ROUNDUP:Electronic Tolls in North America

January 6, 1999
By Peter Samuel

ROUNDUP:Electronic Tolls in North America

Originally published in issue 35 of Tollroads Newsletter, which came out in Jan 1999.

Page:5

Subjects:ET conversion e-toll highway speed ET
ETX

Facilities:many

These are some of the results of telephone interviews with about 90% of the agencies that do electronic tolling already. Eight authorities now do over 100k e-tolls/day. MTA B&T which does close to half a million a day is out on its own (and we went to New York for special interviews - see “Triboro Triumph” nearby). Five more are bunched together. Houston’s Harris County Toll Road Auth and the New York State Thruway are next with over 200k ET/day and Illinois (ISTHA), Orlando FL (OOCEA) and Dallas TX (NTTA) systems are not far behind at around 190k. If you counted their camera reads as electronic Toronto’s 407 would be just over 200k/day but we’ve only counted their transponder reads which are 130k.

Next is the Port Authority NY/NJ just over 100k and Oklahoma Turnpike just under 100k. If we combine the legally separate two Transp Corridors agencies in Orange Co CA they’re around 85k together. The Dulles Toll Road in the Washington DC area and the Kansas Turnpike are around the same 80k/day mark for e-tolls.

The progress in ET the past couple of years is remarkable but it has a ways to go yet. Some large systems (Illinois and Massachusetts) are only just started. NJ is a huge toll state but only has the Atlantic City Exwy, its smallest toll road on line. PA hasn’t started. Several are poised to fire up their systems – MD, the PA/NJ bridges around Philadelphia, Richmond VA has 2 toll systems. DE has its big I-95 system up and will do DE-1, the new toll road to its capital Dover, next summer. Florida DOT, like NJ, is wiring up. And they are working hard in the Bay area of California where Caltrans has seven bridges to convert and the Golden Gate is on the go for a startup by year’s end. West Virginia and New Hampshire are looking for proposals. Ohio and Indiana are taking their time, upgrading their basic systems first, to make the imposition of ET more effective. The Delaware Memorial Bridge surrounded by agencies going ET on I-95 is studying what it needs.

New toll roads are almost all built with ET though not necessarily the more expensive bridges. Double digit dollar tolls, as at the Confederation Bridge in the Canadian Maritimes and the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel, still seem likely to be paid with cash, credit card or check.

SW pioneers

Most trace the origins of ET technology back to World War II and the US Air Force’s need to minimize friendly fire shootdowns. Systems were developed called Identify Friend or Foe (IFF) which if installed in friendly planes responded with a distinctive code to a querying radio signal. If the pilot got the right response to his query signal it was a friend. If he didn’t it was a likely enemy.

These ‘tags’ remained too expensive for civilian use until the revolution in semi-conductors allowed their minituarization and mass production from the mid-60s onward. The Port Authority of NY/NJ and Golden Gate Bridge tried out large transponders mounted under buses which communicated with in-pavement antennas early on but they were too cumbersome and expensive. Simple read-only tags were developed for animals, cattle and endangered species. Called modulated backscatter they used the radio energy of the querying antenna, and ‘bounced back’ a unique identifying number embedded in their system. The military of course wanted progressively fancier gear to be able to reprogram their systems as part of the counter to counter measures. So tags grew programmable memories and other add-on features. Their first widespread use in transp was on the railroads on boxcars. A couple of million were sold there before the first toll was taken with one.

Amtech (an abbreviation of Animal Management TECHnologies) of Dallas TX pioneered ET on its home turf just ten years ago. It made the Texas Turnpike Authority, as it then was, an offer it couldn’t refuse for ET on the Dallas North Tollway: “We’ll install and operate the equipment at our expense and supply the transponders and you pay us a nickel per toll collected electronically. If you like the system we’ll talk about selling it to you. If you don’t we’ll take it away. What have you to lose?”

