Corridor Agencies in Orange Co Calif going all-electronic by Fall 2013 at estd $14m cost, new zonal tolling
2012-07-17: The Transportation Corridor Agencies (TCA) of Orange County California - the southern portion of the Los Angeles metro area - are planning to have all-electronic toll (AET) collection in full operation by the summer/fall of 2013. The staff recommended an end to collecting cash on the agency's two tollroads - San Joaquin Hills CA73 and Foothill Eastern TR CA133/CA241/CA261 - because the Agency and consultants see major advantages, both for the agency and for motorists.
The TCA (their legal name) has branded itself with customers in southern California as "The Toll Roads."
James T Gallagher, chief toll operations officer at TCA (or TTR) says in the conclusion of his report to the directors that after two years of what he calls "thorough and in-depth research, study and analyses" that they were convinced they should go all-electronic (AET.)
AET would increase revenue, reduce operating costs, reduce capital investment needs, improve safety, attract new customers, and enhance mobility by providing free flow for all.
AET conversion he said was indicated by considerations of "the fiscal responsibility of the agencies." [Apart from their odd naming they oddly constitute two separate legal entities with a single staff, an organizational invention, we guess of a perverse lawyer. They are (a) Tongue Twisting Toller(s) - as appropriate.]
June 14 the TCA board(s) accepted Gallagher's recommendation.
Presently in-lane toll systems at the TCA tollroads are the responsibility of TransCore and back office systems of VESystems, a unit of Federal Signal Technologies (which is in proces to become a unit of 3M.) As part of the move to AET The Toll Roads will be doing competitive procurement on key parts of the new toll system.
Their current toll system is vintage early-1990s, put together for the very first pike segment which opened in 1993.
The RFP process is now getting under way.
Zonal tolling in place of mainline and ramp tolls
One major upgrade to be made as part of the AET conversion will be ending the point toll arrangements at mainline plazas and ramps and introduction of zonal tolling.
Regular trigger loops will be replaced by arrays of smart loops to improve vehicle tracking and classification at the new zones between interchanges.
A plan to go public with details in the August/September period fell through when the Los Angeles Times got bits of the news (July 1.)
We've been given Gallagher's report to the TCA board and the major consultants' report on which the decision is based - from Traffic Technologies Inc (TTI), the New Windsor NY firm of Stan Weiss and Michael Kolb, veteran toll system consultants. There was also a report by Stantec and focus groups and an online survey of customer thinking.
The board was told by staff that AET conversion on both systems will cost around $14m. This is somewhat less than a modernization that would be needed for the existing open road (ORT) and cash toll system, $19m.
The $14m is split between the more complex Foothill Eastern TR $9.1m and SJ Hills TR $4.6m.
$14m is expected to cover:
- replacement of lane system hardware
- new readers (which will have multimode capability allowing for a California statewide upgrade)
- new cameras for greater accuracy
- new lane software and associated lane equipment
Early thinking has been that 36 ramp lanes and 34 lane controllers in mainline plaza lanes can be replaced with 12 zone controllers and equipment arrays as part of the upgrade, but we were asked to emphasize these numbers may change by the time procurement specs are issued.
A big advantage of all-electronic is the opportunity to simplify front-end or roadway systems, and to move trip toll calculation to back office systems. No longer are little used ramp toll points on multiple ramps needed. All the vehicle ID is done on the mainline progressively in zones between interchanges.
Present split 81% transponder, 17% cash, 3% violators
The present split of transactions in the latest fiscal year is cash 13.43m out of 81.38m total transactions or 16.5% cash to 80.7% transponder (FasTrak), 2.8% violators reflecting the heavy commuter and frequent user character of the TCA tollroads and the small number of interstate travelers on a Pacific coast county.
The board was told by Gallagher they expect FasTrak transponder traffic to increase by 2.1%.
But their study suggested the move from ORT+cash to AET will produce many changes:
- 13% of FasTrak (transponder) users might give up their transponders and accept license plate camera tolling
- 32% of cash payers now will get a transponder (they note that in Denver's ORT+cash to AET conversion fewer got transponders than said they would, but Florida's Turnpike in their conversion of the HEFT west of Miami got a strong increase in transponder accounts)
- 27% of cash payers now will be license plate tolled (LPT) with various LPT options offered
- 22% of cash customers will cease to use the tollroad
Privacy 7.5% concern of cashpayers but allayable
One survey reported 5% and another close to 10% of current cash payers saying they might not use the pikes because of privacy concerns. TTI say that there are ways of allaying privacy concerns that can reduce the numbers driven away by the cameras, but they use 7.5% for planning.
Their surveys suggest some non-users currently will be attracted to the tollroads by AET, 55% of non-users surveyed being favorable to AET as compared to the current ORT+cash.
Four payment modes in addition to FasTrak transponder
Key to the TCA planning is a decision to offer four kinds of license plate tolling (LPT):
(1) charge account: when the motorist establishes an account associating a license plate number with as bank card or electronic check account, the account to be established either before or shortly after travel on the pike and charges made each day there are trips
(2) prepaid account: when the customer establishes a license plate associated account with a prepaid account balance either before or immediately after the first pike trip
(3) invoice account: when the customer either before or immediately after the first pike trip links a license plate number to a name and address or emailaddress to be billed
(4) pay-as-you-go: customer expected to go to the TCA website where they enter their license plate, the website system calculates their toll due and offers payment options
A TCA official says this may provide for cash payment at gas stations, grocery stores, using those places existing bill paying/cash acceptance machines, but this is not an essential part of the present plan.
Small traffic loss assumed
A Stantec study based on what they say are conservative assumptions projects a loss of traffic ("diversion") of 1.2% on the Foothill Eastern TR and 1.3% on the San Joaquin Hills TR. These are less than the financial breakeven numbers. In other words they could lose about 2.0% and 2.2% of traffic and still break even thanks to lower costs.
TTI in their report say they doubt there will be a permanent diversion or loss of traffic, as assumed by staff.
AET converters - E470 CO, Tampa FL, NTTA TX and CTRMA TX - they note have not lost traffic (nor has FL Turnpike HEFT to our knowledge).
The Traffic Technologies Inc (TTI ) report builds on various earlier surveys says that based on conservative assumptions including some loss of traffic there will be a net financial gain after 5 years.
They conclude that AET will:
- reduce the number of toll lanes and associated toll equipment needed from 130 to 70
- provide all motorists with free flow, non-stop traffic
- eliminate high maintenance, future-uncertain cash collection machines
- provide new flexibility in setting tolls
- provide better opportunity locations for toll payment
- attract new customers to the toll roads
- reduce planned capital investments immediately from nearly $19m to about $14m
- save more capital expense longer term
- reduce costs on any extensions substantially
- end cash collection costs and security issues associated with cash handling