Highway Robbery

express_lane_camerasby James A. Bacon

I’ve always considered Transurban, operator of the express lanes on the Interstate 495 and Interstate 95, to be a pretty savvy outfit. The company may have over-estimated traffic demand for its express lanes when deciding back in the mid-2000s to build the Northern Virginia toll operations, but corporate executives seemed highly professional in the way they designed, constructed, promoted and managed the business.

At least, they did until now…  Fox News reports that Transurban has filed 26,000 cases against I-495 express lane users for non-payment. It’s one thing to dun people for $10, $20 or even $100. But Transurban is slapping some drivers with thousands of dollars in fees and fines for a single offense. Reports Fox News:

Luis Viera used to take the Express Lanes from Clinton, Md., to his job in Tysons Corner. His E-ZPass was automatically deducting tolls from his credit card.

Then one day, Luis was slapped with a summons to Fairfax County Court. Transurban was suing him for $4,500 in fees and fines for exactly $7.70 in missed tolls.

Luis went to court the first time without a lawyer. “I was nervous,” Luis said. “I didn’t get any sleep. I wasn’t eating. It was a bad week leading up to it.”

In the courtroom, a woman who said she represented Transurban approached Luis before the judge entered. She said the company would settle for $2,488.

“How does $10 turn into $2,000?”

Darn good question. How does $10 turn into $2,000? Transurban responded as follows: “Although less than 0.1% of all 495 Express Lane trips end up in court, we continue to do all we can to minimize any traveler going to court, this is why we have the First-Time Forgiveness program which has helped nearly 800 travelers. Additionally, we do not profit from the fines or penalties. As defined by Virginia law, any and all revenue collected from toll fines and penalties are cost recovery only to fund the enforcement program and we currently we do not even recover costs.”

Ah, hah! The fines cover the expense of the entire enforcement program — including lawyers, license plate-reading cameras, and IT systems to track the scofflaws. I can’t blame Transurban for wanting to cover its costs but the company has to weigh the business consequences: Charging $2,500 or more will piss off a lot of drivers — I mean really piss them off. Luis Viera says he won’t ever use the express lanes again. Who can blame him? How many other people, hearing of Viera’s experience, will refuse to ever use the express lanes? Who wants to run the risk of getting clobbered with a $2,500 fine?

Bacon’s bottom line: Conceptually, using the price mechanism to ration scarce highway capacity is one of the most cost-effective tools we have to manage traffic congestion. But the devil is in the details. Economic models that model supply and demand equations don’t ordinarily consider such grungy facts as enforcement. People make mistakes. People cheat. Toll road operators must have a mechanism for enforcing payment. If those enforcement mechanisms lead to manifestly unjust results, as appears to be happening in Fairfax County, people will avoid the express lanes and political support will wither.

Virginia authorities need to revisit the enforcement provisions in the Transurban public-private partnership contract and, ideally, induce Transurban into re-negotiating the offending clauses. It won’t be easy because traffic volumes and revenues are falling short of projections, and Transurban may not be receptive to changes that might raise its cost structure. On the other hand, the company does have a 70-year contract and it needs to consider the long-term implications of alienating its customer base. If a huge fan of the express lane concept like myself finds $2,500 fines for $10 offenses to be outrageous and indefensible, I feel like I’m pretty safe in saying that Transurban stands all alone on this one.

(Hat tip: Rob Whitfield)

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29 responses to “Highway Robbery

  1. I’m not buying it… this sounds like the typical FOX news “reporting” which is often deceptive and not entirely the truth.

    Transurban cannot “fine” people. If they can then they’d have to have been given that authority by the General Assembly.

    Tell me how many other businesses in Virginia can “fine” you for not paying your bill?

    Jim – you are proving why FOX news is so successful.. people believe what they say without really getting the facts…

    tell me again – which provision of Virginia law allows Transurban or any other business to “fine” you for non-payment?

    geeze guy.

    • Not to defend Fox ‘News’, but I’ve seen similar reports in other sources. Namely fees and fines that have in the past led to revolutions. Or in this case, not using a road that is (in my opinion) funded the wrong way.

