Puerto Rico conversion to all-electronic tolling + in-lane replenishment popular, smooth

September 19, 2011

Puerto Rico's toll roads are moving by stages to almost cashless tolling. This July 29 coin machines were removed from two of the island state's tollroads (PR52 and PR53) in a toll system upgrade that began last November. This was Phase 1 of a project to progressively improve the efficiency of toll collection on all the tollroads.

Five toll plazas on PR52 San Juan to Ponce and three toll plazas on PR53 in the southeast of the island have been converted to mostly transponder and license plate tolling. 16 more plazas remain to be converted which will take about another year.

Carlos Contreras, chief executive of Puerto Rico's state toll authority ACT (Autoridad de Carreteras y Transportacion or Highways and Transportation Authority) told us in a telephone interview that so far the conversion is going quite smoothly. At the eight toll plazas without conventional cash toll collection traffic is flowing much more readily and wait times and backups are nearly gone, he says.

"Motorists are happy," he says.

By next summer Contreros says they hope to have gone cashless all across the island - just over 200 miles, 330km of tollroads, with 22 toll plazas and 175 toll lanes.

Transponder use up to 70%

Use of transponders - brand AutoExpreso and TransCore ISO 18000 6B sticker tags - has gone from just over 40% to nearly 70%.

The present stage of conversion leaves in place many of the old islands of the toll plazas that once housed coin machines or toll booths. But in some places they've combined two old cash lanes for a single 55mph electronic toll lane.

Contreras says they are building a new tollroad with multilane open road tolling at full highway speed, but the handling of multilane electronic tolling lies in the future.

He says in a  month or so they may be deciding on planning of the first complete toll plaza elimination to allow a move from single lane 25mph all-electronic (AET) to full highway speed AET.

Cash being moved out of main lanes

Puerto Rico has a large portion of drivers without bank cards so from the beginning of AutoExpreso tags they've had a program to allow motorists to establish and top up a tag account with cash. This has been available at around 150 gas stations and convenience stores.

Now at each of the toll plazas on the far right side they are building what they call a staffed In-Lane Replenishment Lane (ILR) where a motorist can buy a transponder or top up a toll account with cash.

So cash isn't completely gone.

Motorists with cash don't pay a toll collector or throw coins in a coin basket. Instead they use cash from time to time out of the main lanes either at a gas station or retailer or in the in-lane replenishment lane.

Concessionaire to follow

Last to go all-electronic will be the busiest tollroad of the island PR22 which goes west out of San Juan and follows the north coast. PR22 is going into a 40 year toll concession with Goldman Sachs and Abertis and so will no longer be under the control of ACT.

But Contreras tells us the concessionaire is committed to being part of the same AutoExpreso toll system and they will convert to AET next year.

Major cost of the present AET conversion at 22 toll plazas is a $26.4m contract with TransCore.

TransCore conversion

TransCore is looking after almost everything in the conversion - front end lane equipment, plaza software hosts, back office accounts management, violations, and in-lane replenishment.

Contreras says he's happy how smoothly the conversion is going. Relations with the contractor are good.

A key he says has been an intense, aggressive marketing of carefully considered step by step changes so motorists know what to expect.

"We had very aggressive advertising of the changes on TV, newspapers, our website. We have been very open about our plans. I think it is paying off."

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TOLLROADSnews 2011-09-19 REVISED 09-20 11:00

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