US Sec Mary Peters inspired Puerto Rico to ponder cashless (FOLLOWUP)

January 19, 2009

Mary Peters call at a recent IBTTA industry conference for "making toll booths obsolete" got attention from ACT the Puerto Rico state toll authority. A senior ACT official told us this morning the authority's decision to study cashless or all-electronic tolling was prompted by Peters' remarks. The official told us that Ruben Hernandez Gregorat, the incoming secretary of transportation of Gov Luis Fortuno was briefed on toll system issues last week and that no decisions have been made.

"The secretary will make this decision. Our job is to put numbers together for various options - cashless, keeping some cash, keeping more cash," the official said.

ACT should have estimates of the costs of different options in a few weeks.

eTrans Group are in-house toll system consultants to ACT.

Modernization of the cash toll system would have to be rebid, the official said, because local courts have ruled procedural mistakes were made in the first procurement last year in which United Toll Systems was considered the best value proposal by ACT. TransCore successfully appealed the choice of UTS.

In Lane Replenishment key to improvement

The ACT official told us they see In Lane Replenishment (ILR) of sticker tags as key to improving performance, whether they go cashless or keep some cash collection. They presently have 820k sticker tags in use and these do 40% of transactions. They aim to raise the number to 2 million and get electronic tolling to 75 or 80% of total transactions.

With ILR including in-lane sale of sticker tags they have managed to increase sales about four-fold - to 20k/month. In the three years of sticker tags they have sold these mainly at Texaco gasoline stations and pharmacies. One cash lane is now being dedicated to ILR at each of the major toll plazas. At the largest plaza, Buchanan, they are adding a second ILR lane.

The ILR lanes are presently dealing with a maximum 80 customers an hour since average time at the window is 45 seconds. In the first week or so the throughput was much lower - a maximum of 30 an hour or average of 2 minutes per customer.

"Early on the customers had lots of questions to ask, so it was slow," the official told us.

If the secretary decides to go with cashless the drive to increase tag use to 70% or beyond will greatly help the transition, the official said. If he decides to retain some cash collection the reduced reliance on cash will also be helpful to reducing costs and increasing throughput.

The new Puerto Rico secretary of transportation is Rubén Hernández Gregorat, an engineer new to government. He was appointed only recently by the new Governor Luis Fortuno, 48, a conservative who favors full statehood for Puerto Rico, and who campaigned in the recent election on lean government and lower taxes.

Competition or negotiation?

Another decision for the Hernandez - if he decides to go cashless - will be whether to negotiate the work with TransCore, or open the project to competitive proposals.  TransCore installed and maintains the existing electronic toll system.

see earlier report which this updates

CORRECTION: we wrote in the earlier report that Puerto Rico has over 200 toll lanes. That number is out of date. They now have around 150 toll lanes in use, and less queueing than when they had over 200 lanes - substantially improved productivity.

Report on Mary Peters' call:

TOLLROADSnews 2009-01-18

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