E-ZPass group announces offer of Affiliate membership to push interoperability (ADDITIONS)
By Peter Samuel
The E-ZPass group has formally approved a new kind of membership termed "National Affiliate" which for the first time allows toll agencies to join without adopting the full membership rules specifying use of IAG-protocol transponders and readers as manufactured by Mark IV/Kapsch. The move is key to advancing interoperability (IOP). The first member is expected to be the North Carolina Turnpike toll system that uses the TransCore variant of ISO 18000 6B sticker tag protocols as its main electronic toll collection system.
The approval of rules for Affiliate status occurred at the last IAG board meeting February 9 but was announced this week.
PJ Wilkins, executive director of the E-ZPass Group told us they are aiming to be in a position to accept North Carolina Turnpike Authority as the first E-ZPass Affiliate by July or August. To be accepted toll agencies have to meet the E-ZPass Group's established standards for read rates and accuracy.
"There is a major revenue risk here so we have to be sure their chosen equipment meets our standards," Wilkins said.
North Carolina has to show that the Encompass-6 readers on the Triangle Parkway read E-ZPass tags adequately and that North Carolina's eZGo Anywhere transponders are read properly by E-ZPass readers.
The testing is expected to be done by TTI under contract to Aecom on behalf of the North Carolina Turnpike Authority.
North Carolina Turnpike is already selling TransCore-manufactured eZGo Anywhere transponders (branded by NCTA simply 'Hard Case') to customers so they are confident they'll be able to pass the tests. TransCore has sold the transponders as working to E-ZPass IAG protocols.
Wilkins told us he has "very high hopes this will work" and that North Carolina Turnpike Authority will be able to advertise that it is E-ZPass compatible to visitors from the north tand that its dual mode eZGo Anywhere transponders will be able to be read in Virginia, West Virginia and other E-ZPass states by late this summer.
IOP timed for opening next major segment of Triangle Expressway
Barry Mickle director of operations at the North Carolina Turnpike says they hope to have interoperability with E-ZPass coincide with the opening of a major 16 mile second stretch of the Triangle Expressway late summer.
The Research Triangle Park area served by the Expressway has quite a high concentration of people from northeast E-ZPass states and people who maintain those connections by frequently traveling north, and have family, friends and colleagues visit from E-ZPassland. Their surveys suggested as many as 30% of the customers of the Triangle Expressway might buy the dual-mode Hard Case transponder. It costs $20 vs $5 for the 6B sticker tag (see nearby.)
With the first short 3 mile stretch open and operating a total of 16,000 transponder have been sold, about 4,000 of them the IOP Hard Case and 12,000 the 6B sticker tags. Given that the Hard Case can't yet be used outside the Expressway that suggests a strong demand for the IOP transponders once they can actually be used in E-ZPassland.
Marketing a work in progress
At present the IOP transponder has the bland name Hard Case and no logo - unusual for North Carolina which is generally strong on logos and signage.
Mickle explains that is because they are involved with an E-ZPass Marketing Group that is working on guidelines to be adopted on a best and standardized way to communicate interoperability to motorists.
For the moment the Hard Case look is a blank sheet without any branding.
Mickle says ideally they would have had interoperability worked out when the first stretch of the Triangle opened, but that wasn't possible. He says they've already done extensive testing of the dual mode equipment for their own assurance that they were buying a strong system.
So, as he sees it, the new testing for E-ZPass is more in the nature of demonstrations, than tests.
He praises the present E-ZPass Group as "great partners" who are working hard to make interoperability happen.
Way larger, Florida is not far behind.
As director of toll operations in January Rick Nelson said the Turnpike was beginning procurement of new multimode readers and larger servers to handle E-ZPass customer files. They are looking for 4-mode readers to read 6B, E-ZPass IAG, Allegro and 6C tags. Like North Carolina Florida's SunPass is now basically a 6B system though they still had a sizable number of Allegro tags in service
Nelson said at that time they were 90% of the way to an agreement with the E-ZPass group. He was hopeful they could begin interstate electronic toll operations by the end of the year. Nelson was dismissed soon afterwards, and his position is still vacant.
Diane Guitierrez Scaccetti, chief executive of the FloridaTurnpike has been getting active on interoperability herself and recently joined the board of directors of the Alliance for Toll Interoperability.
The E-ZPass Group announcement says that interoperability is being pursued in response to congressional and customer desires, and mentions work with North Carolina, Florida and other tollers, and says the goal of national interoperability is within reach "in the near future."
Our estimate is that this could be about as expeditious as a new transponder/reader procurement at the E-ZPass Group - 4 to 5 years.
The full text of Tuesday's announcement follows:
"E-ZPASS AT THE FOREFRONT OF EXPANDED INTEROPERABILITY
"WILMINGTON, DE, March 13, 2012: The E-ZPass Group, consisting of 14 Northern and Atlantic states, with their 24 tolling agencies and over 22 million electronic toll tags, is again at the industry forefront, taking action to encourage interoperability.
"Already the largest interoperable tolling system in the United States, E-ZPass has just approved a new membership category, 'National Affiliate' which enables other states and tolling agencies with different systems to join E-ZPass if their equipment is made compatible with the E-ZPass system.
"The action can bring expanded service and convenience to both their customers as well as the vast number of existing E-ZPass customers by allowing them to utilize their existing accounts to pay tolls at participating facilities thereby making their travel as seamless as possible.
"This effort comes in response to both Congressional and customer desire to see national interoperability of tolling systems. Presently, E-ZPass is working with a number of other tolling agencies, including those in Florida and North Carolina, to establish interoperability in the near future.
"With E-ZPass committed to working with other tolling systems toward interoperability with this new membership category, the ultimate goal of national interoperability is within reach in the near future." END STATEMENT
see North Carolina's preparation for interoperability:
ADDITIONS Mar 14