North Carolina's Triangle Expressway is the state's first toll road and the first fully electronic free flow toll road in the US built from scratch (i.e. built as a free flow electronic toll road, not converted).
According to the News Observer, some motorists are facing penalty fees for non-payment that are many multiples higher than the original toll. This, of course, is hardly unusual. Fully electronic free flow tolling needs to be strict on enforcement, and bill payment. However, it is shocking some of those who neglect toll bills of less than US$1.
48% of users are registered with DSRC "Quickpass" transponders, automatically debiting tolls. The remainder are identified by number plate and get sent bills in the mail. For many the bills are so low (US$0.45 for example) they forget them, until there is a US$6 late fee added for each month it isn't paid, and another US$25 after the second month. That adds up and the report mentions some users who now face paying over $40 for a one off usage of the road.
In 10 months since the road opened, it levied US$1.42 million in surcharges for tolls worth US$771,000. This is lucrative of course, but given the road only opened at the beginning of 2012, there is always going to be a period of users becoming familiar with how fully electronic free flow tolling works. I'd give it two years to settle down, and by then there ought to be more like 75% transponder usage, and 90% of bill by mail users paying within one month.
North Carolina Department Of Transportation (NCDOT) wants to encourage motorists to get transponders and to pay on time, so is treating this as a chance to deter late payment. However, one interesting element is how it gets information to bill out of state motorists,
It is easy to get number plate data for North Carolina of course, and the state has arrangements with five other states (and negotiating them with others), yet this means that vehicles from 44 states can, in effect, drive toll free on the road. 5% of users currently come into that category. Yet, NCDOT is not being complacent, and if the numbers of users for individual states become worthwhile to pursue, it will seek arrangements with those states. This is going to become more common, and I'd suggest states need to think about some sort of outsourced clearing house arrangement to minimise the costs of doing this, and to enhance the reliability of the data they all have on vehicles, owners and owners' contact details.
There is also interesting data that has been published on payment rates for the expressway after 10 months:
- 72% of those sent bills by mail pay within the one month billing period;
- 83% of bill by mail users are registered North Carolina vehicles;
- 12% of bill by mail users are with the four other states with NCDOT has a data sharing agreement with (California, Florida, Ohio, Texas and Virginia).
I've written a couple of pieces on some of the teething problems of this road, all of which ought to be object lessons in toll road developers actually taking experience from free flow toll roads elsewhere before developing systems and business rules from scratch. None of the problems faced by North Carolina are especially new, except to that state, and I wager perhaps the designers? I would have thought the experiences from Canada and Australia at least ought to have been easy to replicate here, or is it the problem of some that they simply don't believe that experience from "lower ranked" countries is worth applying in the United States?
The two issues reported on the expressway recently are:
- Double billing of motorists with two tags that are interoperable on the road; and
- Mistaken enforcement due to misreading of a character of a number plate.
I wish NC DOT all the best in what is a relatively risky endeavour, but one that will pay off, and hopefully what it is learning about enforcement, the hard way, will make it far easier to do more new free flow toll roads in the future.