  2. “The company is not imposing additional penalties for having the wrong address, and is putting a self-imposed cap on court penalties to no more than $2,200, instead of the roughly $21,000 Transurban says it is allowed to pursue under state laws.”

    Read more: http://www.wjla.com/articles/2014/10/transurban-puts-a-cap-on-495-express-lanes-toll-fines-implements-first-time-forgiveness-program–108.html#ixzz3OHEvowjN
    Follow us: @ABC7News on Twitter | WJLATV on Facebook

    • ” under state laws” is the operative phrase.

      what this more likely is – what the State is supporting – old law or new law

      and I think it also important to find the relevant code and see if it is a long-standing code in force for all businesses seeking unpaid fees or if this is a new section of code put in JUST for Transurban and/or other tollers like are also now in Hampton Roads… and locale.

      If this is a special code just for Transurban other tollers then perhaps outrage is justified and just one more nail in the PPTA coffin. On the other hand if there are not severe consequences for evading tolls – the word is going to get out and it’s going to become rampant and concept of dynamic tolling is going to fail because people will get on when the toll is high – and blow it off and that ends up the way that shoplifting in Walmart ends up – i.e. you and I pay more for things to cover their losses.

      cities do the same thing for parking scofflaws.. big fines – big splash in the media- whole idea is to discourage other would-be scofflaws.

      but FOX loves to turn these things into kabuki theatre.. bad govt, crony capitalism.. bad breath.. body odor, etc

  3. I thought it was bad paying $2 bucks in non-EZ Pass admin fees for a 50 cent toll on the Downtown tunnel.

    $6,000, $4500, $12,000. The dollars g0 flying in. Looks like there are some new Bandits on The Beltway.

  4. Yikes makes me a little afraid to ride the lanes even though I have a new flex EZ pass and only use the Express lanes rarely. But we are not hearing the whole story here. On some websites there have been anonymous folks bragging about cheating on the tolls, so there may be some get tough policy going on. It’s easy to get on these lanes by mistake in some places such as coming out of MD into VA. I believe if you knowingly accidentally skip a toll, you can correct the error with on-line payment and a slightly-too-expensive admin penalty fee (probably should be a smaller minor fee).

  5. https://leg1.state.va.us/cgi-bin/legp504.exe?000+cod+33.2-503

    This is the most recent that I can tell. There were several modifications done in years prior.

    These two are hit for several grand.

    Cooley and Diller are due back in Fairfax County General District Court on Jan. 8.

    http://www.localkicks.com/community/news/transurban-denies-price-gouging-in-cases-of-five-figure-fines

    • Good catch Darrell! special law for HOT….

      ” 2, payable to the HOT lanes operator as follows: for a first offense, $50; for a second offense, $250; for a third offense within a period of two years of the second offense, $500; and for a fourth and subsequent offense within a period of three years of the second offense, $1,000, together with, in each case, the unpaid toll,

      …… all accrued administrative fees imposed by the HOT lanes operator ….

      as authorized by this section, and applicable court costs.

      ….. The court shall remand penalties, the unpaid toll, and administrative fees assessed for violation of this section to the treasurer or director of finance of the county or city in which the violation occurred ….

      for payment to the HOT lanes operator for expenses associated with operation of the HOT lanes and payments against any bonds or other liens issued as a result of the construction of the HOT lanes”

      and yes… like the cities that try to make a public example out of parking scofflaws, Transurban is doing the same.

      The folks named in the article were all serial non-payers…

      I have an EZ-pass and have used it in several states. Some toll gantries have indicator lights on them and some not. When I get back home, it can take days for the transaction to show up on the EZpass account and I’ve had a couple never show up – assumed the gantry did not pick up the transponder.

      but I have never got a notice in the mail – for a missed toll .. and never have seen a letter with a photo of my plate… either obviously.

      I don’t think Transurban and other operators go after the ones and twos..but rather the half-dozen and up types… but who knows if their operation is not as profitable they may do that.

