Cost of E-ZPass device to drop by half

Under pact, Maryland will pay half current transponder cost

July 22, 2011|By Michael Dresser, The Baltimore Sun

The multistate consortium that runs the E-ZPass toll collection system has agreed to a deal that would cut the cost of each transponder issued by its member toll authorities, including Maryland's, by more than half.

TollRoadsnews reported that the E-ZPass Interagency Group has chosen Kapsch TrafficCom IVHS Inc. as its supplier for the next generation of toll-collection devices. The Frederick-based trade publication calculated that Kapsch's bid would lower the per-unit cost of transponders from $20.95 to $8.90.

The deal would presumably give the Maryland Transportation Authority some room to offer its customers a better deal starting next year, though the savings are unlikely to significantly offset the record-high toll increases now pending.

The total savings for the 10-year life of the contract would be $482 million split among the 24 toll agencies that make up the E-ZPass consortium.

The group includes toll agencies from as far west as Illinois, as far south as Virginia and as far north as the Canadian border.

The reduction presumably would allow member agencies to charge E-ZPass users less for the transponders they must install in their vehicles to participate in the electronic toll-collection program.

Maryland now charges $21 per transponder and is expecting a surge in demand because of the impending opening of the second phase of the Intercounty Connector, as well as a pending proposal to offer a 10 percent discount to E-ZPass users at its other toll facilities.

Maryland sells about 160,000 of the units each year to new E-ZPass subscribers and to drivers whose units have stopped working. The units usually last for seven or eight years.

Authority spokeswoman Kelly Melhem confirmed that the agency planned to share its savings with customers. Details of how those savings would be shared would be up to the authority's board.

The new contract could let the authority give a small break to drivers who regularly traverse the Thomas J. Hatem Memorial Bridge over the Susquehanna River.

Now, motorists there use a decal system that lets them cross at a steep discount. Under the toll-increase plan, however, the decal system would end and drivers who wanted a Hatem discount would have to pay through the E-ZPass system — a measure that brought loud protests at public hearings in Harford and Cecil counties. Under the proposal as it stands, those customers would have to pay $21 for a new transponder.

Melhem said she could not predict what the board would decide, but she indicated that members would consider giving Hatem users a break on the transponder price.

"It is certainly going to be looked at based on the comments received in that part of the state," she said.

Kapsch prevailed in a competition in which four companies participated, although one was disqualified because its bid did not fit the contract criteria. The draft contract calls for Kapsch to supply and service equipment for 10 years, though member toll authorities will have an option to seek competitive bids after four.

TollRoadsnews reported that members of the multistate consortium expect to buy about 40 million transponders over the next 10 years.

According to the interagency group, the new transponders will be smaller and "sexier" than the current model.

Delays in the procurement process have forced members to extend their current contracts with Kapsch into 2012. Maryland's Board of Public Works is scheduled to consider an extension of the current contract with Kapsch until next August, after which the new contract would likely take effect.

The Maryland authority said the procurement was especially complicated because it involved many members spread across 14 states.

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