Tag Archives: Good-to-Go!

You can move your toll passes between vehicles now

The in basket: When notice of my Good tot Go! statement for December turned up in my e-mail, I looked it over and saw that my only trip across the Tacoma Narrows Bridge that month had been properly included. I was puzzled, though, that the car was identified only by the sticker number on my windshield-mounted Good to Go! Pass. There was no indication of the license number.

I knew what car I had been in, but for someone whose family makes a lot of trips across the state’s tolled bridges or uses the HOV lanes on Highway 167, it would be kind of arduous to track which car was used each time.

It seemed like the monthly statement used to include the license number for each billed crossing.

The out basket: I was reluctant to ask about it, since it wasn’t a big issue, but I’m glad I did. It turns out I was way behind in understanding all the latest wrinkles in the passes (I know them as transponders, but the state doesn’t seem to call them that anymore) that bill us electronically for use of toll facilities.

Emily Pace of the state’s Good to Go! office says, “Good To Go! no longer associates each pass with a specific vehicle now that we offer passes which can be moved between vehicles. This change was made when we opened the statewide customer service center on February 14, 2011. Prior to February 2011, we offered two pass types (a sticker pass and a license plate mounted pass) which couldn’t be moved between vehicles, therefore each pass was associated with a specific vehicle and license plate.

“We now offer five pass types, two of which are easily movable between vehicles. Our new pass options are the result of advances in tolling technology and listening to our customers, many of whom wanted more pass options.

“Customers may have multiple vehicles including some they don’t use very often; for example, a motor home. With a movable pass they only need to purchase one pass and then they can move the pass between any vehicle registered on their account.” The moveable passes attach with velcro.

“Our new passes allow us to offer more options to drivers and provide them at lower cost. The older version of the sticker pass was $12 and the license plate mounted pass was $30. Today our pass options range from $5 to $12.

“Currently, if you have a pass installed in your vehicle, when you view your account history and account statements you’ll see toll activity shown by pass number, not by vehicle or license plate number. If you don’t have a pass installed in your vehicle, but your license plate is registered on an account, your license plate number will post to the account instead of the pass number – or Pay By Plate. “Customers will see an extra 25 cents photo enforced fee per toll for each Pay By Plate transaction.

“We suggest that customers with multiple vehicles on their account take note of which pass is installed on each specific vehicle if they need this information for their own tracking purposes. Your pass number is located on the front of both the sticker and movable passes and on the back of the switchable pass.

“Just a heads up, the last digit of your pass will not appear on your account view. No need to worry, the pass is entered correctly, the system just does not read the last digit of the pass,” she said.

All the pass options can be seen online

at http://www.wsdot.wa.gov/GoodToGo/PassesAvailable2011.htm. There is

even a guide (the link is at the top of the page) to help you decide which pass is best for you.

Different reload thresholds for ORCA and Good-To-Go! cards

The in basket: Larry Hoback of Bremerton says, “I have two prepaid passes, Good-to-Go! and ORCA. On the ORCA card, it only reloads from my credit card when there is not enough more to pay the fare.

“In Good-to-Go!, my credit card is hit when the balance falls below $10.

“Who is keeping that $10 float and what is it for?” he asked.

The out basket: Janet Matkin of the Good-to-Go! program says the discrepancy is not by chance.

“The policy for your Good To Go! account is to auto-replenish when the balance gets down to $8 or lower,” she said. “This ensures that you’re never without money in your account.

“If we waited until the account is totally depleted, you might make a trip the next day before the account is re-charged and you would be in violation because there is no money in your account. That could result in a $52 infraction.

“By contrast, if you don’t have money on your ORCA card, the worst that could happen is that the driver won’t let you on the bus or you won’t get through the turnstile onto the ferry.

“The money in your Good To Go! account is always yours,” she said.”If you close the account, you are refunded the entire amount remaining in your account. The ‘float’ is to benefit the customer and ensure the account does not go negative.”

Be sure your plate number is on your bridge toll account

The in basket: Bob Simonoff has been having trouble in the form of citations from the state’s Good to Go! office for not paying the toll to cross the Tacoma Narrows Bridge.

He crosses the bridge a few times a week in his work van, and had no trouble until February, when he got a citation after one crossing. Unfortunately, that one got lost in the mail, so he didn’t know he had a problem of it until after he got two more in April.

His main problem, he learned, was that he didn’t think to register his van’s new license plates with Good to Go! after the state required him to get new ones as part of its every-seven-year plate replacement program.

He suggested my readers would benefit if I mentioned in the column the need to get new plates listed in  one’s toll account.

The out basket: And so I shall. If you are one of thousands with Good to Go! toll accounts who are told each year you must replace your plates, be sure to go on line or call Good to Go! with the new plate’s number so your account can be updated.

Janet Matkin of the toll office said, “Although I don’t know the specifics of (Bob’s) case, my guess is that his transponder stopped working for some reason and when we tried to identify his vehicle by his license plate number, the new plate number wasn’t on the account.