So in July 89 they took the first e-tolls on the Dallas North Tollway. There were a few bugs in the system. One story was that it didn’t work when it rained, and you got a free ride. Doesn’t rain very often of course in Dallas. The story was untrue, we’re told, but believed for a while. Amtech followed with two systems in the New Orleans area less than a year later. Oklahoma Turnpike came on line early 91. The battery-less read-only tags worked fine at the roll-through and coast-through speeds but needed a battery to amplify the signal for good reliability at full highway speed tolling on the world’s first full speed toll lanes on a couple of new turnpikes in Oklahoma.

Also in 1991 the first small segment of E470 in Denver opened using an oddball surface acoustic wave tag, good for personnel security access but since abandoned for tolling. Houston’s HCTRA was taking e-tolls in 92. The first Foothill Toll Road segment of the TCA in Orange Co deployed an AT&T transponder in 93, a clunky device with a smartcard reader, that was a fiasco with patrons. The tags were dumped within 6 months or so, and replaced with Texas Instruments tags built to the standard now embodied in California’s Title 21 law. AT&T’s shortlived foray into ET was ended.

Illinois State Toll Highway Auth (ISTHA) deployed ET first mid 93 using an active read/write transponder from AT/Comm, a Boston based company with family links to IBTTA, the trade association. For a while AT/Comm was a big player but it seemed more interested in employing lawyers than technology. Its actual and threatened lawsuits slowed several major toll agencies in the northeastern heart of American tolling. Meanwhile Vapor, a Canadian company got a contract to install ET on the Orlando FL (OOCEA system) using active bumper mounted transponders communicating with in-pavement antennas. All the others have been windshield mounted transponders communicating with antennas mounted over the road on a gantry, or in some cases on a mast arm.

ET was mainstreamed in the second half of the 90s when it was brought to the biggest American market, New York, where 15 large toll financed bridges and tunnels tie together Manhattan Island, Long Island and sprawl of northern New Jersey, the Bronx and Westchester, which are otherwise naturally divided by the tidal channel of the Hudson River. Vapor had been acquired by the large US auto accessories manufacturer Mark IV. The Canadian engineers came up with what was judged by the northeast consortium of toll agencies to be a better active tag than the best passive tag that Amtech – hithertoo the market leader – had available at that time. That was March 94. The Thruway (NYSTA) had started in Aug 93 with Amtech tags as an interim measure pending a series of rigorous tests by the Inter-Agency Group and was committed to eventually transition over to the IAG choice.

In New York over half of the million tolls taken each day at these fifteen toll crossings are now via electronic transponder. New York City’s MTA Bridges and Tunnels division collects close to 60% electronic transactions at the seven city toll bridges and the two toll tunnels. In peak periods at some facilities the proportion is three-quarters.

Only a couple of early southern adopters, the Ponchartrain Causeway and the Crescent City Connection bridge in New Orleans Louisiana, and completely automated highways in Toronto (407ETR), a small bridge in Tidewater Virginia (the Coleman) and southern California (91-Express) are still higher in ET usage than the Big Apple.

In less than 40 months the city toll agency will have equipped 1.5 million New Yorkers’ cars with E-ZPass tags. And there are about another million fully compatible tags from the Port Authority and the state Thruway being used in the 132 E-ZPass Only lanes at the toll plazas of MTA’s two bridges and seven tunnels.

Harris Schechtman, MTA’s director of operations says E-ZPass has enabled the agency to almost completely eliminate queuing at its plazas, enhancing service and safety at the same time that the agency has been able to reduce staff cost. Without E-ZPass, he says, MTA B&T would have been facing a crisis of congestion on the approaches to many of its toll plazas for hours each day: “It would have been hugely expensive to expand the plazas. I don’t know if we could have done it.”

At the Port Authority which runs the Hudson River crossings – four bridges and two toll tunnels between New York and New Jersey– you get the same upbeat story. Laura Radin manager for customer relations says: “The E-ZPass program is wildly successful, way beyond our expectations. Our customers love it.”

The Port Authority has gone from zero to 44% electronic tolling in 18 months – in large part of course because the Thruway and the MTA B&T had a million E-ZPass tags out there for their patrons to use. All 77 toll lanes at the PA’s six plazas are wired for ET but most of the vehicles with E-ZPass tags go through the 18 permanent and 7 part-time E-ZPass-Only lanes.

