Video account tolling launches in Florida

News Florida's Turnpike Enterprise November 16, 2006
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Florida's Turnpike Enterprise (FTE) is testing, in conjunction with the Tampa Hillsborough Expressway Authority (THEA), the state's--and country's--first prepaid video account system.

The "Pay-by-Plate" system launched Nov. 1 on the THEA's Lee Roy Selmon Crosstown Expressway, running between Tampa and Brandon, Fla. This new option allows customers two convenient methods of toll collection on the new elevated open road toll (ORT) lanes--SunPass or the Pay-by-Plate prepaid video account. In this pilot program, customers who register their license plates can pay tolls through a captured image of the plate if they do not have a SunPass transponder. The lowest cost option for the toll payment remains the SunPass transponder.

SunPass is the Florida Department of Transportation's prepaid electronic toll-collection system. The transponder, when attached to a vehicle's windshield, transmits radio signals to sensors mounted in the toll lanes to allow the electronic collection of tolls.

The service is only available on the new, elevated reversible lanes of Selmon Expressway, which recently opened the first reversible three-lane ORT system in the nation.

The Pay-by-Plate prepaid video account is geared to infrequent customers of toll roads, usually out-of-area travelers or those whose normal driving patterns bypass a toll way. It also can be used by rental car customers who do not have a SunPass. For these customers, cash was the only the method of toll payment, necessitating a stop at the tollbooth and prohibiting use of the new ORT lanes. However, with the new Pay-by-Plate program, these customers can now enjoy the benefit of non-stop travel on THEA's reversible lanes.

"Video account tolling is one of many upgrades FTE is testing as part of a multi-million-dollar improvement program," said Evelio Suarez, director of toll operations. "We developed the Pay-by-Plate system in-house and have been working with THEA for almost a year to put it in place. We're excited to introduce this new technology to the marketplace to help address the needs of many short-term out-of-area customers that want to use the open road toll lanes but do not yet own a SunPass."

To participate in the program, customers call a toll-free number (888/824-8655) and provide credit card and vehicle information. Accounts are offered in two forms, a $5 prepaid account that can be used over and over with replenishments; or an account covering a defined period of time for all toll use. Tolls are automatically debited from the account when the driver passes through the ORT gantry and the camera captures the image of the license plate associated with that account.

"The cost per transaction is $1.25," Suarez said, which is the same as the cash rate in the conventional toll lanes. The Pay-By-Plate toll rate is slightly higher than the $1.00 SunPass rate to cover processing costs of the images.

Customers may set up a video account at any time before using the ORT lanes for the first time, or within 72 hours after first using the ORT lanes.

"THEA is the first toll agency in Florida to implement a reversible three-lane ORT system," said Marty Stone, director of planning for THEA. "We're extremely pleased to be part of a program that takes this implementation to the next level--making non-stop highway-speed tolling accessible to the occasional customer who doesn't yet have a SunPass transponder."

Florida's Turnpike Enterprise provided management and technical oversight during the design and development of the ORT gantries, and associated tolling equipment now in use on the Selmon Crosstown Expressway. The Pay-by-Plate concept was jointly designed in cooperation with THEA and developed as an in-house information technology project using an FTE project team.

"Electronic toll-collection technology is constantly evolving, and at FTE we're always looking for new options that will improve customer service and operational efficiency," Suarez said. "The Pay-by-Plate pilot project in Tampa will help validate our belief that our customers--especially infrequent users--want this type of payment option. If successful, it could become a model for future ORT toll roads throughout the state."

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