FasTrak

FasTrak

FasTrak is the electronic toll collection (ETC) system used in the state of California in the United States. The system is used statewide on all of the toll roads and bridges along the California Freeway and Expressway System.

As with other ETC systems, FasTrak is designed to eliminate the need for cars to stop to pay at toll booths, thus decreasing the traffic congestion traditionally associated with toll roads. Its use of technology to improve transit is in line with the U.S. Department of Transportation's Intelligent Transportation Systems initiative.

Functionality

FasTrak uses RFID technology to read data from a transponder placed in a vehicle (usually mounted by Velcro strips to the windshield) moving at speeds that may exceed 70 mph (112 km/h). The RFID transponder in each vehicle is associated with a prepaid debit account; each time the vehicle passes underneath a toll collection site, the account is debited to pay the toll. If a vehicle does not have a transponder, a Violation Enforcement System triggers cameras that take photos of the vehicle and its license plate for processing. If the license plate is registered as belonging to a FasTrak user, the account is debited only the toll charge, and no penalty is charged; otherwise, a violation notice is sent to the registered owner of the vehicle.

Anybody with a FasTrak transponder can use it to pay tolls on any California toll road or bridge using the system. But people are encouraged to open their accounts with the local agency in charge of the toll facility that they use the most. Different agencies may offer different discounts and incentives, and people may be charged a fee if the majority of their FasTrak use occurs elsewhere.

History

As the first ETC system in North America was installed on the Dallas North Tollway in 1989, many California toll facilities started to express interest in the technology. Because the state's toll roads and bridges are run by different government agencies, there was the possibility that a number of different incompatible ETC systems would be instituted throughout California. Therefore, the California State Legislature passed Senate Bill 1523 in 1990, requiring Caltrans, the state's Department of Transportation, to develop a state wide technical specification which all systems would be required to meet. As a result, California was the first in the nation to require all of its toll bridges and roads to use the same ETC system.

When the Foothill Toll Road in Orange County opened in 1993, it became the first California toll facility to use an ETC system. Transportation Corridor Agencies (TCA), the local agency in charge of the toll road, named the system "FasTrak". To this day, TCA still holds the trademark to the "FasTrak" name and logo.

When TCA first introduced the FasTrak system, the electronic transponders consisted of a gadget about the size of a Walkman in which a smart card was inserted. However, the smart cards were unpopular with both tollway officials and users because they cost more, offered little advantage, and customers were charged with a $10 annual fee (which has since been discontinued). By the time that the 91 Express Lanes opened in 1995, the FasTrak transponders were redesigned to be the size of a coaster that could be mounted by Velcro strips to the windshield.

TCA later deployed the FasTrak system to the two other toll roads they administer as soon as they opened: the San Joaquin Hills Toll Road in 1996 and the Eastern Toll Road in 1998. Also in 1998, the system was then deployed on the high-occupancy toll (HOT) lanes along Interstate 15 in San Diego.

However, the system had to be modified so that it could be used on California's toll bridges. After a test run on the Carquinez Bridge in 1996, it had accuracy problems in dealing with the 18 different toll classifications for different kinds of trucks. After the changes were made and another test run, the Carquinez Bridge became the first California toll bridge to use FasTrak in 1997. However, bureaucratic inaction, technical troubles, and financial mismanagement delayed the deployment of the system to the other six state-run toll bridges in the San Francisco Bay Area until October 2000. Meanwhile, the Golden Gate Bridge, run by the independent Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District, installed their system a few months earlier in July of that year. The FasTrak system was also briefly used on the state-owned San Diego-Coronado Bridge until tolls were discontinued on that structure in 2002.

In 2007, FasTrak was implemented on the South Bay Expressway, a toll road in San Diego County. The system would also be deployed on the proposed HOT lanes along Interstate 680 between Alameda and Santa Clara counties.

Current usage and fees

Toll facilities currently using FasTrak
Bridges
Antioch Bridge
Benicia-Martinez Bridge
Carquinez Bridge
Dumbarton Bridge
Golden Gate Bridge
Richmond-San Rafael Bridge
San Francisco – Oakland Bay Bridge
San Mateo-Hayward Bridge
HOT lanes
91 Express Lanes
Interstate 15 in San Diego
Toll roads
Eastern Toll Road
Foothill Toll Road
San Joaquin Hills Toll Road
South Bay Expressway
Fastrak usage is currently administered by separate agencies, and each charges different fees for opening a new account.

The Bay Area FasTrak Customer Service Center in San Francisco handles accounts for the Golden Gate Bridge, and the seven state-owned Bay Area toll bridges administered by the Bay Area Toll Authority. An initial prepaid balance of $25 per transponder is required if paying by credit card, or $50 if using cash or check. In addition, a $20 deposit is required for all toll tags, which is waived for the first three tags per account for credit card users. Customers have the option of purchasing transponders at Bay Area Costco and Safeway stores for $24.99 and $26 respectively, which include a $20 deposit for the tag and $5 to $5.50 in credit. When a person registers it via credit card, the $20 balance is applied to the prepaid toll balance. No monthly fee is imposed.

The San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG), who administers the HOT lanes on Interstate 15 in San Diego, requires a $40 deposit to obtain a transponder. Customers are charged a $3.50 per month minimum fee and $1 a month minimum fee for each transponder they hold. The minimum fee is offset by any tolls incurred on the HOT lane during the month. The fee was imposed to respond to customers from the Inland Empire and Greater Los Angeles obtaining the transponders for free yet not using the transponders on the I-15 Express Lanes. I-15 is the only place where Value Pricing is used to manage congestion by charging higher prices for travel during peak periods, thereby curbing demand.

Transportation Corridor Agencies (TCA), operators of the Orange County toll roads, charges requires a $30 deposit for each transponder and a prepayment of $45 in tolls. Those paying by credit card do not have to provide a deposit, but they still have to give $30 in prepaid tolls. A $1 a month charge is imposed on each transponder, with the fee waived when a customer incurs $25 multiplied by the number of transponders on the account. Transponders are also sold at Orange County and surrounding area Costcos for $44.99, with $50 in tolls applied, although the monthly charge is imposed.

The Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA), owners and operators of the 91 Express Lanes, offers three separate payment plans. The "Convenience Plan" only requires a one-time non-refundable $75 per transponder enrollment fee. In the "Standard Plan", users are automatically charged $7 in prepaid tolls every month. There is also a "91 Express Club" where users are charged a $20 monthly membership fee, but get a $1 discount every time they use the 91 Express Lanes.

South Bay Expressway, L.P. (SBX), the owner and operator of the South Bay Expressway, offers transponders with no monthly fee or minimum usage fee. From June through September 2007, the company promoted a special introductory offer of $25 in tolls and two weeks of free travel for signing up.

See also

References

External links

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