hung out for five years. Taking up the 5-year deadline IBTTA president Frank McCartney committed to five years in a statement to the US House transportation committee recently.
Industry people working interoperability say that after SunPass/E-ZPass the big push will be to bring in Texas and Oklahoma. The 6C alliance of Georgia, Washington state, Utah, and Colorado might come next and California last. California is the one state where toll protocols are embedded in state law, and where the law is notoriously difficult to change.
2016 is therefore the year for complete interoperability - minus California?
UPDATE: we used 2010 annual report data for the table above. Florida DOT's Christa Deason tells us SunPass now has over 3.9m accounts with an active tag (or more tags) so the total Florida accounts adding in E-PASS and LEEWAY tag accounts must be over 4.5m, vs the 3.5m number we derived from the 2010 data.