“Anytime that a vehicle doesn’t have a good read from a transponder,” she said, “we capture a photo of the license plate and then run that plate number against a list of Good To Go! account holders before sending it through the violation process. If he’d had his correct plate registered, we would have charged his Good To Go! account for the toll.

“This summer,” she added, “(we) will be introducing Pay By Mail to the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, so vehicles that use the electronic toll lanes and don’t have Good To Go!accounts (or who don’t have their correct license plate numbers registered on their accounts) will be sent a Toll Bill in the mail, rather than automatically being sent a violation notice.

The toll rate will $5.50 for Pay By Mail, higher than the toll otherwise, to cover the costs of processing and sending a Toll Bill. “But, that is substantially less than the $52 violation notice that they would receive now,” Janet said

Account holders also “should remember to remove the license plate number from their account if they sell a vehicle,” she said.

Lastly, she said, “You also might want to suggest that if they have guests visiting from out of the area or they are renting a car, they can temporarily add the license plates numbers to their account and not have to worry about stopping at the toll booths.”

Photo enforcement of tolls brings inquiry

The in basket: Charles Baker of Silverdale writes, “I’ve seen a good deal written about the proposals moving along toward cameras being used to photograph license numbers of  those who don’t use the toll booth and don’t have ‘Good to Go!’ stickers.

“All I’ve read indicates the Tacoma Narrows Bridge authority feels they will have no problem looking up license numbers and billing those drivers for the toll – and problem payers can be dealt with come renewal time.

“What I have read nothing about is how well this system will work for drivers with out-of-Washington-state plates. Do visitors and those military out-of-staters get a free pass?  I doubt the other states (and countries) are setting up a ‘help Washington’ program to identify these people.  Any discussion of this issue you’ve heard?”

While I was inquiring, I asked about plates too dirty to be read, as well.

The out basket: Janet Matkin, the state’s tolls communication manager, replies, “We have reciprocal agreements with all the other states to obtain the name and address of out-of-state drivers.

“We take photos of both front and back license plates, in order to ensure we get a clear image of the majority of license plates,” she also said.

Toll cameras are watching on Highway 167


The in basket:  Richard Hurley passed along an e-mail exchange he’d had with the Good to Go! toll office for the Tacoma Narrows Bridges and the Highway 167 HOT lanes near Kent after he was surprised to find an unexpected 50-cent change on his toll account.

“Most folks around here purchased transponders for the Narrows Bridge, (and) they could be picking up additional charges without being aware of it,” he said.

To Good to Go!, he wrote about his 50-cent toll for use of the HOV lanes, saying “On the 17th, my  wife, son and I attended a funeral in Kent and used Highway 167 to travel to Seattle. Does this (mean) a vehicle with three passengers can no longer use the carpool lanes without a charge being posted to our Good To Go account?”

A Good to Go! employee replied, “You need a transponder shield if you are carpooling in the HOT lane on SR167.  It fits over the transponder on the inside of the window and prevents the radio signal from being transmitted.  We have them here for $3.50 if you want one.  

“I will remove the $.50 charge from your account as a one-time-only toll reversal,” the reply said.

I asked Janet Matkin of Good to Go! if this is the usual resolution of such an incident and how high an inadvertent  HOT lane tolls might be.

The out basket: Yes, Janet told me, they do “typically reverse the first inadvertent toll on the 167 HOT lanes. So, customers who do not realize they must have a shield to temporarily block their transponder if they are carpooling in the HOT lanes can call the Good To Go! customer service for a one-time-only reversal.

The range of tolls on the HOT lanes is 50 cents to $9, based on how much quicker an HOT lane user gets through than those who stay in the general use lanes. “The toll has reached $9 just a few times — in June and July 2008,” she said. “The typical toll rate is about $1, saving an average of about nine minutes northbound during peak commute time and five minutes during the southbound peak commute. But, on several occasions, the time savings has been 20 minutes or more.”

The Good to Go! service center is at 1-866-936-8246 and goodtogo@goodtogo.wsdot.wa.gov

Toll statement charge hits non-computer owners


The in basket: Merwin Linsley of Central Kitsap wasn’t happy when he got a notice from the Good to Go! folks who collect Tacoma Narrows Bridge tolls saying he’ll be charged $1.50 a month for his statements in the future, which he can avoid by getting his by e-mail.

“I don’t have a computer and a lot of other people don’t, too.” he protested.

The out basket. About 28,000 account holders have been getting there statements in the mail since the bridge opened, at no charge until now, says Janet Matkin of Good to Go!.

“It was a means of ensuring that customers were familiar and comfortable with the way the electronic toll collection would work,” she said. “The intention was always to begin charging for statements after the first year.” The terms and conditions all of us received with our transponders said a fee could be applied.

The state has been looking hard at ways to cut costs to lessen pressure for toll increases. I’m sure that reducing the number of mailed statements, and charging $1.50 for those that remain, was an obvious cost-cutting measure. 

