The Illinois tollway could cut fines in half for drivers who aren't enrolled in I-PASS on the Elgin-O'Hare Expressway (Route 390) when the all-electronic corridor starts collecting tolls next summer.
With six overhead collection gantries planned on the 10.5-mile stretch from Lake Street to Route 83, current fines that start at $20 and can escalate to $50 for toll violations could add up quickly, planners said at a Monday customer service committee meeting.
Board directors approved halving those fines to $10 and $25 in additional late fees -- but just on Route 390. Violation rates will remain the same elsewhere. The directors' decision goes to the full board next week.
The exception relates to the density of toll collection points and the fact you can't pay in cash on Route 390.
"This toll road is different," Chief of Business Systems Shana Whitehead said. "There's such rapid plazas, if you miss one, you miss a bunch. We've done some analysis and we believe this represents better good faith to our customers that travel that roadway."
Drivers who miss tolls have a seven-day grace period to pay. Three missed tolls in two years triggers a violation notice.
The agency expects to offer a new feature next summer that allows people to use license plates to check online if they skipped a toll.
It's similar to a city of Chicago program that lets drivers look up parking tickets but is unique for tollway systems, Whitehead said.
"We're still developing and testing it," she said.
Tollway improvements to the existing portion of the Elgin-O'Hare between Hanover Park and Itasca will be complete at the end of 2015 and tolls kick in by summer 2016. The second segment to Route 83 will wrap up in late 2017 when toll collection will start.
The final stage involves connecting Route 390 to O'Hare and to a ring road on the west side of the airport that links with the Tri-State Tollway in Franklin Park and the Jane Addams Tollway near Des Plaines.
Toll rates for I-PASS users are 20 cents a mile compared to an average of 6 cents on the rest of the system. Rates include 30 cents west of Gary Avenue, 35 cents near Roselle Road and 60 cents west of Meacham Road. The section to be complete in 2017 features tolls of 25 cents near Arlington Heights Road, 20 cents west of Wood Dale Road and 20 cents at Route 83.
Rates are higher for commercial vehicles; large trucks will pay daytime rates ranging from 40 cents to $3.10.
Tollway Director and Elk Grove Mayor Craig Johnson said the agency still needs to educate people about using I-PASS transponders and the fact each vehicle needs one. He also wondered if the agency should dispense with the $10 deposit.
"If you want someone to use a product, you should make it as inexpensive as possible," he said.
Although I-PASS owners aren't charged fees for missing tolls, it costs the agency time to check if violators have transponders.