Stickers not transponders for tolls? Tollway could shift gears next year

Now might be a good time to let your Illinois tollway transponder know how much you love it.

That's because the agency could follow an industry trend shifting from hard-case transponders to stickers come 2024.

Tollway officials had no comment other than to say the issue will likely come up at a Thursday board meeting.

However, at an August finance committee session, planners told directors that they were excited about rolling out a sticker program next year, adding that it could provide significant financial benefits to the agency and customers.

The change isn't surprising, transportation experts say.

California introduced stickers back in 2019 and numerous states are now offering them to drivers.

Why stickers?

"The advantage that the sticker tags offer as opposed to a hard-case tag is that they're tremendously less expensive," the International Bridge, Tunnel & Turnpike Association's Mark Muriello explained.

As a result, "we're slowly seeing agencies beginning to chose to adopt the sticker tag," said Muriello, the association's policy and government affairs director.

The Orange County-based Transportation Corridor Agencies started using "FasTrak" stickers technology for its toll roads in 2019, media relations manager Michelle Kennedy said.

"Sticker transponders are smaller, sleeker and less obtrusive than the hard-case transponder with less visual impact on the customer's vehicle," she said.

"Sticker transponders use radio frequency identification (RFID) and there is no battery, which means no beep, and they last until you remove them from your vehicle."

The U.S. has three major toll-collection protocols that include transponder and sticker technologies.

The Illinois tollway belongs to the E-ZPass group, a coalition of 20 states and more than 50 agencies that's traditionally used transponders, although some members use stickers for local tolling.

E-ZPass Group Executive Director P.J. Wilkins told the Daily Herald that the organization was working rapidly on sticker technology to enable member agencies to use for interoperable tolling in 2024.

Are there disadvantages to stickers?

If you're like me and typically throw your transponder into a rental car to pay tolls on cross-country trips, those days may be over.

The TCA's website advises customers not to move or adjust stickers once installed because "it will break and become unusable."

But Wilkins noted that a sticker on your windshield won't get lost as many transponders are.

One thing is certain - any transition would occur gradually, particularly given the millions of transponders out there.

Also on the horizon is greater interoperability among tolling agencies, meaning technology that can seamlessly collect tolls anywhere in the U.S. It's something Congress has advocated for years.

Currently, E-ZPass is working toward technology "that is able to read all three national protocols in most toll lanes of all the facilities," Muriello said. Stay tuned.

You should know

Pace holds hearings on its 2024 budget this week across the suburbs. The fiscal plan has no service cuts or fare increases and will give free rides for certified passengers with disabilities on all fixed bus routes. Virtual hearings are set for noon today and Wednesday; for links go to In-person hearings are scheduled: from 4 to 6 p.m. today at the Kane County Government Center in Geneva; from 4 to 6 p.m. Tuesday at the Elmer Wolf Community Center, 2607 N. Thatcher Ave., River Grove; 4 to 6 p.m. Wednesday at the DuPage County Administrative Building in Wheaton; and 3:30 to 5:30 Thursday at the Crystal Lake City Hall.

One more thing

Metra will receive over $169 million in federal funds to buy battery-powered, zero-emission trainsets, the commuter railroad announced. The grant should allow the agency to buy up to 16 trainsets and replace older, polluting diesel locomotives. "A trainset is a group of permanently or semi-permanently coupled railcars powered by a propulsion system without a separate locomotive, with operator controls at either end so they can quickly change directions," officials said. They likely would be deployed on the Rock Island Line.

Traditional tollway transponders could one day be replaced in Illinois. Daily Herald File Photo
The California-based Transportation Corridor Agencies uses stickers with a radio frequency that interacts with readers along its toll roads to charge customers. Courtesy of Transportation Corridor Agencies
The Illinois tollway belongs to the 20-state E-ZPass group, which mostly uses transponders. Daily Herald File Photo
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