Ohio Turnpike's new toll rates, new classing go along with electronic toll
By Peter Samuel
Ohio Turnpike Commission's board have approved a schedule of new toll rates and vehicle classes to coincide with their introduction of E-ZPass electronic tolling due for the final quarter of 2009. Approved at the same Commission hearing is a second round of toll increases 24 to 27 months later - on Jan 1, 2012.
The toll rate for passenger cars will remain at 4.25c/mile in the first round of toll changes for motorists who get an electronic toll (ET) account and use an E-ZPass Inter Agency Group (IAG) transponder which includes I-PASS from Illinois and i-Zoom from Indiana. There's a strong incentive to go to electronic tolling because cash toll rates will increase sharply in the final quarter - by 46% to 6.22c/mile.
The Ohio Turnpike does trip based tolling with a ticket issued on entry with an entry registration and handed back on exit to establish distance traveled for computing the toll. In the case of electronic tolling the transponder has the entry point written back wirelessly to its memory on entry. On exit the transponder uploads the entry information along with the account details to the reader on the overhead gantry.
On Jan 1 2012 car tolls are due to go up 10% to 4.7c/mile with an IAG transponder, Cash toll rates also go up 10% - to 6.85c/mile. The transponder toll discount is maintained at a whopping 32% off the cash rate.
New axle, height based classification
The toll changes for truckers are difficult to characterize because of the switchover to an axle-count and height-based classification system from the gross weight set of vehicle classes presently in effect. Further complicating before-&-after comparisons the Turnpike will abandon a sliding scale of volume discounts for commercial vehicles when transponders are introduced.
Unlike some of the Atlantic coast IAG members Ohio will treat all IAG transponders the same. Interoperability doesn't allow special programs such volume discounts to be operated across multiple agencies.
The end of volume discounts will considerably increase effective toll rates paid by the large fleet operators.
George Distel, executive director of the Turnpike told us the new classification system in itself is not intended to increase revenue but lightly laden vehicles will tend to pay more than previously and some heavily laden vehicles will pay less. Ten commercial vehicle or truck classes presently exist although since 2005 there have effectively been seven classes since three adjacent pairs of classes were combined and charged the same tolls (Classes 4&5, 6&7 and 8&9).
Ohio, PA both retire once-advanced IBM classification system
The Ohio and Pennsylvania Turnpikes have both operated vehicle classification equipment based on gross vehicle weight for trucks and used similar equipment and algorithms provided by IBM back in the 1960s. However their vehicle class tables are different - the result of different lobbying success by trucker groups wanting to slip their vehicles into cheaper classes.
Pennsylvania has already gone to axle-based classification on the new Turnpike extensions in the west of the state and officials there say the mainline will probably go to axle classes with the next major rebuild of toll collection.
Extra $10m to $12m
Distel told us they expect the first round of changes later this year to bring in $10m to $12m in extra annual toll revenue. 2008 toll revenue was around $187m so the expected increase is some 5.3% to 6.4%.
The increases seem to assume substantial reductions in cash toll payment. Also they appear to assume that the big fleets will take advantage of the lower rates for long doubles and triples (OC10&OC11/NC7) while regular 5-axle tractor trailers (NC5) are split from old classes 7 and 8.
Trucks generate about 58% of the toll revenue on the Ohio Turnpike although passenger cars run up 64% of the vehicle miles traveled.
The last toll increase was Jan 1, 2007 when average tolls increased by 10%. Toll revenues in 2006 were $181m and it was hoped the 2007 increases would boost toll revenues to about $208m based on a Vollmer forecast of a 4.5% increase in traffic. The increase in traffic never occurred of course. Instead traffic declined by 2%, and toll revenues fell $10m short of forecast. In 2008 traffic declined again, this time by 4.4% and was 6.3% below 2008 traffic.
The declines in traffic have wiped out two-thirds of the value of the higher toll rates that went into effect at the start of 2007.
Less longdistance car travel
Ohio Turnpike has been losing car traffic every year since 2004 when car vehicle-miles traveled. (vmt) was 1539m. It is now 1391m vmt, 9.6% down. Truck traffic shot up in 2005 and 2006 from 659m to 817m vmt (23%) when truck speed limits on the Turnpike were increased by 10mph and tolls were discounted under an ODOT-funded program to attract trucks off parallel tax-funded arterials. Those discounts ended Jan 1 2007.
Truck travel has subsequently gone down 6.7%, from 2006's 817m vmt to 770m vmt in 2008.
The Ohio turnpike remains one of the most heavily trucked highways in the US with trucks doing nearly 36% of the total vehicle miles traveled, passenger cars 64%. In 2007 trucks paid $116m in tolls, 58% of the total, to cars $82m (42%).
Cash flow to capital
Capital programs that the Commission say need funding support include:
- a start on replacement of the concrete base of the original 2x2 lanes of pavement now over 50 years old, comprising some 965 lane-miles (1550 lane-km), a huge program that will extend over many years
- completion of third laning on the I-80 segment of the Turnpike comprising 22 lane-miles (35 lane-kms)
- reconstruction of two service plazas
Distel is quoted in a statement: "By approving the new toll rates, the Commission will be able to continue to provide the traveling public with the highest level of service and maintain the Turnpike's infrastructure in very good condition. The Commission's declining revenues over the last few years have forced it to postpone several important capital improvement projects that can no longer be deferred. Ohio Turnpike's new toll rates will still be among the most competitive in the country."
Truck toll rates comparatively low
Ohio's new toll rates for 18-wheelers with transponders are comparatively low. At 11.7c/ mile now, 13.3c/mile in 2010 and 14.5c from 2012 will compare with present tolls elsewhere of Indiana TR 18.3c, NYS Thruway 21.6c, New Jersey Turnpike's 25.2c, Illinois 28.1c, and the Penn Pike's 42.4 laden, 18.9c unladen at 30k pd.
Ohio Turnpike is forced to keep toll rates low because of tax-funded upgrades to parallel untolled routes which in the flat terrain of the western two-thirds of the state provide competitive journey times.