      Finally – it’s costly to go after scofflaws.. there are a lot of administrative and legal costs and it appears that Transurban is not going to eat even one penny of the costs and they’re going to get all of it out of the toll scofflaws.

      some people don’t see it this way- but evading the toll is just like walking out of Walmart with an item in your pocket – in the eyes of the law.

      anyone can accidently walk out one time with an item but when you do it over and over – and get caught for each time -well… most of us don’t do that I hope but as they say -.. don’t do the crime if you can’t pay the fine.. or some such…

    • yep – and both are serial offenders…not innocents who blundered.

      anyone who reads toll road news on a regular basis knows that the operators
      have a surly attitude toward scofflaws… and want to make public examples of them as a warning to other would-be scofflaws..

      not much sympathy here. sounds like the same complainers who get speeding tickets and photo red light tickets.

      some folks try to do the right thing and others want to act up.. that’s fine.. but there is a price..

  6. re: not paying tolls you don’t agree with

    it’s even worse than shoplifting.. it’s like saying that because WalMart charges too much for something or ought to be giving it away for free – that you are justified to steal…

    the toll lanes are optional – they’re sort of like an apple stand with a honor system for paying – but also with a video camera.

    so you’re on your honor – (quaint word in today’s world, eh?) – anyhow…you’re on your honor – but if you abuse the privilege multiple times then there will be consequences.

    now the question is – what kind of a person would KNOWINGLY not pay the toll – not once – but many times… and then claim to be a victim when caught?

    In our modern day world – we have people .. and yes this is really shocking… we have people – who will steal if they can … and then cry foul when they get caught – and fined.

    and so then they put it on FAUX news as an example of ‘out of control govt or corporate wrongdoing’… without ever really telling the actual truth as to how these folks ended up in court to start with – which is – plain and simple – multiple thefts .. because they don’t like paying and could get away with it , they thought.

    So the media – led by FAUX news portrays this as innocents getting screwed by out of control govt and crony capitalism…

    WJLA and others are stumble all over themselves try to not be out-FAUXED.

    the truth is pretty simple – these folks are thieves. and their excuse is they don’t like the “system” so they steal.

    No one is justified in not paying just because they think the price is too high… we arrest and send black teenagers to jail for doing this.. but some Limbaugh-loving LOON in a LEXUS thinks he’s “special”.

    no sympathy here.. if you haven’t got the drift yet. stick it to them!

  7. Why are you angry at Transurban. As usual, The Imperial Clown Show in Richmond has screwed up. No doubt there were plenty of steak dinners, golf outings and other assorted gifts behind their decision making.

    Think about Luis Viera. He is an EZ Pass customer. So, how did he end up with such a large fine?

    Here’s a scenario …

    1. His son took the EZ Pass device from Mr. Viera’s car to use on a trip.
    2. Mr. Viera doesn’t realize he no longer has the device.
    3. Mr. Viera makes numerous trips without the device before realizing it is missing from his car.
    4. Each trip is an escalating penalty.
    5. Transurban takes a very broad view of “all accrued administrative fees imposed by the HOT lanes operator ….”

    Meanwhile, Transurban isn’t making any money and can use these fines to cover the entire operating cost of enforcement. Why? Because the nit-wits in Richmond let them. Some hacks from rural Virginia who haven’t seen a HOT lane in their lives voted to allow this. Meanwhile, some hacks from NoVa who think milk comes from bulls vote on agricultural bills.

    Dillion’s Rule does not work. Virginia’s state government does not work.

    • I’m not angry at Transurban, but I suspect a lot of other people are.

      Look, there is a legitimate issue here — how do you collect tolls from people who don’t pay for them? As others have noted in the comments above, a toll system that fails to collect from scofflaws will not long survive. People will quickly learn to game the system. There has to be a mechanism for collecting unpaid tolls. But is a system that charges $2,500 in fines and fees for a $10 charge really the best mechanism? Sorry, I don’t think so.

      The answer isn’t castigating Transurban (which I didn’t do), or even berating the General Assembly (your inclination), but recognizing that there’s a problem and everyone working together in good faith to come up with a better solution. If Transurban digs in its heels, I might get angry. But they haven’t done so yet, and I think they deserve the benefit of the doubt that they will work in good faith to devise a more workable system.

