Just as the latest smartphone is replaced with better technology, so can a tollway’s electronic tolling system. The Illinois Tollway’s I-PASS system has been around for nearly a decade, and tollway officials say it is time to expand and update its capabilities.
“We were a leader in the industry at the time we developed the system, but we have found that it is time for us to go out into the marketplace and learn about what new technology may exist that can improve our open road or electronic tolling system," Illinois Tollway Executive Director Kristi Lafleur told Patch. “We also think that our current system, while it has been tremendously successful … in getting our customers to where they want to go more quickly, is a system that was more popular than we ever imagined.”
The Illinois Tollway operates the largest open road tolling system in the nation. Approximately 84 percent of all transactions on the system are electronic transactions, from more than 4.3 million active transponders and more than 3.2 million active I-PASS accounts.
However, it is time to look forward.
“The Elgin-O‘Hare [Expressway] will be the first all-electronic tollway in the region,” Lafleur said. “We are looking at all-electronic interchanges, maybe doing things with transit and special provisions for lanes that are managed with transit and vehicle traffic. We want to make sure we have a system that is up-to-date and cutting edge, that can service our customers but also give us the flexibility to implement the new next frontier of what tollways around the world are doing.”
The plan is to have no cash booths or employees on the Elgin-O’Hare; the same goes for the interchanges further into the future. “Baskets collecting coins is an aging technology,” she said.
To gather information about new technology, products and services, the Illinois Tollway has issued a request for information (RFI) to prospective vendors. The RFI is another critical step forward in the agency's new strategy to develop a more flexible, responsive and effective electronic tolling system, according to the Tollway.
“Our board of directors’ Customer Service Working Group has made it clear that improving our electronic tolling system must be a priority for the Tollway and for our customers,” LaFleur said. “This process will allow us to learn about the latest technologies, gain insight into national and international industry best practices and provide us with the information we need to implement a new, state-of-the-art system.”
The Illinois Tollway is seeking information in the following key areas of electronic tolling: vehicle classification, license plate imaging, transaction capture, account management, video tolling account management, violations management and interoperability management.
Whatever new systems are installed or upgrades implemented, the Tollway’s goal is to have all changes to be as seamless as possible for motorists.
“There would not necessarily be any direct impact,” Lafleur said. “They wouldn’t necessarily have to go in and change out their transponders. They can just expect as we develop a new electronic toll collection system, the system would hopefully work better and there would be improvements and provide us more flexibility going forward to provide a high level of service.”
Tollway officials are expecting more I-PASS users when the goes into effect Jan. 1.
The Illinois Tollway has developed a timeline for implementation of key initiatives to meet its new goals, including the issuance of the RFI, redefinition of business rules, procurement of new technology, testing, transition to new contracts, system implementation and continual system improvements. Based on this timeline, the Illinois Tollway plans to have a new electronic tolling system in place before the end of 2014.
As the Tollway develops and transitions to a new electronic toll collection system, “I don’t want people to be confused and think we are doing way with I-PASS or changing it in a couple of years," Lafleur said. "That is not our plan.”
RFI written responses are due to the Illinois Tollway by 10:30 a.m. Nov. 23. For more information and to download the RFI, visit illinoistollway.com.
While the Tollway looks to the future, it does something few other tollway systems do: It still accepts pennies.