New York State Thruway to commission study of future toll collection including cashless

June 1, 2008

The New York State Thruway Authority will be hiring consultants soon to study the costs and benefits of different toll collection modes including all-electronic tolling (AET), also known as cashless. The announcement was made not in any board decision, or in a press release, or in any presentation to an IBTTA conference, and there's no RFP yet. But a reader pointed out to us a pair of postings that have just popped up on the NYSTA website. See links at the bottom of this report.

The postings are explanatory of a pragmatic approach to improving the performance of toll systems and sensibly cautious about about predicting the result of studies and experience. Increasing traffic volumes in urban parts of the Thruway (Buffalo, Albany and NY City) "continually challenge" them to reduce congestion within toll zones, they say.

The posting titled "The Future" outlines the moves toward highway speed open road tolling down the middle of toll zones, then reports:

"In addition to system-wide E-ZPass improvements, the Authority will have a third-party conduct a study to examine the costs, benefits and impacts of alternatives to the way the Authority currently collects tolls.

"Upon completion, the Study will determine how and where tolls should be collected in the future. Several alternative systems will be considered, for example, a mainline barrier system with highway speed toll collection for E-ZPass customers and a totally cashless system.

"The Authority will also be conducting several regional studies in concert with the New York State Department of Transportation and regional or local Metropolitan Planning Organizations."

No mention of any get-together with PANYNJ or Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority which are also planning and studying AET, but that's par for the course in New York where it is a matter of pride for the different toll authorities to work in their own separate little villages.

Meanwhile, NYSTA says, they'll be vigorously marketing transponders (E-ZPass) in order to increase the proportion of non-cash transactions, adding more single E-ZPass-only lanes some at higher allowed speed, and working to get more consistency in signing.

"E-ZPass-On-The-Go," the scheme to sell transponders-in-transparent packaging at general stores, newspaper stands, pharmacies and other retail locations is another aspect of that.

The most expensive ongoing will be present state-of-the-art open road toll lanes down the middle with cash to the sides at almost all of the Thruway's mainline toll plazas:

- Williamsville Toll Barrier, the mainline toll plaza east of Buffalo and the end of the ticket system MP420 will be getting a large new present state of the art 3+3 toll lanes for highway speed open road transponder tolling down the middle, three cash lanes each side (now in design)

- Canaan Barrier MP18 on the Berkshire Connector or I-90 stub that connects to the Massachusetts Turnpike smaller version of ORT+cash

- Woodbury Toll Barrier MP45 in Harriman ORT+cash

- Yonkers Toll Barrier, the mainline plaza at MP5 at the far southern end of the mainline just outside New York City ORT+cash

Also NYSTA is studying ORT+cash at the complex and potentially highspeed side toll points associated with expressway-to-expressway connections in the Albany-Schenectady area with the Northway (I-87 to Montreal), I-787, I-890, and I-88.

That's about eight toll points with possible ORT-in-center, cash-on-sides. These can range in cost between $15m and $70m each, which sounds like something in the range $200m to $300m for the total.

COMMENT: ORT-in-center, cash-on-sides tolling is proven state-of-the-art, highest level of service, maximum payment choice for motorists.

Trouble is it's inherently expensive because it requires:

(1) bridge/tunnel arrangements for staff to move from one side of the plaza to the other, and

(2) a long toll plaza area from the need to safely slow stop-to-pay traffic on the approach and safely merge it back with highway speed traffic on the departure end of the toll plaza.

Question: Is it worthwhile if it's going to be a short transition to all-electronic tolling (cashless)?

For how long will we need to collect cash on the road?

Some say another ten or 15 years. Some say five years. Some say zero years - we don't need to do cash now.

Some say it has to be carefully studied and planned.

Nonsense, others say: we know cash collection has no future, do AET now. Problems and challenges sure, but they're manageable and not that different (just a scaling up) of the problems of violation enforcement once you open up the center of the plaza for multi-lane highway speed travel.

We're in the nonsense camp, but the study-it/plan-it camp have a respectable case too. It's one of the central issues for the toll industry at present.

TOLLROADSnews 2008-06-01

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