      • Not sure I buy the Viera story as most EZpass transponders have serial numbers and they are tied to license plates and the holders of the transponders do get transaction reports.

        also – when you sign up for ANY service – you usually have to check off or sign off on “terms of service” which basically lays out YOUR responsibilities in using the service and bad things that can happen if you use the service inappropriately.

        here you go: http://www.ezpassva.com/pdfs/agreement.pdf

        most folks ignore these but the folks that write them do so with careful purpose.

        bottom line – YOU are the responsible party. It’s your job to KNOW if your transponder is missing and to report it just as you would your license plate or your credit card or wallet with drivers license.

      • You ae correct – I am not a scofflaw – and I now have a judgment against me for$14.20 in tolls – it is now $10,751.40. Here is where Transurban is getting away with this – I had a fully funded ezpass and it was properly mounted. I drove to and from work on the following days –
        12/11, 12/12, 12/13, 12/14, 12/18 of 2012. Now, I drove to and from work before and after those dates yet Transurban’s gantries apparently didn’t pick up my EZPass. I am the only person in my house and I only have one set of keys.
        Anyway – I never received a bill from Express Lanes until the apparent 3rd and final notice. Once I got that, it went from $14.20 in actual tolls to $214.20. I called the # explained that I just received this notice but I have an ezpass and I would like to pay the tolls. She told me to copy my EZPass for verification, send the copy in along with my credit card info and they would process. I did that – and guess what – according to them, the information was received too late and my account went to collections.
        ANYWAY – I am off track – the reason this amount is so high – the law is written as “each violation” well since I had technically 11 violations (albeit back to back to back) they counted them as 11 separate violations – but you cant charge me a “second” or “third” violation until I have been found guilty of the first! But Transurban sues people each date as its own separate violation, thereby allowing to charge people the escalating “civil penalties” – 1st offense $50, 2nd offense $250, 3rd offense $500 and 4th or more offense $1,000.00 – and up until about 2 months ago, the courts were allowing this. But now, lawyers are pointing out the legality of “clumping” them together. Now, if I violate on 1/3/2015 and I go to court and am found guilty and THEN I go and violate another time (after adjudication) THEN I can be charged the escalating civil penalties.

        It is a scam, Transurban found a loophole and was just suing the heck out of people – because ridership on the lanes Transurban paid $2 BILLION to build – ridership is looooow and they aren’t making money –
        Trust me, there are a FEW scofflaws but the majority of folks (and I mean probably 95%) have been screwed over and are NOT scofflaws – including me.
        Good luck to everyone. IF anyone has fallen victim to this scam, email me…we have a federal class action lawsuit (and two well know class action lawfirms) getting ready to file suit against Transurban.
        email me if you are interested in joining the class action – serious inquiries only (and only for the 395/95 HOT Lanes/Express Lanes
        lmsdigiulio@gmail.com

        • Wow, incredible story. Transurban had better clean up its act real fast, or it soon will have the blackest name in corporate Virginia.

          • I think if the facts as stated are true and others are having the same experience that you’re going to see bills in the general assembly to rein in Transurban.

            but I’d also point out that the SCC and the AG’s office are also in theory interested in Consumer affairs and protection and I’d be curious to see what they have to say.

  8. James A. Bacon wrote:

    Virginia authorities need to revisit the enforcement provisions in the Transurban public-private partnership contract and, ideally, induce Transurban into re-negotiating the offending clauses. It won’t be easy because traffic volumes and revenues are falling short of projections, and Transurban may not be receptive to changes that might raise its cost structure. On the other hand, the company does have a 70-year contract and it needs to consider the long-term implications of alienating its customer base. If a huge fan of the express lane concept like myself finds $2,500 fines for $10 offenses to be outrageous and indefensible, I feel like I’m pretty safe in saying that Transurban stands all alone on this one.

    My suggestions:

    (1) The explosion of a $7.70 unpaid toll to $4,500 worth of fees, charges and the like is (in my opinion) excessive and probably unconscionable (if true, and I share the skeptical attitude toward FoX News as stated by other commenters). However, I am not sure if the judges in the Virginia courts agree with my opinion.

    (2) I think there needs to be a way of communicating immediately to drivers of vehicles in Transurban’s lanes without an E-ZPass that they are operating a vehicle that does not have a transponder (and thus in violation of the rules of those lanes), and communicating to drivers with a transponder that it is working correctly. Presumably those drivers without a working transponder should see a message on a variable message sign, and those with a transponder should see something that indicates “we read your transponder and the toll was paid.” However, I concede that the above might cause undesirable “rubbernecking” delays. Perhaps drivers of vehicles without a working transponder could be informed as they are exiting the managed lanes?