MTA B&T has taken a bold approach, unabashedly designed to give ET users superior service. As of the turn of the year it had 132 E-ZPass-Only lanes, and only 73 manned collector lanes. (Automatic coin machines and tokens have been completely junked.) E-ZPass traffic is segregated in its own exclusive lanes well ahead of the plazas in separate travel lanes, in some cases right through the length of the crossings. The segregation of traffic also helps reduce dangerous weaving movements by lane changers.

The Massachusetts Turnpike is following the same philosophy, wanting to maximize dedicated lanes. Its FAST LANE moniker is intended to foster the idea that its patrons get a special ride through. Its ET-only lanes are posted at 15mph but apparently most of the traffic goes through at 30mph. There are tunnels for the toll collectors in MA (unlike most New York City toll plazas of earlier vintage) and Bob Bliss of the Mass pike says that generally this speed does not seem to be a safety problem.

Orlando FL, Orange County CA and Houston TX are other major toll areas that have gone for ET in a big way too. Houston’s Harris County Toll Road Authority has the world’s wildest mix of full highway speed electronic tolling - vehicles roaring through at 70mph (113 km/hr) operating on the other side of a Jersey barrier where conventional toll collectors accepting bills dangled out the window and coins thrown into coin machines. Eight of the mainline ‘barrier’ plazas now have a completely unobstructed pair of highway lanes for both directions of ET traffic right through the middle - four lanes exclusive ET. Another has a pair of highway speed lanes. Regular concrete Jersey barrier on the immediate approaches and departures from the plaza.

Retrofit limitations

Most ET in the US has been retrofitted lane by lane to established toll plazas. With motorists fanning out to choose a coin machine basket or fumbling with their wallet to find the right bills as they maneuver in close enough to reach the arm of a toll collector, the very speed and simplicity of payment by electronic transponder makes for a potentially dangerous intermixing with conventional toll collection. At the tight 40 to 50 year old toll plazas in New York the safety requirement has been 5mph (8 km/hr) posted speed limits for all traffic, ET included. At these speeds the ET lane will handle about 1,000 vehicles/ hour, a big advance on the 300 veh/hr of a collector and an improvement too on automatic coin machines which process 500 to 800 veh/hr. In fact a lot of the traffic goes through at 10 or 20mph, the lower speed being more common with gates.

There have been a variety of managerial challenges facing toll agencies having to make unique trade-offs between economy, safety and efficiency at each plaza.

The mainline plaza of the Georgia-400 toll road in Atlanta was one of the first after the Oklahoma Turnpike to do highway speed tolling in a new plaza designed with ET in mind. It has a pair of open road lanes on either side of the subway line that forms the median of their road. It is posted for 45mph but Georgia State Tollway director Dan Guimond told us there doesn’t seem to be any problem with the traffic buzzing through at full highway speed (55 to 65mph). He says the major accident problems on the toll road have been in the manual and coin machine lanes with careless motorists fumbling for money and rear-ending another patron.

In Houston they have big ‘throated’ plazas with quite long diverge-decel and merge-accel areas so it was possible to accommodate the mix of open road highway speed tolling with the conventional collection alongside with reasonable safety. On the older short-throated toll plazas of New York City, Chicago and Boston however it has been more difficult to do this. In some places, for example at the upper Hudson River bridges of the New York State bridge authority automatic gates have been specially installed on ET lanes to thwart speeding. In other places as on the North Dallas Toll Road coast-through at 30 or 40 mph (50 to 65 km/hr) is accepted.

Completely different is the challenge in designing a toll road from scratch in the era of electronic tolling. The more revolutionary approach of doing no toll collection at all by the road has so far only been implemented on Toronto’s 407 Express Toll Route (ETR) with its complete absence of any on-site toll collection. Its mix of toll by transponder for the regular users, and license plate photography for others, is pronounced a great success by those associated with it. But outside experts remain skeptical that it is THE answer. With the highway itself in the throes of privatization and the designers at the HTMS business unit of Hughes (now Raytheon) for sale, it is a sensitive time for both. So they are being somewhat secretive about operational details. Rumors abound of substantial rates of non-collection.

