Political Buzz

Talking WA politics.

NOTICE: Political Buzz has moved.

With the launch of our new website, we've moved Political Buzz.
Visit the new section.

New transponders don’t work on Tacoma Narrows bridge

Post by Jordan Schrader / The News Tribune on March 16, 2011 at 9:30 am with 18 Comments »
March 16, 2011 6:35 pm

Drivers who sign up for the state’s “Good to Go” electronic tolls are paying $5 for a transponder that is unreadable on the Tacoma Narrows bridge.

It’s no malfunction, just a quirk of the ongoing changeover to a statewide tolling system. A new generation of transponder windshield stickers introduced this year doesn’t match up with the reader machines on the bridge.

The discrepancy should be invisible to drivers, according to the state Department of Transportation, because there are also cameras on the bridge to catch license plates as they pass. The cameras send the image to workers in the new tolling customer service center in Seattle’s University District, who check whether the car is signed up for Good to Go and charge the driver’s account $2.75.

The state is working with contractor TransCore to try to replace the readers, either in June 2012 when its contract expires or even sooner, WSDOT Toll Division Director Craig Stone said.

But it is raising some eyebrows on the bridge’s citizen advisory committee and in the state Legislature. Sen. Derek Kilmer called it “outrageous.”

“I think it’s a little nutty that there wouldn’t be a presupposition that the transponders actually work the day the contractor comes on board,” said Kilmer, a Gig Harbor Democrat. “It raises concerns about the DOT’s ability to structure contracts in a way that makes sense and protects toll payers.”

TransCore’s contract was modified when the state moved to a new back-office system run by Electronic Transaction Consultants Corp. in preparation for tolls that are planned to start this spring on the Route 520 bridge.

“It allowed us to go to the new transponders, which is saving everybody money,” Stone said.

The move cut the cost of managing toll accounts on the Narrows bridge by roughly half, saving a projected $1.6 million to $2.2 million a year, according to the department.

While the customer-service work shifted to a new company, TransCore still runs the tollbooths, readers and cameras on the Narrows bridge.

The state pays the company $2.9 million a year, an amount that is 35-40 percent higher than it could be if rebid, WSDOT estimated in a February report.

Kilmer said the state didn’t have much negotiating leverage when it worked out the deal with TransCore, since the company was already managing the tollbooths.

The old passes, which most motorists have, are still readable on the bridge. They are based on TransCore’s proprietary technology and can’t be scanned by other companies’ readers. State officials opted for new passes that use open-source technology.

New Good to Go customers opening accounts since mid-February are getting the new passes, including tens of thousands of people who are signing up because of the Route 520 project. Only a small minority of them will end up crossing the Narrows bridge.

Still, “That was a big selling point,” said citizen advisory committee member Jim Pasin of Gig Harbor, “that if you bought a transponder and lived up in King County, for example, and you traveled to a place over here, that transponder would work. And that doesn’t seem to be the case.”

Members of the advisory panel questioned whether the cost of reviewing camera footage for those drivers would end up hitting toll payers. But Stone said it’s all part of Electronic Transaction Consultants’ contract and there is no additional cost to the state.

It’s the same work the company does when a Good to Go pass is damaged and unreadable, Stone said, as happens with about 1 percent of all vehicles.

The need for watching the video is about to expand.  Once the Legislature gives final approval and 520 tolls begin, Narrows bridge fines are to be replaced with $5.50 tolls for drivers caught on camera crossing the bridge without paying cash or using Good to Go.

While cameras on Route 520 will be able to recognize license plate numbers, those on the Tacoma Narrows bridge cannot, unless the contract is changed to require updated equipment. The plates have to be read manually.

Leave a comment Comments → 18
  1. williamske58 says:

    The new Good To Go account website sucks too. Doesn’t list recent transactions for several days. It seems that the state should have been able to hire a company that could develop and test a web service before putting it out for public use!

  2. Rowdy_Rob says:

    It’s no malfunction, just a quirk…

    The same could be said about our elected officials?

  3. Copper2Steel says:

    Will our big square Good to Go passes be useable/readable for the 520 bridge?

  4. SPanaway1 says:

    And which ones work on SR167 toll lanes?

  5. What a bunch of malarky. A classic cover up. Here you have a state agency defending their selection of contractor’s and this is clearly how our state works. They get what they pay for. From day one my old tag worked on the Tacoma Bridge. But no more and I wonder why?

    My old tag has still not been charged to my current account because the new company can’t figure out their “quirks” in their new system, which definitely is malfunctioning. My last trip on my account if 2/22 and I have been driving almost every day since then.