    (3) There are plenty of signs at the entrances to the lanes managed by Transurban, but I have not seen even one that says this – All vehicles must have a working E-ZPass transponder in the vehicle to legally use these lanes.

    • I totally agree with #2 …

      and it sounds like you have actually used the HOT so you know..

      I “thought” there were supposed to be signs warning folks they need transponders – EVEN if they are HOV – at least that’s in their FAQ on their website if not mistaken

  9. LarryG wrote:

    Not sure I buy the Viera story as most EZpass transponders have serial numbers and they are tied to license plates and the holders of the transponders do get transaction reports.

    All E-ZPass transponders, regardless of where they were issued, have a serial number internally, and on the outside of the case.

    also – when you sign up for ANY service – you usually have to check off or sign off on “terms of service” which basically lays out YOUR responsibilities in using the service and bad things that can happen if you use the service inappropriately.

    I am not convinced that all drivers understand that they must have a working E-ZPass transponder to enter the Transurban lanes (see my comments above).,

    • re: ” I am not convinced that all drivers understand that they must have a working E-ZPass transponder to enter the Transurban lanes (see my comments above).,

      yup… Have you been on the HOT lanes?

      in the local paper – many article like this:

      Tolls, new rules take effect Monday on I-95 express lanes
      ALL VEHICLES ON THE LANES WILL NOW REQUIRE E–ZPASS TRANSPONDERS

      http://www.fredericksburg.com/news/transportation/tolls-new-rules-take-effect-monday-on-i–express/article_02216f72-96ff-5a23-8c08-d61721b19e19.html

      then on Transurban’s I-95 HOT FAQ:

      “All travelers on the Express Lanes will need to have an E-ZPass or a new E-ZPass Flex for carpools. The E-ZPass Flex works like a regular E-ZPass, but lets you switch between HOV and toll-paying modes. If your E-ZPass Flex is switched to HOV mode and you have three or more passengers in the car, you will not be charged a toll. The switchable E-ZPass Flex pays tolls on any other road that accepts E-ZPass, regardless of the position of the switch.”

      major fax pas if they don’t have signs up.. I agree.

  10. LarryG wrote:

    here’s the FAQ … got lots of info in it:

    http://95expresslanes.com/uploads/1000/32-95_Express_Lanes_External_QA.pdf

    This assumes that everyone uses the Internet. While that is probably correct among the group reading many of Jim’s writings, it is not true of everyone in the driving population.

  11. LarryG wrote:

    and it sounds like you have actually used the HOT so you know..

    I have used the Transurban HOT lanes in Virginia (I-495 and I-95), Maryland’s Route 200 (ICC) toll road and the I-95 Express Toll Lanes (somewhat similar to the Transurban’s I-495 project) in northeastern Baltimore City and Baltimore County. The two in Maryland encourage, but do not require a transponder (but the toll is higher if a driver uses either of them without a working E-ZPass transponder).

    I “thought” there were supposed to be signs warning folks they need transponders – EVEN if they are HOV – at least that’s in their FAQ on their website if not mistaken

    There is indeed signage, but that’s signage that I understood (and understood well) before the I-95 and I-495 projects opened to traffic. Not everyone understands such things with the ease of the readers of this site, and I believe that it is still not clear that drivers must have a working transponder (with funds in the account) in place in their vehicle before they enter.

  12. WTOP Radio has this story:

    Judge delays ruling on Express Lanes unpaid toll case until March

    FAIRFAX, Va. — A Fairfax County Circuit Court judge heard three appeals on Thursday that could determine how much the operator of the 95 and 495 express lanes can charge drivers with E-ZPass problems.

    Defendants Toni Cooley, Jim Diller and Stuart Holmes all appeared before Circuit Court Judge Dennis J. Smith to argue that toll lane operator Transurban violated the U.S. Constitution by imposing excessive fines disproportionate to the violations of not paying a toll because of an E-ZPass problem.

    The case challenges a traffic court ruling in October and also claims that Transurban violated Virginia law.