Perpetually FOR SALE

Whether 407’s brilliant system has any real problems or not, there is as yet no follow-on to 407 in sight in north America. City Link in Melbourne Australia and the Cross Israel Highway are the closest descendants of 407ETR in prospect. For the immediate future the US model is the split plaza, perhaps developed closest to an ideal by the Transp Corridors Agencies in Orange County CA. In the split plaza, motorists with electronic transponders get full highway speed open road tolling on a separate roadway which invites motorists to run straight through. Two or three lanes of normal highway divided only by normal lane markings cater to the ET patrons on what are dubbed there FasTrak-Only lanes. Other motorists are directed into off-ramps similar to interchange exit lanes where they find an old-fashioned toll plaza with toll collectors and/or coin machines. Landscaping and different elevation separate the ET section of open highway from the conventional toll collection off to the side. It leads back to the mainline via something like an interchange entry ramp.

TCA now has four such split plazas and will soon open its fifth. The San Joaquin Hills toll road mainline plaza high in Laguna Hills just south of Irvine is still the largest open road toll collection in the US with 2x3-lanes ET. TCA has three 2x2-lane open road ET plazas (and a fourth about to open). 2x2-lane open-road toll ET collection goes back to the Oklahoma Turnpike in 1991 and that system now has twelve such applications of full highway speed tolling. It is also the basis for the operations of 91-Express (91X), the investor-built toll express operation 40km southeast of central Los Angeles on California Route 91.

The ET open road/conventional Split Plaza has emerged as the pattern for most new US toll plazas. The first example to appear in the big northeastern market will be Biddle’s Corner Plaza on Delaware Route One scheduled to open before the end of 1999. The small state of Delaware is one of the few states of the US whose capital so far is not connected by motorway standard road to the rest of the country. At Biddle’s Corner full highway speed tolling will help pay for the first such connection, allowing motorists to drive between Dover in the south and I-95 and the New Jersey Turnpike without a red light.

In Chicago there is already a rebuilt split plaza in operation called Edens Spur. Opened a few months ago not far from O’Hare airport, this new toll plaza has a single open road toll lane each direction. More I-PASS EXPRESS lanes, they call them are being built. Denver’s E-470 toll road followed Oklahoma and opened its first split plaza back in 1991. It recently added a second plaza with a 2x2 lane open road toll system, and will have two more similar split plazas in use within a year as long stretches of this belt road around the east of the Colorado capital are opened shortly.

A real economy job has been done to accommodate full speed tolling on the Fredericton-Moncton Toll Road in New Brunswick, a low volume rural road which however caters to a lot of heavy trucks. There they are putting the ET-only lanes on the outside, a single far right lane each direction for ET-only at highway speed. Inside this there is a manual/coin machine plaza with four regular toll lanes and the canopy over. There’s no tunnel for staff so the plaza is an oasis in the median only accessible by making a left turn off the turnpike because of the highway speed traffic roaring through on those outside lanes.

Florida pioneer

Jorge Figueredo, operations manager at the Orlando Orange County Expressway Authority (OOCEA) says early adoption of ET was crucial to the survival of his toll system. OOCEA has seen double digit traffic growth annually for years. Four of the five major motorways in the 1.5 million pop area are toll roads and they are crucial to the economic vitality of Disney and all the other area attractions.

OOCEA has managed to cope with a doubling of traffic with its existing toll lanes in its existing toll plazas by converting the lanes progressively to ET.

“If we hadn’t had this (ET), we’d have had continual reconstruction projects going on. It would have been contentious, disruptive and very expensive. The smooth operation of our toll roads is a key element in providing visitors with a great time when they visit. I doubt we could have done it without electronic tolling,” Figueredo says.

As an example, he says the OOCEA’s most heavily trafficked Holland East Plaza which has stayed 12 toll lanes would have to be 22 lanes by now, if it had not been for the increased throughput which conversion of lanes to ET allowed. And he adds: “We’d be having to add an average of 2 more toll lanes every year just to that plaza beyond the 22 it would have to be.”

