Tag Archives: toll

Obscured license plates and tolls

The in basket: Larry Blain writes, “A few days ago I was once again behind a vehicle with a bike rack completely obscuring the rear license plate. This set me thinking.

“Whether that is legal or not (I suspect not), what is the percentage of the vehicles crossing the Narrows Bridge that the automated license reading equipment are unable to identify?  I can see this happening from hidden license plates such as I observed, paper license plates on darkly tinted windows on newly licensed vehicles, and out-of-state vehicles.

“Since the same problem also would apply to tolled HOV lanes and the SR-520 Bridge, the amount of lost revenue probably is significant.

“Is any effort made to identify vehicles with unrecognizable license plates that are repeatedly observed by the cameras?

“I hope the state DOT has some statistics on this.”

The in basket: The state’s toll division answers, “The toll equipment photographs the front and rear license plates, so if the rear one is obscured, we can still read the front one. Per state law, front plates are required for all vehicles issued a front plate.

“Our toll equipment takes photos only of the area of the vehicle around the license plate, because it is illegal to photograph the inside of vehicles.

“We have agreements with the other states that they will provide us the vehicle owner’s registered address so we can send a bill to that address.

“If the license plate recognition software is unable to automatically read the license plate, then the plates will be manually reviewed by customer service. Unreadable license plates account for only about 1.5 percent of the total trips on our toll facilities.”


Larry Blain.

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.

Avoiding holiday night waits at Tacoma Narrows toll booths

The in basket: I ran info old friend Don Bader at the hardware store a while ago and he wanted me to know about getting charged an extra 25 cents to go through the toll booth at the Tacoma Narrows when he was traveling with a group of antique car owners and joined them in paying their toll that way, rather than getting separated.
I was happy to have an explanation for him on the spot, recalling what I’d been told (twice) by the toll office, that the state didn’t pay to put transponder readers in the toll plaza when they got a different kind of transponder, since so few vehicles with transponders choose to use the toll booths. What he paid was the toll for having his license read, which is 25 cents more if you have a Good to Go! account.
I passed along Good to Go! staffer Annie Johnson’s advice the last time a reader brought this up, that temporarily adding the license numbers of his traveling companions to his Good to Go! account will allow them to avoid having to stop at the toll booths and then rejoin Don and others with transponders beyond the booth.
Gee, said Don, maybe he’ll add the license numbers of his daughters (one of whom I coached as a 6-year-old soccer player years ago) to his account so they won’t have to suffer the lengthy wait to pay their toll at the booths on Thanksgiving and other holidays when hundreds of drivers without transponders try to get home late in the day.
I asked Annie if that’s a good idea, what with holiday season looming.
The out basket: It’s one way to save the long wait, she replied.
“A Good To Go! account holder can have up to six vehicles
(any combination of Pay By Plate and passes) on their account at one time.
“Customers can add or subtract license
plates to their account either online, by phone (866-936-8246) or in-person at a Customer Service Center.  They can cross the bridge any time after adding the plate to (the) account. There is no need to wait.”
Even if Don forgets, a driver without a transponder or plate in the Good to Go! date base can avoid the delay, via “the Pay By Mail option where the
registered owner receives a bill in the mail if they don’t want to stop
at the toll booths,” Annie said. But it’s $6, not the $4.25 had the plate been added to an account.
That would be an attractive option with anyone you suspect might charge a bunch of crossings to your account without your permission before you remember to delete them from your account.

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.”

HOT lane components on SR167 create curiosity


The in basket: William Smith of Allyn writes, “I recently traveled the toll section of Highway 167 and noticed an overhead sensor over the non-toll lane as well as over the HOT lane. For what purpose is the sensor over the non-toll lane?  

“Also,” he said, “I assume that crossing over the double white lines in this area is subject to the $450 fine, similar to crossing the gore lines at the highway 3-304 connection south of Bremerton.”

The out basket: The white lines separating the HOT lanes from the all-purpose lanes are among those it is illegal to cross, as the signs along that highway make clear. The State Patrol calls it failure to obey a regulatory sign, which carries the same $124 fine as misusing the HOT lane itself. The fine for crossing the white gore lines can be $411, not $450.

The intermittent dotted lines that interrupt the solid white line on Highway 167 are where it’s legal to cross back and forth. 

The overhead sensors in the lane adjacent to the HOT lane helps confirm the lane being used by any given vehicle, says Patricia Michaud of the state’s toll division.

“The sensors … help confirm whether a car is in the HOT lane or not,” she said. “It helps ensure the system is properly identifying which cars are and aren’t in the HOT lane. 

“For example,” she said, “without the second sensor verification,  a vehicle leaving the HOT lane or straddling between the toll and non-toll lane could be mistakenly identified as in the HOT lane.”

For those unfamiliar with the idea of HOT lanes and/or Highway 167, a freeway between Renton and Auburn east of the Sound, they are HOV lanes that single occupant vehicles can pay to use.

The toll ranges from 50 cents to $9. The toll “algorithm,” as the state calls it, recently was changed to make it less common for the toll to rise to $9.

“Tolls reached $9 too often in summer 2008 so we adjusted the algorithm in October 2008 ,” Patricia said. “We haven’t made any further changes to it and it’s hard to predict the rates.” 

In the wee hours, when traffic is light, anyone can use the HOT lanes at no charge. The toll mounts with the level of congestion to limit use of the HOT lanes and keep traffic in them moving at around 50 mph. After the toll has hit $9, the lanes become available only to vehicles with two or more occupants, and motorcycles, each of which can use the HOT lanes at all times without paying anything.

Tolls are collected via the same Good to Go! transponders that collect tolls at the Tacoma Narrows Bridge. They can be shielded to avoid a toll when one has one or more passengers and can use the HOV lanes at no charge. 

Details and a lot more information can be found online. The address is way too long and complicated to reproduce here. Just use Google or one of its competitors and ask for “SR167 HOT lanes.”

“The HOT lanes are helping reduce congestion, which is the purpose of this project,” Patricia said. “Speeds have increased in the general purpose lanes by 20 percent and the HOT lanes by 5 percent during the peak-period in the peak direction.”

Bridge toll statements hit a snag

The in basket: When the Good to Go! toll office for the Tacoma Narrows Bridge sent me my monthly notice that  my account was ready for viewing on April 1, I clicked on the link provided and it wouldn’t open. It said the server couldn’t be found.

It was the same the next day and 10 days later. I asked if the Conficker worm that got a lot of publicity around April 1 had disabled their Web site. 

The out basket: No, says Janet Matkin of the toll office. “An incorrect link was sent out with Good To Go! statements on April 1. To view your account, please go to the Good To Go! website at: http://www.wsdot.wa.gov/goodtogo/ and click on “Access My Account” in the left-hand navigation bar.”

If you also have been unable to check your statement this month, you can see it that way.

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