Driving without a transponder cost I-PASS users $11.1 million in fees last year
The free ride ended on Jan. 1, 2018, for I-PASS customers who repeatedly cruise without transponders after the Illinois tollway began fining transgressors.
It wasn't meant to be a money grab but to recoup costs and herd those free spirits into using transponders, officials said.
However, the tollway hasn't fared too badly under the new rules, which double rates for I-PASS users who miss six or more tolls a month. Previously, owners of cars linked to I-PASS accounts but without transponders were charged the standard tolls.
In 2018, the change generated $11.1 million in fees, data released in response to a Freedom of Information Act request showed.
The harder line prompted I-PASS users to add about 225,000 transponders to their accounts in 2018, tollway spokesman Dan Rozek said.
"That indicates to us that our customers are obtaining more transponders to ensure they have transponders in every vehicle, which was the goal of this policy."
An I-PASS user who skips tolls five times a month because there's no transponder or it's not mounted properly is still charged the I-PASS rate. The cycle starts fresh each month.
When people breeze through toll plazas without transponders, it takes time to match license plates with their I-PASS accounts and charge the electronic rate, officials said. The cost is estimated at 23 cents a transaction compared to 8 cents when a transponder is detected.
Along with the $11.1 million in new revenue, the tollway saved nearly $8 million by reducing the number of license plate lookups from 87 million to 37 million in 2018, Rozek said.
That savings is "simply because more customers are consistently using their I-PASS transponders," he said.
But not everybody's on board.
When the tollway approved the policy in 2017, a number of I-PASS customers wrote to say it was only fair. But others chafed at the fee and some worried it would rack up fees for kids home from college and other part-time tollway users.
Mike DiMatteo of Cary, who has more vehicles than transponders, got dinged last year when his father, who lives in Rosemont, fell seriously ill. As family members went back and forth on visits, there probably were times when the transponder was absent, DiMatteo said.
"I think the entire thing is ludicrous," he said.
In all, 367,826 I-PASS accounts were fined, or 8% out of 4.6 million accounts, officials said. That averaged about $30 per account fined.
The new policy was instituted by a previous administration, but the penalty appears here to stay.
To learn more about I-PASS rules, fines or other tollway lore, go to illinoistollway.com/tolling-information/about-ipass. Got a question or comment? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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