More ET-only lanes

OOCEA’s current push is to reduce queueing at its ramp plazas where motorists with transponders have to use the same lanes as those paying an attendant with cash or throwing coins in coin machine baskets. The system’s three toll roads had 38 mixed ET/cash ramp plazas. So far eight have been provided with the extra ET-only lanes. Some of the other 30 have to be widened, but the plan is to equip all 38 with an exclusive ET lane in the next few years.

Beyond that OOCEA plans to consider the redesign of mainline plazas in conjunction with some widening. The 6-lane East-West Exwy with roll-through ET at present has no special congestion at its plazas, but the mainline lanes need to go to 8 and in some places 10 lanes. In conjunction with designing a wider mainline OOCEA will be looking at building new plazas incorporating open road ET, Figueredo says. The first OOCEA highway speed tolling will occur on the first leg of its fourth toll road, the Western Beltway, due to open by 2002.

Conversion to electronics is difficult. A lot of installations seem to run late, some seriously late. Each job has its unique features. Here in Maryland Lockheed is many months behind on the Baltimore tunnels and it has been slow to integrate customer service for the Thruway and the MTA B&T in New York. In the Bay area CA, MFS is now years behind on the big 7 Bay bridge ET conversion. Only a single ET lane operates on the Carquinez bridge. Some projects get up and running quite smartly but then there can be a long period of tweaking systems before they work well enough to pass final acceptance tests. MTA B&T has not yet accepted the ET system from its system integrator Amtech (working with Mark IV equipment.)

The Maine Turnpike’s executive director Paul Violette told us: “We had no idea what we were getting. It was a lot tougher than we imagined.” Maine’s conversion took a full year more than expected and saw major cost overruns.

“It is working very well now but we had a rough time getting to this point. It was a long difficult process. I still have no regrets. We just had to do it. The new system has far greater capacity, and the patrons are much happier and our costs of operation are down. So the investment was extremely worthwhile. But the process was quite difficult. It is much more complex than anyone thinks.”

Maine converted from a ticket system to a spot toll system simultaneously with the introduction of ET. Ticket systems in which the motorist has to stop and pick up a magstripe ticket on entry and then submit it with payment on exit were designed for long distance rural travel. The Maine Turnpike has changed from being an inter-urban road to being largely a shorter distance commuter roadway as suburban development has spread along it. At the ticket collection points many plaza lanes are needed just for motorists to get their blank tickets on entry. Maine’s strategy was to find space for extra toll payment lanes by eliminating ticket pickup.

The changeover would have been difficult anyway. Introducing ET at the same time complicated the process further. System integrator as well as supplier was AT/Comm. Abandoned by the large Illinois system for Mark IV equipment, AT/Comm lacked sufficient skilled people, the Turnpike says, but after some months of embarrassment and agony in the first half of 1998 the conversion ended up alright: “We have cut our toll collector staff by a third. We are saving $4m a year in operating costs. We doubled the capacity of the toll plazas overnight. We have almost completely eliminated queuing at the toll plazas. Our customers are very happy. So now we are ecstatic about where we are.”

Not all ET-conversions are troublesome. TransCore appears to be implementing ET on the Massachusetts Turnpike on schedule and to cost, without any problems I have heard of. And quite quickly. They are headed for a complete installation on some 90 lanes in little over a year from signing a contract, Bob Bliss in Boston told us. The Tobin Bridge on US-1 run by the Mass Port Authority will take advantage of the TransCore work for the Mass pike and hopes to have its 7 toll lanes ET by the fall. One or two will be ET-only early on, according to Mary Jane O’Meara, the director.

Expertise

A common complaint is that ET in North America just doesn’t have enough experienced people to perform all the installations that are going on. Tolling has to compete for programmers and technicians with whole wide world of Information Technology (IT they call it.)

Steve Snider, exec-director of the Halifax-Dartmouth Bridge Commission in Nova Scotia has just completed a successful ET installation at the two city toll bridges. He says it takes a special personality and expertise for the integrator’s staff – he had MFS and Sirit – to be able to come into an established agency, understand its procedures and needs, see what can be changed and what needs to stay, and to work up a practical system. Most ET systems are grafted on top of an existing toll system, and involve different degrees of change.

