A new generation of transponders for Washington toll roads offers a smaller price tag, more options and improved technology, the state Department of Transportation said Tuesday.
Starting in January, the basic Good to Go windshield sticker will cost $5, down from $12 now. But drivers who open a new Good to Go account will still end up paying a few dollars more, because the minimum starting balance for an account is going up to $40 from $30.
Drivers with the old stickers can keep them. Some 250,000 people who drive regularly on the Tacoma Narrows bridge or State Route 167 have one.
The state will buy the new passes from Sirit Inc., following a directive from the Legislature to start using open technology that can be accessed by devices from multiple manufacturers. The old transponders were based on the proprietary technology of one company, Trans-Core.
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“To the driver, they’re not going to know the difference,” Toll Division Director Craig Stone told the state Transportation Commission at its meeting Tuesday. “It’s like having two cell phones, one from AT&T, one from Verizon.”
But they will have more choices. In the shorthand of state officials, drivers will choose between a “Band-Aid,” a “popsicle stick,” or a “candy bar,” references to the size of the devices.
The $5 sticker is Band-Aid sized, a little smaller than the one used today. It sticks permanently to a windshield.
Then there’s an $8 pass the size of a popsicle stick that can be transferred from car to car, saving drivers the cost of buying two stickers. It goes on the windshield behind the rearview mirror using Velcro.
The candy-bar-sized pass is for the High Occupancy Toll lanes on Route 167. The $12 device has a switch that can be turned on when paying to use the HOT lanes and turned off when using the lanes for free with a carpool.
Sticking with the state’s food analogies, there’s also a French-fry-sized sticker for motorcyclists to put on their headlamps. It’s $8.
A more traditional pass mounted on the front license plate is $12.
The devices are being introduced in January to coincide with the opening of a new back office for the state’s tolling system that is supposed to save on expenses. In April, the state plans to start all-electronic tolling on the State Route 520 bridge.
That could be the same time photo-based tolling begins on the Narrows bridge.
Photo tolling has been expected to start on both bridges at the same time – originally planned for January 2011 – but members of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge Citizen Advisory Committee are questioning whether photo tolling is really needed here right away just because it’s coming to the bridge over Lake Washington.
Still, Transportation Commission members Tuesday seemed mostly favorable to changing the two systems at the same time to promote consistency statewide.
Tollbooths would remain on the Narrows bridge, at least for now. But with the start of photo tolling, drivers who don’t stop at a booth or sign up for Good to Go won’t be fined right away.
Instead they will get a bill in the mail and have 80 days to pay. The rate for those customers has yet to be set, but is expected to be slightly more than the regular $4 toll, possibly $4.25.
It’s part of a new tolling scheme set by the Legislature last winter that will send fine collections directly to toll projects instead of the courts.