Sticker tags spreading to Kansas, Oklahoma

October 22, 2008
By Peter Samuel

Sticker tags are quietly gaining significant US market share, the latest state toll system to commit to go with stickers being the Kansas Turnpike. The Oklahoma Turnpike is testing them. Kansas is closer to a adopting them and it will be the first fully trip-based or 'ticket' toll system to use sticker tags.

In October and November of 2007 Kansas swapped out all their Allegro protocol readers - accounting for about 106 toll lanes - replacing them with multi-protocol Encompass 6 (E6) readers. The Turnpike's buy to provide for widenings and spares was 150 E6s at $12,500 each. Since then staff vehicles have been running the turnpike equipped with the SeGo sticker tags from TransCore. Also a few commercial accounts of the Kansas Turnpike, like trucking companies, have been issued the sticker tags. As of this weeks some 1,530 sticker tags are in use.

Bruce Meisch, director of information services for the Turnpike told us the tags are "working well."

Kansas has almost run out of the Allegro hardbodied IT2200 transponders, and doesn't plan on buying any more. The Turnpike plans no official public launch of the sticker tags, says Lisa Callahan director of communications. But by December the Turnpike expects to be sending out sticker tags exclusively.

Around that time they will institute a new optional payment method: $12.50 plus shipping & handling for the tag, each toll debited to the customer's payment card, no discounts, no monthly fees, no refund if tag is lost. (Existing payment methods involving a 10% toll discount in return for a prepaid account balance and a lesser monthly fee for postpayment will remain an option.)

Meisch says no decision has been made whether to set a date for a complete changeover and a recall of the remaining hardbodied transponders, but the intention is to eventually go to a single transponder. The E6 readers will read in SeGo and Allegro modes during any transition.

When the transition is complete and Kansas Turnpike's customers are all using SeGo sticker tags they could it seems - with the necessary business arrangements in place - set the other reader mode from Allegro to another protocol such as E-ZPass IAG, allowing them to toll traffic carrying IAG transponders from Illinois and Indiana. Or they could set the second channel to Title 21 mode and toll traffic from California and Colorado.

 

But Lisa Callahan emphasizes there are no present plans to move towards interoperability.

Write-back important

On the Kansas Turnpike write-back is important so the read/write capabilities at high speed have been heavily tested. As in other trip-based or ticket systems when the sticker tag arrives at an exit from the Turnpike it needs to carry with it a record of the entry time and place. When interrogated by the reader at the exit toll point the tag needs to respond with account number, entry place, entry time, vehicle class. Then the trip toll is computed by reference to look-up tables.

Vehicle class is also registered with in-lane equipment. And as a fallback if entry data is not written to memory the central servers can usually match entry registrations transmitted over the telecommunications network. But the preference is to have the tag carry the entry data and provide it from memory at time of exit.

Oklahoma also moving toward sticker tags

David Machamer director of toll operations at the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority (OTA) says they too are moving towards sticker tags, though they aren't yet irrevocably committed. The Turnpike board still have to make that decision, he says. Meanwhile the Oklahoma Turnpike recently bought what may their last batch of Allegro hardbodied transponders - some 200k at a cost of about $5m - because they can't be ready to start reading sticker tags until about the middle of 2010.

Oklahoma Turnpike has two toll lanes converted to E6 readers. (CORRECTION MADE HERE 12:00). That enables them to test sticker tags in SeGo mode. Oklahoma is a complicated system with ten tollroads, a mix of point and trip-based tolling and interchanges with some closely spaced but separate toll points. Power levels of the readers need to be kept low to prevent cross-read errors.

Puerto Rico, Houston TX and Georgia, some of first big sticker tag users, don't have close toll points so can operate at higher power levels.

Machamer mentions three attractions to the SeGo sticker tags:

- batteryless operation and associated end of battery life problems for customers

- the sticker tag's permanent attachment to the windshield eliminating the misreads from customers who keep their hardbody transponder in the glovebox and hold it to the window

- the price of $10 versus $26 apiece

The Oklahoma Turnpike has low toll rates so it isn't huge in revenue, but its network is one of the largest in terms of the complexity and number of toll points. It has about 370 toll lanes. 

Spring 2009 decision time

Machamer says the present plan is to have testing and planning done by early next year with a  view to negotiating in the spring of 2009 a switchout of all 370 lanes of readers. The Turnpike could be ready for issuing sticker tags in about the summer of 2010 if the proposal is approved by the board and satisfactorily negotiated with TransCore.

Sticker tags are now the major transponder form in Texas, with Houston (HCTRA) and Central Texas fully stickered and Dallas (NTTA) a heavy user also. Sticker tags are the sole mode of electronic tolling also in Puerto Rico, Georgia, and Washington state. The biggest toll state using them is Florida where they are being offered as an option with the hardbodies still being available as an option for those who want in-vehicle customer feedback (buzzer).

Interoperability?

Sticker tags will offer Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas the technical basis to go interoperable - reading one another's tags.

Machamer says the proportion of vehicles in Oklahoma with multiple transponders on the windshield is not high but even a small percentage is quite a large absolute number.

The Alliance for Toll Interoperability - strongest in the sticker tag states -  offers a venue for discussion of the details of this including needed business arrangements.

TOLLROADSnews 2008-10-21 TABLE ADDED 2008-10-25


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