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Article updated: 11/16/2012 5:49 AM

Chatty I-PASS transponders could cost $8-$9

By Marni Pyke

It won't change your oil or rotate your tires, but a future I-PASS transponder could alert you if you miss a toll payment.

A recent survey of drivers showed about 85 percent wanted a transponder that beeps when tolls are paid and could indicate the status of I-PASS accounts, Illinois tollway administrators said at a Thursday board meeting. But fewer than 20 percent of the 70,000 people responding to an October survey said they wanted to pay for the devices, Customer Service Committee Chairman Jeff Redick said.

Typically, transponders cost the Illinois tollway about $8 to $9; feedback transponders could cost about 25 percent more.

The board took no action on the issue, but will continue to assess price and technology challenges related to updated devices.

Of those people who were willing to pay for a feedback transponder, more than 80 percent wanted a one-time fee and only 30 percent said they would pay more than $10 total.

But, "it's not as easy as just buying a new transponder," Business Systems Chief Shauna Whitehead said.

Hurdles that lie ahead include the necessity of replacing equipment that reads transponder information at toll plazas.

If the tollway institutes chatty transponders, it would actually be a reintroduction. The agency originally offered talking devices but phased them out in the early 2000s when the manufacturer stopped making them.

At the same time, the agency is dealing with the latest federal transportation funding law that asks toll authorities to update their electronic tolling systems to allow for "interoperability" by Oct. 1, 2016. This involves the ability for drivers to pay electronic tolls seamlessly while traveling on different toll roads throughout the country.

The technology enabling transponders to have both interoperability and feedback functions is still under development, but tollway officials were optimistic.

"We may be able to have our cake and eat it too," Whitehead said. The tollway will be testing new transponders in 2013.

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