The statements will be mailed quarterly from now on, not monthly, so it will come to $6 a year, the equivalent of about two crossings in tolls, for people like Merwin. The first such charge, to be deducted from the individual’s pre-paid account and credited to the same account as the tolls, will begin in December.

The amount was set in April 2007,  Janet said, and is in the Washington Administrative Code.

Merwin and others like him can save the $1.50 by forgoing his statements altogether, Janet said. He can phone 1-866-936-8246 for a verbal report. And, of course, he can get a computer and go online, and get the no-charge e-mailed statements.


Who keeps the bridge toll money?

The in basket: With tolls on the Tacoma Narrows Bridge seemingly fated to jump a dollar per crossing in about a month, Carol Johnson asks “Where’s the money from all the Good-To-Go! accounts kept? Who gets the interest generated from holding that money? And does it go into the general fund and get spent for who knows what or is it earmarked to pay down the debt for the Narrows bridge?
“Inquiring minds want to know,” she said.
The out basket: Janet Matkin of the Good to Go! staff answers that the narrows bridge tolls “are accounted for in a separate account within the state treasury that is dedicated to the Tacoma Narrows Bridge. All spending is appropriated by the Legislature and allotted and monitored by the Office of Financial Management.”
Interest is accrued on toll revenue, including the prepaid Good to Go! accounts, and has been dedicated to the Tacoma Narrows Bridge account, she said. All toll revenue and interest earnings in the account will go towards paying the debt on bonds used to finance construction of the bridge and for paying ongoing operating and maintenance costs. Retirement of the bonds will allow the tolls to end, expected to happen in 2030.
The opening of tolled HOT lanes (on Highway 167 east of I-5)) earlier this month complicates the matter as far as crediting interest earnings on the prepaid accounts to the correct facility, she noted.
So the state is creating a Central Tolling Fund in which “all Good To Go! prepaid deposits will go into a central deposit fund. Then, when a customer uses one of the tolling facilities, the appropriate toll is recorded and that amount is transferred to the correct facility’s account.
“The interest from the prepaid accounts will be distributed on a percentage basis determined by the revenue levels for each fund,” she said.
Inquiring minds can learn more in RCWs 47.56.160 and 47.56.165, she added.
Randy Boss, a critic of the bridge tolls, says he has submitted a public records request for bank records to check on this answer, and says he’ll let us know what he finds when he gets them.

A new day in toll collecting Saturday

The in basket: Saturday is the day that highway tolls in our state take the next big leap forward, when congestion-pricing tolls offer single-occupant vehicles access to the HOV lanes between Renton and Auburn on Highway 167.
Between 5 a.m. and 7 p.m. seven days a week, a car with the same transponder that works to pay one’s toll to cross the Tacoma Narrows Bridge will let a driver alone in his car pay to use the HOV lanes, called HOT lanes in this case. The price will range from 50 cents to $9, depending on how badly the highway is congested. The Web site suggests the typical rush hour price will be around $5. Signs along the freeway will announce the toll at any given moment.
Shields that sell for $3.50 can be affixed to a transponder to keep it from being read in cars with more than one occupant, buses, vans, etc., which are entitled to use the lanes for free. The shields have to be removed to cross the Narrows Bridge, or when a driver is alone and wants to use the HOT lanes. They are velcroed to the inside of the windshield and somehow interrupt the connection between the transponder and overhead reader without actually being between them.
If you are a bridge user and have a transponder, don’t just ignore that e-mail you got this week from the Good to Go! toll program about the HOT lanes. Janet Matkin of that office says they’ll use a “customer-friendly manner” in dealing with drivers who get tolled because they forgot or didn’t understand the shield when they hit Highway 167, but they won’t easily reverse the toll.
Janet says about 5,000 of the shields have been bought. She didn’t know how many of those are mainly Narrows Bridge users.
There is a lot of information on a state Web site as to how it will all work, with the obligatory Frequently Asked Questions section. But, wouldn’t you know it, I had some questions that must not be frequently asked, but that I bet will enter the minds of dozens of drivers every day.
For example, I wonder how long a toll collection is good for. If a person pulls off in Kent for half an hour, will he be charged again to continue on in the HOT lanes, or will the original toll cover him when he returns to the freeway? How about if he returns to go back the other way? What if he forgot to stop at a previous interchange and goes back, then retraces his path in the original direction?
Will a HOT lane trip to go to dinner in the evening require a new toll if the car was accessed tolls on a trip to work and back earlier in the day?
The out basket: Patty Rubstello of the HOT lanes project says most of my theoretical situations will require paying the toll more than once. Certainly a new toll must be paid to change directions and go back in the HOT lane. A toll for travel in one direction will be good for the 20 minutes or so it is expected to take a HOT lane driver the length of the corridor, about a dozen miles, she said. A half-hour stop in Kent would use that up and incur a new toll to return to the HOT lanes.
Unlike on he Narrows Bridge, the driver of a transponder-equipped car will see a white light flash each time he passes beneath a reader, even if the toll is collected only once. That’s more to tell enforcement officers that the toll has been paid than to comfort the driver, Patty said.