    • don’t have to convince me on the need for proper signage.. and yes…for
      quite some time one of the prevailing arguments against the I-95 HOT Lanes was that toll booths would screw everything up!

      Still convinced that Transurban WANTs the general public to believe they’ll get a big fine and end up in court if they blow off the toll much like you sometimes hear about cities going after people who flow off parking tickets.. that sort of thing.

      so I guess there is a belief that some folks are using the toll lanes not even realizing they are toll lanes …so they go every day unbeknownst ?

      I was under the impression if you went on the lanes without a transponder, they would capture your license plate then send a letter to you…

      Okay – I might be missing your point. Are you saying that the Md toll facilities are better signed and people not having the problems they are on the Va toll facilities?

  13. LarryG wrote:

    don’t have to convince me on the need for proper signage.. and yes…for quite some time one of the prevailing arguments against the I-95 HOT Lanes was that toll booths would screw everything up!

    Toll booths would indeed screw everything up. Besides, there is no room for them in either of the corridors that Transurban has concession agreements. Remember how w-i-d-e the toll barriers were on the Richmond-Petersburg Turnpike (I-95 and the northern end of I-85)? I do!

    Still convinced that Transurban WANTs the general public to believe they’ll get a big fine and end up in court if they blow off the toll much like you sometimes hear about cities going after people who flow off parking tickets.. that sort of thing.

    I have no problem with that – Transurban has a legal right to collect money, and has invested a very large sum of cash in improvements along both I-95 and I-495.

    so I guess there is a belief that some folks are using the toll lanes not even realizing they are toll lanes …so they go every day unbeknownst ?

    Eventually they will get some sort of a notice in the mail or when they go to renew their tags and find out that they cannot (though I know from personal experience that there are plenty of people that move without bothering to inform the state DMV of their new address).

    I was under the impression if you went on the lanes without a transponder, they would capture your license plate then send a letter to you…

    Yes, that is correct. But if the DMV does not have your current address, then it may be some time before that notice gets to you.

    Okay – I might be missing your point. Are you saying that the Md toll facilities are better signed and people not having the problems they are on the Va toll facilities?

    Signage is about the same, with one crucial difference – the Maryland Transportation Authority (MdTA) does not issue any sort of a fine or notice of infraction against people that use its cashless toll facilities (Route 200 (ICC) in the suburbs north of Washington and the I-95 Express Toll Lanes (Baltimore City and Baltimore County)). It merely sends the listed owner of the vehicle a bill demanding payment of toll due (and that bill is a fair amount higher than what would have been charged if the car had a valid E-ZPass transponder), but beyond the higher toll rates, there are no fines or other charges added if the toll is paid within a reasonable time.

    • re: ” Toll booths would indeed screw everything up. Besides, there is no room for them in either of the corridors that Transurban has concession agreements. Remember how w-i-d-e the toll barriers were on the Richmond-Petersburg Turnpike (I-95 and the northern end of I-85)? I do!”

      I do too… but when tolls were first proposed for I-95 between Fredericksburg and Washington – that was one of the complaints from folks including a couple on BR who still did not realize that tolling technology had gotten past the booths.

      and in fact, booths are still in place in some places that had them to start with – and they just added separate EZ-pass “lanes” .. where the cars STILL stack up as the folks with the transponders slide on by them… in their lanes.

      I note also – that in Va the EZ-pass transponders are owned by VDOT not the toll company and there is a hefty terms of service that you agree to when you obtain the transponder. Is it that way in Maryland.

      What read regularly is a blog called TollRoad News. Are you familiar with it?

      One of the longstanding issues is developing standards and compatibility between different tolling protocols and technologies. For may years VDOT developed and used it’s own called SmartTag .. but there are still other states who do not have EZ-pass and have a different one and EZ-pass won’t help you in those states – and the state loses on collecting tolls from out of state who don’t have their branded transponders.. and collecting via letter to another state – does not have the same “sticks” that collecting in state has.

      Florida and others either need to adopt EZ-pass and abandon their own or the industry needs to develop compatibility and interoperability capabilities because tolling is not going to go away – not only because of the cost of building roads – but as a congestion management tool as I believe that the dynamic tolling found on I-95 is eventually going to be the standard for all toll roads.. – it only makes sense – mobility on airlines and even transit price-adjusted according to demand – and it saves money although most folks don’t see it that way.