    Most of what you have read in the article is incorrect as our legislator’s don’t know anything about how any of the tolling and its equipment works. They are guessing or asking the WSDOT officials who really don’t know either.

  6. NWflyfisher says:

    Jordan Schrader wrote: It’s no malfunction, just a quirk of the ongoing changeover to a statewide tolling system. A new generation of transponder windshield stickers introduced this year doesn’t match up with the reader machines on the bridge.”

    Jordan, It’s not a quirk either. It’s the most recent example of incompetence costing the taxpayer.

  7. Quirk? My god! I’ve watched my account NOT get charged for crossing the bridge, incorrect balances reported etc etc. I called several times and got the same response, “we are experiencing problems with the conversion”. What a bunch of BS

  8. menopaws says:

    Why is anyone surprised by this? Every time we drive underneath that Sprague Avenue ramp on Highway 16, my husband comments about the absolute danger of that sharp turn on the ramp…………the level of competence at WSDOT used to be a source of amusement……..Now it is just plain scary………The good builders opting out of the tunnel bid to replace that viaduct up in Seattle, the “new” 520 that will float away at some point, transponders that DO NOT work for the VERY FIRST tolling project in our State: the one that did NOT receive federal $$$………Someone needs to go in there and start giving out pink slips–Paula Hammond and most of those engineers need to go……….the toll advisory board needs to look long and hard at those books—I don’t want my tolls paying for 520…….but, I am betting some bookkeeping magic is about to happen.

  9. I wonder how many drivers are out there thinking ‘I already have a Good2Go tag from when the Narrows so I won’t need to get one for driving over 520′. They are less than an hour drive apart. Why would anyone think they would need two different ones and why was the state dumb enough to not use the exact same system as is already in place in one location when they did the second or third?
    No wonder we have a budget crisis; poor planning always means extra work (and manhours = money) to manually correct after the fact.

  10. The discrepancy should be invisible to drivers, according to the state Department of Transportation, because there are also cameras on the bridge to catch license plates as they pass. The cameras send the image to workers in the new tolling customer service center in Seattle’s University District, who check whether the car is signed up for Good to Go and charge the driver’s account $2.75.

    Jordan, I think you left out a few steps. After the picture is taken it’s redrawn by a sketch artist onto rice paper, then flown by carrier pigeon to their service center.

  11. Jordan Schrader says:

    Copper2Steel and SPanaway1,

    The old Good to Go passes work on the 167 lanes, and WSDOT tells me they will also be readable on 520.

    Jordan

  12. SuperSteve says:

    Apparently “Good to Go” isn’t….

    In fact, “Good to Go” could probably be charged with false advertising for – literally – not living up to its name.

  13. Jordan Schrader says:

    Niner1,

    WSDOT tells me both the old and new Good to Go passes will be readable on the 520 bridge.

    Jordan

  14. rangerboy says:

    The new website is a joke, can’t update a license plate on one vehicle. Let alone there were 3 weeks where I wasn’t charged for my bridge crossings. What a cluster #$%&!

  15. snafu – just our funds being wasted again by DOT.

  16. SuperSteve says:

    “snafu – just our funds being wasted again by DOT.”

    I think you mean our funds being wasted by a private business – TransCore is the private part of the “Public/Private Partnership” responsible for managing the “Good to Go” accounts.

  17. Another company is now responsible for managing the “Good to Go” accounts,they took over from TransCore earlier this year

  18. sunlover says:

    @Jordan Schrader – it sure seems you have the PC response each time from WSDOT. Do you work for them?

    @SuperSteve – Transcore does not manage any Good to Go accounts anymore. That is the ‘new’ contractor’ that WSDOT hired, called ETC. They are known for bidding cheap and never providing good customer service. I still do not have an email response after complaining over a week ago about my account. My account is not up to date. I have heard they are having software ‘quirks’ that might be ‘malfunctioning’ the system that used to work very well under the other company.

    WSDOT has hired ‘new’ state employees to manage tolling and to provide oversight for ETC. They are also providing excuses to protect how bad this system is. Call their 800 number. Send them an email. Stand in line to check your account. Then let me know how good their customer service is.

    WSDOT is attempting to plug the holes to keep the heat off of their own office and of course the legislators protect their local government officials by spinning their story and not the truth.

*
We welcome comments. Please keep them civil, short and to the point. ALL CAPS, spam, obscene, profane, abusive and off topic comments will be deleted. Repeat offenders will be blocked. Thanks for taking part and abiding by these simple rules.

Follow the comments on this post with RSS 2.0