Any business handling vast numbers of small transactions has trouble keeping a handle on where its money is going and has to devise new audit systems to thwart thievery. Or when the numbers of vehicles and tolls collected don’t match to work out why, if indeed there isn’t any thievery. Bill Costis of the Dulles Toll Road was unhappy for over two years from the start of ET because the systems didn’t account for tolls well enough to satisfy state auditors.

Complete new start

Only in a few cases – the Golden Gate Bridge is an example – is all the existing gear junked and a totally new toll system installed. The Golden Gate Bridge has equipment which goes back 20 years and a year-2000 problem to boot. Bob Warren, the GG bridge’s project director told us the new $8m toll system being installed simply has to be up and running before Dec 31 1999 because “otherwise we simply won’t be collecting any tolls.”

None of the existing stuff can handle Y2K dates. InTrans, a CS Route subsidiary is putting in new lane controllers, cash registers, displays, system software, the lot – along with ET.

Indiana and Ohio turnpikes are modernizing their cash and ticket systems first, with the addition of ET in mind as the final stage of modernization at some as yet undecided future date.

Several major companies have had ET jobs cause them severe financial distress. Amtech’s price for the Florida Sunpass ET-conversion and the associated 8-digit losses got the chairman and CEO Russell Mortenson fired by the board of directors and led to its acquisition by Intermech Technologies. Reportedly there has been considerable chaos during the first weeks of the Sunpass rollout in southern Florida just recently.

MFS is in trouble over three jobs:

• the ATCAS contract to install ET on the seven Caltrans toll bridges in the San Francisco Bay area

• E470 in Colorado where officials say that the MFS system is not yet working to specifications either

• the Violations Processing Center in New Jersey (see separate report p13)

Officials of the NJ regional consortium said MFS got ET up and running on the Delaware Turnpike and the Atlantic City Expressway on time and to specification, and that the ET itself is working well. Two toll collectors we spoke to said the system “has its ups and downs” and “needs a lot of bugs to be worked out of it” but it is hard to know how seriously to take that info.

Despite its promising technology and its dominance of the truck transponder business, the old Hughes TMS unit (now with Raytheon as HTMS) seems perpetually for sale, a condition that greatly hampers gaining new work. Discussions with Tadiran about a purchase drag on, possibly complicated by uncertainty about HTMS next big project the Cross-Israel.

Penetration

Penetration of the ET mode often depends on an incentive. Offered at the same price as cash payment it sells itself gradually because of its convenience. But so many users of any toll facility are occasional users some discount is usually needed for it to go beyond a third of transactions. In New York City E-ZPass users get a 50c/toll break on cash payers. OOCEA got to 33% ET toll share over 5 years without giving any financial incentive. After 10 years the Dallas North Toll Road – pioneer of ET in the US – has reached 48% selling it on convenience alone. Because of operational cost advantages both toll agencies now want to push the ET market share. In March OOCEA began to give 5% discount for 40 or more tolls per month and 10% for 80 or more.

Steve Pustelnyk in charge of communications and marketing says the discounts kicked in they have had the busiest time in the history of the authority in issuing new transponders. The percentage of ET transactions has already been raised to38%. By steadily increasing the number of ET-Only lanes and introducing highway-speed lanes, the authority hopes to progressively provide more value with ET, also boosting usage.

At the Dallas North Tollway they have even more ambitious plans. A study for its owner the North Texas Tollway Authority by consultants showed that the most cost-effective way of increasing capacity on the 30 year old turnpike was increasing ET usage and progressively moving to highway speed tolling as toll plazas reach capacity.

A plan is in the works, says Jerry Shelton, to increase ET usage to 80% from the present 48%. At present ET users pay the same tolls as cash customers and in addition a $2 monthly fee. The toll road is likely to increase its cash tolls from 50c to 75c at its mainline plazas but keep the ET Toll Tag charge at 50c.

The busiest mainline plaza is already close to capacity so reconstruction to accommodate highway speed tolling may not be far off. Meanwhile full highway speed ET is under construction on the Authority’s new President George Bush Turnpike, a 49km (30mi) long east-west toll road in the northern part of the Dallas area at a cost of $950 million. The Bush will open with five mainline split plazas with the ET organized around 2x3-lanes (with a space for expansion to 2x4-lanes) open road tolling. Two toll road extensions under construction in Oklahoma City and Tulsa will incorporate highway speed ET too.

