Ohio Turnpike to up cash tolls 48%, freeze electronic tolls, go to axle classes 2009Q4

November 18, 2008
By Peter Samuel

Ohio Turnpike Commission's board has approved public hearings on new toll rates to take effect the fourth quarter of 2009 when electronic tolling is due to begin. The proposal also involves a second round of increases Jan 1, 2012. In late 2009 the Commission will keep current toll rates for cars using transponders, but hike the cash toll rates substantially - for cars by 48%.

Truck tolls which generate nearly half the Turnpike's revenue will change in more complex fashion because the Commission plans to discontinue volume discounts and to rejig vehicle classification, moving from classes by weight to axle count and height classes.

Overall the plan is designed to raise toll revenues by $25m/year over the current annual revenues of $189m. That is going up about 13% to $214m/yr. Just over two years later the 2012 increases would generate another 12% again taking annual revenues to around $240m.

After public hearings, probably early in the new year the commission will vote to implement toll rate changes.

OTC's Executive Director George Distel is quoted: "We want to give the public ample time to understand what is being proposed, how it might affect them, and how it relates to electronic tolling (E-ZPass)."

Factors cited in developing the new toll regime include declining traffic and revenues, need for support for capital projects, aqnd encouragement to motorists to adopt electronic tolling.

Declines in traffic

In the first nine months of this year total vehicle miles traveled are down 4.5% on the same period of 2007 on the Ohio Turnpike.

Truck traffic peaked in 2006 declining 1.2% measured by VMT in 2007 and is down 4.6% in 2008.

Car traffic peaked in 2004 and has declined 2.5% in 2005, 0.8% in 2006, 2.3% in 2007 and 4.4% this year, based on first 9 month comparisons.

Car traffic on the Turnpike is now down 9.6% on its peak in 2004, and truck traffic is down 5.8% on its peak in 2006.

Revenue hasn't fared as badly because of toll increases at the beginning of 2007 but 2008 is off 4.7% from last year based on three quarters. Toll revenue is headed for $189m this year vs $198m in 2007. Earnings before depreciation and interest expenses were $105m in 2007, but are in decline.

Cash rates up sharply, but using transponder will retain present toll rates to 2012

Under the toll rate proposal cars continuing to pay cash will find toll rates going from 4.2c/mile to 6.2c/mi or 48% up late 2009 when electronic tolling comes online (2.6c/km to 3.9c/km). Cars getting transponders keep the 4.2c/mile (2.6c/km) toll until 2012 when the toll rises to 4.7c/mile (2.9c/km), a 12% increase.

A typical fully loaded tractor-trailer presently with a gross weight of 65k to 80k pds gross weight (29.5t to 36.3t) presently pays 14c/mile (8.7c/km). If it is running lighter at say 42k to 53K pds (19t to 24t) then it pays 11.8c/mi (7.3c/km).

Regardless of weight the typical tractor-trailer with 5-axles will from the last quarter of 2009 be tolled 16.6c/mile (10.3c/km) paying cash and 13.3c/mile (8.3c/km) with a transponder. That cash rate is up 12% for the fully loaded rig but is slightly less those paying by transponder account.

Frequent use truckers will lose their present volume discount of 15 percent off their monthly toll bill beyond $1,000, which will be discontinued late 2009 with the advent of electronic tolling.  Truck toll rates have been depressed since 2000 by efforts to prevent truckers traveling on parallel free routes.

The  proposed increases keep toll rates for cars more or less in line with average rates on comparable eastern pikes. New Jersey and Pennsylvania Turnpike are going to 8c/mile and 7.7c/mile. New York Thruway is similar to Ohio's proposed tolls with a transponder. Illinois, Indiana and the Garden State Parkway are lower at around 3c/mile.

At 13c or 14c/mile for a 5-axle tractor trailer with a transponder Ohio is behind most other pikes. NJTP is going to be double that at 25c/mi. Other tractor-trailer transponder rates are: NYSTA 22c/mi, Penn Pike 43c/mi, Illinois 28c/mi, Indiana 18c/mi.

Last toll increases in Ohio were Jan 1 2007 when car tolls increased by 0.5c/mile and truck tolls by 1c/mile on rates set in 1999.

Capital projects proposed for support by the Turnpike's operating surpluses include:

- completion of 3rd laning halted in 2006, another 21.8 miles (35km) for completion of the Indiana border to the I-80/I-76 split in eastern Ohio

- toll collection upgrades

- a beginning to complete replacement of the original 4 lanes of concrete pavement (956 lane-miles)

- service plaza reconstruction, three more sets

- noise walls

see http://www.ohioturnpike.org/travelers/fares/toll_adjustments/

New toll system

Ohio Turnpike is the last of the major US toll authorities to get electronic tolling. TransCore is working on a new toll collection system which will retrofit E-Zpass compliant Mark IV equipment into existing toll lanes.

Ohio Turnpike tolling is entirely trip-based, presently computing the toll based on a ticket issued on entry recording that entry point handed in to a toll collection at the end of the trip. Under electronic tolling the time and place of entryt will be 'written to' the motorist's transponder memory and on exit that entry place and time will be uploaded to compute the toll and debit the electronic toll account.

Gates will be retained reducing the need for violation systems.

TransCore is the system integrator.

TOLLROADSnews 2008-11-17

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