Mark IV announce E-ZPass feedback transponder that confirms toll paid, warns of low balance

September 21, 2008
By Peter Samuel

Mark IV are announcing a transponder with lights and tones to provide feedback to motorists on whether their toll is properly paid, or their balance is low. A transponder with feedback is a requirement in the new E-ZPass procurement being conducted by the Inter Agency Group of 23 toll agencies in the north of the US and midwest.

Martin Capper president of the Mark IV IVHS division that produces electronic toll systems told us: "It's a requirement and so this transponder is a response to the IAG certainly. But that's not only what's driving it. As more agencies have evolved to Open Road Tolling (ORT) we have heard from a growing number of patrons of a desire for feedback. We believe the next evolution to All Electronic Tolling (AET) will increase this demand for driver feedback."

The feedback consists of green, amber and red lights (LEDs) that glow through a smoky charcoal grey translucent casing of polycarbonate, and a tone or buzzer. These can be programmed in the factory to function in different ways.

The Mark IV Feedback Transponder is an evolution of the G4E transponder used by non-IAG tollers in South Carolina on the Cross Island Parkway at Hilton Head Island, on the Ambassador Bridge Detroit-Windsor and the Venetian and Rickenbacker causeways in Miami. The G4E, which has no feedback, will begin service shortly on the Greenville Southern Connector SC and at Pearson Airport in Toronto for parking payment.

Shaped but smaller in volume

The Feedback Transponder is the same shape ("form factor") as the G4E. It's dimensions are:

93mm x 48mm x 23mm (3.7 x 1.9 x 0.9 inches), volume 79cc (4.8in3)

This compares with the existing IAG transponder called the Flat Pack which measures:

89mm x 76mm x 19mm (3.5 x 3.0 x 0.7 inches), volume 105mm (6.4in3)

Therefore it is slightly wider and slightly thicker but much less high. It's overall volume is a quarter less than the existing Flat Pack.

It has a much more shaped look and the toller brand will go over the big Mark IV label shown in the sample.

Multimode

The Feedback Transponder is a kind of fusion or multimode tag. Mark IV says it works with all the company's other transponder products which includes those on 407ETR in Toronto and the truck weigh station bypass program that use the Raytheon devised ASTMv6 protocols, the late 1990s FHWA effort at a national standard, various non-IAG implementers of the Mark IV IAG protocols (SC, SE FL causeways) and of course the IAG.

It is an active transponder and functions at around 915MHz like all other North American electronic toll systems.

President Capper says that the new Feedback Transponder will have the same battery and the same warranty (a life of 5 years) as the non-feedback Flat Pack that is presently standard in the IAG. He says feedback will obviously be a drain on the battery, but he won't put a number on that, just saying that the new transponder will have the same warranted life as the existing transponder.

Cost

How much extra will it cost? He says obviously there is an additional cost although economies have been made as compared to previous designs for feedback. He calls it "a simplified technology." Pricing will be part of any procurement bid, so he's mum on that issue.

Mark IV already offers some specialized transponders with feedback - the Fusion tag and the 407ETR tag. 407 International the concessionaire has gone through three major new procurements and has stuck with feedback on what is the world's pioneer in all-electronic tolling.

AT/Comm transponders had feedback. The first Mark IV transponders supplied to the Illinois Tollway in 1997 to replace the AT/Comm boxes had a display on them and a few are still around. Purchases by the Tollway were discontinued in around 2000 and only regular IAG flat packs bought from then on. Economy was the major reason - the flat packs were about half the price - though some at the Tollway also argued that feedback was wrong in principle.

The present Illinois Tollway chairman John Mitola said in the spring (2008-04-28) that he wanted what he called "The Dinger" back. He told reporters he would "aggressively push" the IAG to make feedback a requirement for new E-ZPass transponders.

Controversy about feedback

Feedback has always been controversial, and still is.

The argument in favor is that the toller should acknowledge the toll as paid in electronic transactions just as in payment in a cash lane. There a patron display by the curb signs to the driver that the toll is received, and you're ready to go. But once you take tolling above roll-through speeds in a single lane the roadside display won't work so you need to provide acknowledgment inside the vehicle.

Also feedback can warn the motorist their account balance is low or the transponder isn't working.

Opponents of feedback transponders cite unnecessary cost but also say: provide feedback but not in the vehicle. They say you shouldn't distract the motorist with acknowledgements or warnings while they are driving. Let them just focus on driving, not think about their toll account.

Give 'em feedback, the critics say, but the feedback should be off-road, in the home or office. It should be sent via email or letter mail or even telephone, but not to the driver while driving.

The deep skeptics about the IAG's recent conversion to a feedback transponder say it is nothing more than a way to prevent sticker tags and TransCore from competing for the big new E-ZPass contract.

There certainly are those who favor feedback outside the IAG area and independent of views about TransCore. Illinois' John Mitola represents a genuine feedback constituency out there. And with all-electronic tolling on the rise many think it's essential, regardless of vendor.

COMMENT: We're happy with a flat pack E-ZPass without feedback. But Florida has it right. They have SunPass hardcase (from TransCore) with feedback, and the SunPass Mini sticker tag without feedback, both on offer.

Let the real customers decide by providing that choice at appropriate prices for each.

TOLLROADSnews 2008-09-21

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