Highway speed ET draws the greatest benefits from the technology but usually at the highest cost on existing toll roads. Some 270 highway speed toll lanes (registering entry and exit) are in place on the 407ETR in Toronto. Our survey counted 100 more highway speed ET lanes currently in use elsewhere in the two countries. We think a lane meets that definition if in fact the traffic mostly travels at full highway speed, and the management sees no safety problem. Posted speeds unenforced are mere decorative signage.

Others

The Powhite Parkway and other small toll roads in Virginia’s capital Richmond should come on line with ET in 99, as should the West Virginia Turnpike, and new toll roads with ET in Greenville SC, and the new toll bridge and road to the Richmond VA airport called 895 Connector. There have to be a bunch of new smaller bridges to get it.

The Fredericton-Moncton toll road in New Brunswick has three more toll plazas to open in addition to the one at the eastern Moncton end that opened just this month. St John Harbor bridge New Brunswick will go ET shortly. The Pennsylvania Turnpike traditionally a technology leader has lagged a bit with ET, but its large in-house engineering staff has some innovative designs and could roll out ET quite steadily from 2000 onward. The northern portion of the Mon-Fayette expressway running along the banks of the Monongahela River, where much of America’s now defunct steel industry used to be located, could be the first 407ETR type fully automated toll road in the US, by some accounts. Earlier opening sections of this and Pittsburgh’s southern Beltway are planned with split system plazas. The new Butler County toll road north of Cincinnati will have a similar arrangement.

A big question for electronic tolling is whether any states will respond to federal efforts to encourage toll express (HOT) lanes, and tolls on interstate highways needing reconstruction. In Arkansas the state highway commission expressed support for the idea of tolling major truck routes to support their upkeep, but truckers have expressed hostility and the governor seems opposed. So the idea may not go anywhere.

There’s some possibility of tolls on the Washington Beltway at the Wilson Bridge crossing, the major bottleneck for traffic in the national capital region. Only $900 million of $1,600 million needed for the new 12-lane bridge has been secured so far.

Major turnpikes in Ohio and Indiana and the Chicago Skyway and a bunch of smaller toll bridges around the country seem certain to follow before about 2004. And some larger bridges not yet moving to ET, such as the 8-lane Delaware Memorial Bridge between the New Jersey and Delaware Turnpikes could join the ET fraternity.

With carpool or HOV lanes under criticism as underutilized there are many studies of allowing single occupant vehicles to buy-in with a toll. In such cases of so-called HOT lanes, electronics are the only way to go. Same goes for proposed truck toll lanes being studied for the Los Angeles area. Like 91-Express you’ll probably have to have a transponder to use the road, or else they’ll have to use 407ETR style cameras and license plate readers. There won’t be any toll booths there.

Purpose

What’s the purpose of this gizmo wizardry? Most say customer satisfaction is the number one attribute they are after with ET. A few motorists like the social aspects of stopping and exchanging a few words with a toll collector. But only a few. Most prefer the speed and convenience of being able to drive through undistracted by the need to find money or tokens and having to wind down the window, especially in harsh weather. Most toll operators say the second benefit is increased traffic throughput and reduced congestion. Safety can be improved too with less need to stop and maneuver in the plaza. Cost savings are a fourth draw. ET clearly reduces staff needs at the plaza, though not much if it just replaces coin machines. It may create some extra customer service costs which to an extent will offset the plaza savings. It should reduce skimming, staff thievery, though

e-crims are undoubtedly working out how they can rig ET systems in their favor too. Incentives to motorists to embrace ET will of course cut into revenue except to the extent that ET attracts new customers – as has occurred on the Brookyln Battery Tunnel and probably other places. (see Triborough Triumph p1)

30 or 40% seems about the maximum share of total tolls for ET without discounts. But heck, a discount is hardly a loss for a tollster if ET makes it possible to do a cash toll increase that wouldn’t otherwise be politically doable, keeping the e-toll constant! (Contacts too many to list. Contact us 301 631 1148 tollroads@aolc.om)

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