What happened to the Illinois tollway's softer approach to nudging I-PASS customers who drive through tolls without transponders into getting one?
Effective in 2018, the Illinois tollway will double rates for I-PASS users who leave home without their transponder.
Back in March, staff recommendations suggested a 50 percent penalty instead of 200 percent, $10 gift cards to offset the cost of extra transponders and requiring 10 missed tolls to trigger the fine. Officials even brought up the idea of an amnesty program and a six-month education campaign.
Those sweeteners appear to have fallen by the wayside. In the meantime, the agency has not sent out specific notifications to all customers about the change, although it was announced in a September newsletter.
"After receiving input and suggestions from directors, staff continued to make refinements to what was proposed," spokesman Dan Rozek said, "and have been working to identify the best way to make the transition easier and the most effective incentive to get customers to put a transponder in their car."
The bottom line is "drivers who regularly use the tollway without a transponder mounted in the car they are driving run the risk of losing the 50 percent discount and paying the cash toll rate," Rozek said.
The phrase "50 percent discount" irks drivers such as Kent Nicholson of Batavia, who considers it unnecessary spin.
For Nicholson, there's a cash rate and a transponder rate -- not special deals. "To state that transponder usage provides a 50 percent discount to drivers appears deceptive," he wrote.
Rozek said "today, the majority of our drivers are already using I-PASS transponders, and we've found that reminding them of the 50 percent discount is the most effective way to get them to make sure there is a transponder in their car when they are driving on the tollway."
Still unresolved is how many missed tolls it will take to trigger the penalty.
"This is ongoing as part of the rule-making process underway," Rozek said. "Ultimately, the final draft of the new rules will be presented to the board for approval."
Why the financial penalty?
When I-PASS customers cruise through toll plazas without transponders, it takes time for employees to match license plates with I-PASS accounts and charge the electronic rate, officials say.
It's important to know that households with more cars than transponders can share them, but the tollway wants all vehicles to be registered to an I-PASS account.
Here are some other questions from readers and answers from the tollway:
Mike DiMatteo, who works in Aurora, wants to know about transponders on motorcycles. "I cannot place one on my bike as I ride through the tolls, or have one mounted so I rely on the cameras," he wrote.
"The transponder can be mounted on the inside of the windshield, on the handle bars, over the gauges, or on the gas tank," officials answered. "The important thing to remember is that to receive the discounted I-PASS rate, your transponder must be properly mounted in your motorcycle, car or truck whenever you drive on the tollway."
Mike Cooper of Naperville has two cars and two transponders but wonders what to do when his adult kids drive back home from Colorado and Florida.
"If you have family or visitors from out of town, they can use your I-PASS transponder to travel the tollway as long as it is mounted in their car and the license plate is on your I-PASS account," Rozek said.
Got questions or comments on the new policy? Drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Reader Eric Shawger of Roselle has a different tack on the issue.
"It's only fair for toll collection system abusers to be financially encouraged to get additional transponders to help smooth the collection process," Shawger wrote.
But he hopes better mounting instructions are given for transponders. "Communication errors sometimes occur when they aren't mounted on the windshield as instructed. That might also cause the penalty fees to be incurred if the system logs the vehicle as driving through without a transponder."
Too much information
That snazzy dashboard display is so exciting and informative and … unsafe. The AAA Foundation finds that new vehicle infotainment systems are so thrilling they contribute to distracted driving. "Hands-free is not risk-free," AAA and University of Utah researchers concluded. The technology allows constant connectivity; the problem is when drivers can't connect, scholars said. For more information, go to exchange.aaa.com/safety/distracted-driving.