      As tolling technology advances – we may get to the point where tolls can be assessed like cell phone minutes – where you can buy a “block” specific to your needs and us it up over the month – and if you “go over” – you pay extra.

      gas taxes are going to pay for maintenance and operations – and tolls are going to pay for major new roads in part because the DOTs method of determining “need” and “demand” is more flawed compared to an investor-grade toll study.

      Fundamentally, Toll roads need – as you have noted – a way to tell drivers that there is a toll collection problem with their car – at every gantry – … there should be a red blinking indicator or some such – but I also think they need a pull over lane that these folks get directed to – perhaps with an overhead sign with the blink light advising them to pull over in 2 miles or so (where feasible) and reconcile the bad/lack of toll transponder.

      Tolls will never be “popular” but they do need to be “user friendly” which will move them to a realm similar to paying gas taxes as an integrated, unnoticed part of paying for the fuel.

      Finally – at some point – who knows when – toll roads in a region – operated as a coordinated network may be able to not only manage congestion on one road – but manage congestion for a region by increasing tolls on some roads and actually decreasing them on others to shift congestion.

      and all of this will be available and integrated to smart phones – and “connected” GPS dash units – that tell each driver – not only the time to a destination – in real time per the current traffic .. but the cost .. as well as alternatives – like you now see on Google Maps.. we’re already close to being there with some cars that have their own internet and drivers can “tune” in to Google Maps.. with the traffic data and alternative options.

      tolls are the ultimate user fee that much better connects the user to the actual “cost” of a trip – beyond the existing pay-one-tax-for-all-you-can-drive-whenever-you-wish … regime.

  14. LarryG wrote:

    and in fact, booths are still in place in some places that had them to start with – and they just added separate EZ-pass “lanes” .. where the cars STILL stack up as the folks with the transponders slide on by them… in their lanes.

    Typically “legacy” toll roads that were opened before electronic transponders like FasToll, later SmarTag and now E-ZPass. I doubt we will see any new tolled highways in the U.S. that accept cash.

    I note also – that in Va the EZ-pass transponders are owned by VDOT not the toll company and there is a hefty terms of service that you agree to when you obtain the transponder. Is it that way in Maryland.

    You can get your transponder from just about any agency that issues E-ZPass transponders. Maryland’s statewide issues E-ZPass transponders, and there are terms of service, though the only part I pay attention to are the fees (I use Maryland toll roads enough to not have to pay any fees).

    What read regularly is a blog called TollRoad News. Are you familiar with it?

    I know the former owner, Peter Samuel of Frederick County, Maryland quite well. But he sold the business to new owners.

    One of the longstanding issues is developing standards and compatibility between different tolling protocols and technologies. For may years VDOT developed and used it’s own called SmartTag .. but there are still other states who do not have EZ-pass and have a different one and EZ-pass won’t help you in those states – and the state loses on collecting tolls from out of state who don’t have their branded transponders.. and collecting via letter to another state – does not have the same “sticks” that collecting in state has.

    SmarTag and E-ZPass both use Mark IV technology (sometimes called “IAG” technology, after the the former group that used to steer E-ZPass, the Inter-Agency Group). But before Gov. Mark Warner ordered VDOT to integrate its back-office operations with E-ZPass, Virginia was an “island” next to Maryland and West Virginia.

    Florida and others either need to adopt EZ-pass and abandon their own or the industry needs to develop compatibility and interoperability capabilities because tolling is not going to go away – not only because of the cost of building roads – but as a congestion management tool as I believe that the dynamic tolling found on I-95 is eventually going to be the standard for all toll roads.. – it only makes sense – mobility on airlines and even transit price-adjusted according to demand – and it saves money although most folks don’t see it that way.

    E-ZPass currently reaches as far south as the Triangle Expressway (N.C. 540) in Wake County. NCDOT issues a transponder that is compatible with both E-ZPass and Florida’s SunPass. As far as I know, they are the only state that does so (and N.C. 540 accepts both transponder technologies).

