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Cheaper SunPass options due by late 2006

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Cheaper SunPass options due by late 2006

By Michael Turnbell

Transportation Writer

Posted January 24 2005

Buying SunPass in two years could be as simple as walking up to an ATM-style machine and plunking down a few dollars.

By the end of 2006, Florida's Turnpike Enterprise plans to roll out a "paper-thin" tag that would give drivers an affordable alternative to the $25 wallet-sized transponders that some have refused to buy because of the cost.

The cheaper tags are part of a revolution that one day will lead to "cashless" toll roads where motorists with SunPass can drive almost anywhere in Florida and around the country without encountering a single tollbooth.

Gilbert Hendler of Delray Beach is one of those motorists who has balked at buying a transponder and still digs for change when he pays tolls on the turnpike.

"I've been thinking about [buying a transponder], but I can't see paying the $25 just to get one," said Hendler, who missed out on two promotions last year that cut the SunPass cost in half for Palm Beach County motorists.

Turnpike officials hope drivers like Hendler will change their minds once see they see the convenience of the cheaper sticker tags.

"You could almost compare it to a prepaid phone card. You could use it, throw it away and buy a new one, or reuse it and add money to your account," said Christopher Warren, the turnpike's chief operating officer.

SunPass allows drivers to zip through toll plazas without stopping to pay. The toll is charged to a credit cards or bank accounts linked to transponders, which are mounted on drivers' windshields.

With the new tags, consumers will be able to activate their accounts right from the ATM-style machine where they buy the tag with no forms to fill out or phone numbers to call.

The impetus for the new tags is the turnpike's push for "open road tolling."

By 2008, the turnpike plans to replace tollbooths on the Sawgrass Expressway in Broward County with overhead sensors that will collect tolls with SunPass while drivers zip underneath at 70 mph.

The turnpike hasn't said how it will deal with motorists who don't have the gadgets. Toronto's Highway 407 lets cash-paying drivers use the toll road and pay later. Cameras record license plates of cars without transponders, whose owners are then billed.

Barrier-free SunPass lanes also are planned at turnpike toll plazas, although it's expected to take years before the cash-paying option is completely eliminated for turnpike motorists. The turnpike and the Miami-Dade Expressway Authority are considering "value pricing" with toll charges tied to traffic flows in Miami-Dade County.

"It's a very aggressive schedule, but we're doing everything we can to make it happen," Warren said. "We want the new technology in place before we move into things like open road tolling or express lanes so there isn't an economic barrier to getting a transponder."

About 1.7 million, or more than 50 percent of turnpike motorists, pay tolls electronically with SunPass.

Warren expects that number will top 2 million by the end of this year. The goal is to have 75 percent of turnpike motorists equipped with SunPass by 2008.

The turnpike adopted a two-tiered toll rate in March that raised tolls by a quarter for cash customers but kept them the same for SunPass drivers. The difference rewards SunPass drivers because it's cheaper to collect tolls electronically.

It's also a lot faster.

Toll lanes with an employee collecting money can process only about 300 vehicles an hour. A dedicated SunPass lane through a tollbooth can move 1,800 vehicles an hour. Open toll road lanes with no tollbooths can handle as many as 2,400 vehicles an hour.

The tags will become more common as toll agencies around the country seek ways to increase the number of motorists paying tolls electronically while keeping costs low, said Tim McGuckin, director of technology programs for the Washington, D.C.- based International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association.

Most electronic toll collection systems in the country have been around for more than a decade with millions of battery-based tags approaching the end of their useful life. The cost to produce and replace the sticker tags is much less than the transponders.

The tags are relatively new technology in the United States. Almost a million are in circulation outside the country, including toll roads in Puerto Rico and Brazil.

TransCore, the same company that makes SunPass equipment, will make the new tags.

John Stimler, TransCore's chief operating officer, said the company also has a contract to develop a paper-thin tag for Georgia's State Road and Toll Authority by this summer, the first place in the United States to adopt the technology.

Stimler said the older transponders can cost anywhere from $20 to $50 to produce. SunPass costs about $42, with drivers picking up $25 of that cost when they buy the transponder and the turnpike covering the rest.

"Sometimes the public doesn't pay the full freight," Stimler said. "The new tag runs below $10 in terms of cost."

Michael Turnbell can be reached at [email protected] or 954-356-4155 or 561-243-6550.

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It pays for itself after just a few weeks... And then you just incorporate the tolls into your fuel budget -- it's like buying an extra tank of gas every so often. Interestingly enough, before SunPass, Orlando E-PASS transponders used to be free...

I wish that Florida's Turnpike Enterprise would create dedicated full-speed SunPass lanes like those found at MDX's Dolphin toll plaza, rather than those dangerous narrow lanes within the existing toll plaza.

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Come on, it's only $25.  It is so worth it too.


In the NYC area EZ Pass is free. Why should you be charged for the transponder AND then be charged to use the roads? Doesn't make any sense if you ask me.

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You have to pay for the technology some how.

$25 might be a steep, but I have no problem with them charging for it.


I always thought one of the pluses of using transponders was we wouldn't have to pay for a toll attendant.

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