Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Detecting defective FasTraks along HOT lanes that support free non-transponder carpooling

The Transit Coalition ran across an excellent question about the We want toll lanes done right campaign, a project where we're advocating for free non-transponder carpooling for the 91 Express Lanes and along proposed Inland Empire high occupancy toll lanes for I-15 and I-10. The question deals with defective FasTrak transponders along tolled express lanes that support free non-transponder carpooling. What would happen if a solo driver wants to buy his/her way into a HOT lane system that supports free non-transponder carpooling, follows the rules of mounting a FasTrak transponder on the windshield, but unknowingly has a defective transponder that won't get read by the overhead toll antennas?

That's a great question, and on the surface it might appear to be a red flag toward supporting free non-transponder carpooling in the toll lane network. In HOT lane corridors that mandate transponders for carpoolers like the 91 Express Lanes and LA's Metro ExpressLanes, photo enforcement systems ensure that tolls are collected for any vehicles that pass through with a defective FasTrak. Cameras take the picture of the license plate of any vehicle that does not have a transponder. If the license plate happened to belong to a preregistered vehicle, the toll amount is automatically deducted from the patron's account; otherwise, the vehicle owner will get a toll payment violation notice in the mail.

Addressing the issue of defective FasTrak transponders in HOT Lanes

For HOT lane systems that support free non-transponder carpooling like San Diego County and Bay Area corridors, if the toll antennas don't detect a working FasTrak, the system assumes that the vehicle is a free carpool. So, that leaves an issue of solo drivers who follow the rules of the road but are not paying the toll.

There are three ways address this, each using intelligence driven enforcement methods. First, prevention measures would include the regular rotation of FasTrak transponders and proper maintenance of the toll antennas.

Secondly, the overhead toll antennas combined with other traffic cameras along the corridor could be set up in a way to visually detect defective transponders. If one is found, the license plate number would be photographed and agency staff would review the case in confidence. If necessary, the account holder would be asked to exchange the FasTrak transponders for no additional charge.

Lastly, the CHP would visually check for the presence of a transponder for non-carpoolers combined with using remote mobile transponder readers to check for its functionality and account status. If a FasTrak is properly mounted, but not functional, the officer would pull the motorist over and validate the FasTrak account using the transponder's ID number. If a valid toll account from any FasTrak agency is found, the account is simply billed by the officer, data collected from traffic cameras would determine the toll amount, and the account holder would be asked to replace the defective tag. The driver is then free to go. If the FasTrak is not linked to any valid account, the driver is issued a carpool violation ticket. Any counterfeit, altered or fake transponders would also be confiscated and used as evidence toward the carpool violation ticket. Those are ways to solve this problem without having to mandate transponder accounts for toll free carpools.

Separating the toll traffic from carpools near the toll antennas

The I-25 HOT lane system in Denver which supports free non-transponder carpooling separates the toll traffic from free carpoolers at the overhead toll antennas. Toll paying solo drivers who drive in the tolled lane and pass through without a working EXpressToll transponder will have their license plate photographed with a bill sent in the mail. The separated HOV lane is a dedicated carpool lane; solo drivers caught in the lane will have a chat with law enforcement.

This method of enforcement works with Denver and could also work with the Inland Empire's HOT lane system. The challenge is predicting and keeping track of the number carpools and toll paying traffic to determine if additional lanes need to built to prevent bottlenecking and control lane weaving.

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