    As tolling technology advances – we may get to the point where tolls can be assessed like cell phone minutes – where you can buy a “block” specific to your needs and us it up over the month – and if you “go over” – you pay extra.

    You may be able to pay electronic tolls with an application on your smartphone.

    gas taxes are going to pay for maintenance and operations – and tolls are going to pay for major new roads in part because the DOTs method of determining “need” and “demand” is more flawed compared to an investor-grade toll study.

    Though the solid citizens of eastern North Carolina are absolutely against tolling I-95 across the Tar Heel State, but they are also absolutely against any increase in North Carolina motor fuel taxes. Long sections of I-95 across North Carolina are desperate need of reconstruction and widening.

    Fundamentally, Toll roads need – as you have noted – a way to tell drivers that there is a toll collection problem with their car – at every gantry – … there should be a red blinking indicator or some such – but I also think they need a pull over lane that these folks get directed to – perhaps with an overhead sign with the blink light advising them to pull over in 2 miles or so (where feasible) and reconcile the bad/lack of toll transponder.

    Or just easily bill the owner of the vehicle by license plate.

    Tolls will never be “popular” but they do need to be “user friendly” which will move them to a realm similar to paying gas taxes as an integrated, unnoticed part of paying for the fuel.

    I am note sure about popularity. There are a lot of elected officials that claim that they hate tolls and tolling.

    Finally – at some point – who knows when – toll roads in a region – operated as a coordinated network may be able to not only manage congestion on one road – but manage congestion for a region by increasing tolls on some roads and actually decreasing them on others to shift congestion.

    That is how adaptive traffic signal systems work on arterial networks.

    and all of this will be available and integrated to smart phones – and “connected” GPS dash units – that tell each driver – not only the time to a destination – in real time per the current traffic .. but the cost .. as well as alternatives – like you now see on Google Maps.. we’re already close to being there with some cars that have their own internet and drivers can “tune” in to Google Maps.. with the traffic data and alternative options.

    Or just use built-in technology in the vehicles?

    tolls are the ultimate user fee that much better connects the user to the actual “cost” of a trip – beyond the existing pay-one-tax-for-all-you-can-drive-whenever-you-wish … regime.

    Tolls allow people to be charged by time-of-day. That is the critical part.

    • It appears that I did not say anything that you did not already know – and then some and perhaps I should be listening to you!

      Since we last talked, I had occasion to take some folks from Fredericksburg to Reagan via the HOT lanes using the EZpass Flex.

      because VDOT and/or Transurban chose to start the lanes just north of the 620 Garrisonville interchange – and did not provide a dedicated on ramp from 610 – the commuters are talking the 610 north I-95 ramps and moving across 3 lanes of traffic to get to the HOT lanes entrance.

      because of this, traffic on I-95 is backing up – miles – 20 miles in fact almost all the way back to Fredericksburg.

      so not only are the EZ-pass folks p.o. ed but all the non-toll mainline folks are also. I’t hard to believe that all those folks working for VDOT and Transurban did not foresee this problem especially since at the public hearings people expressed that concern.

      the HOT lanes themselves were good and at first not much traffic – and could not readily tell what the mix was between HOV and solo payers. Later, traffic did build and the toll lanes actually got fairly congested but speed was maintained. There were troopers at every gantry and entrance area.

      a prevailing view expressed in Fredericksburg is that the HOT lanes were ‘snuck’ up on folks .. i.e. they do not believe there was much notice or opportunity to really become involved until it was too late.

      Most are opposed to a private entity building and operating a toll road “for profit” and most believe that VDOT could have added more lanes had they not squandered money on other (unspecified) projects and some have decided this is yet another example of govt not listening to what voters want or not want.

      There has been off and on talk of extending the toll lanes all the way to Fredericksburg with some doubt from Transurban on the financial feasibility aspect ( looking in out years after first section of HOT was built).

      My guess is that based on the traffic – it’s going to “work” for Transurban and if the stars align and the pitchfork and torch crowd don’t appear – they’ll do it.

      but also convinced since dedicated ramps were not built that the money proposition for Transurban is limiting just how much infrastructure they can build (like ramps) and still recover their costs quick enough to provide (repay) investment grade bonds attractive to the market.

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