Is the End of Transponders Near?

The Illinois Tollway chief executive Kristi Lafleur was interviewed recently by the Daily Herald in suburban Chicago as she marked her one year anniversary on the job. One of the topics in the conversation was how technology for collecting tolls might change. Currently, tolls are collected manually (how 20th century!) or electronically using transponders (an electronic gadget that communicates to the tollway) or photographing license plates as they go under gantries. The Illinois Tollway uses manual collection and transponder technology and is part of the E-Z Pass consortium of electronic toll collectors. So these comments by Lafleu caught my attention:

“But in the future, transponders could become obsolete if technology improves so cameras can simply pick up all that’s necessary from license plates. When that information is linked with databases, it could mean tolls are deducted automatically from the accounts of registered customers and new customers are billed, Lafleur said.

“Many tollway systems are invoicing customers. We’re looking at those models,” she [Kristi Lafleur] said. “The next generation may be a transponder-less generation.

“We’ve taken a step back to review our electronic toll collection system. It’s a good system but it’s been five to six years since it was first installed and there’s room and a need for improvements.”

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I thought this insight was interesting because Tom McDaniel, then COO of United Tollway Systems, told me something very similar in an extensive interview for my book The Road More Traveled. Tom developed and implemented the world’s first completely electronic, open-road toll road (Toronto’s 407 or ETR). In our interview (p. 153-54), Tom noted:

“I believe that we will move, over the next several years, away from transponders to license plate-based tolling. Cameras have advanced well beyond what was available ten years ago when we di the [Toronto] 407, and some new software is providing fantastic performance. The millions of dollars spent on tags anbatteries and in-lane tag-reading equipment coulb e converted to cost savings.”

More importantly, perhaps, video license plate reader technology eliminates most of the hassle for consumers and users. They no longer have to get a transponder, afix it to their car (or to the correct car), or hassle with the technology if they experience a failure. The license plate reading technology would create a more seamless and hassle free billing system.