The Puerto Rico Highway and Transportation Authority (PRHTA) working with TransCore, its technology and maintenance provider since AutoExpreso was introduced seven years ago, launches the conversion of two of its busiest and most essential roadways to all electronic toll collection.
The PR-52 north to south arterial highway linking San Juan with Ponce, which includes five toll plazas, and PR-53 linking the south and east coasts of the island, with three toll plazas, were part of phase I of the project and were the first to transition. Previously rush hour wait times at high traffic toll plazas ranged from 15 to 20 minutes or more. Now motorists can pass through those same toll plazas at highway speeds, reducing some commute times by up to 45 minutes. Phase I included 54 lanes that are a combination of new ETC lanes and the conversion of the remaining cash toll collection lanes on four of the six island toll highways.
Puerto Rico's tolled expressways cover nearly 200 miles with 22 toll plazas and 175 lanes. After the original launch in 2004, Puerto Rico's AutoExpreso system exceeded expectations at a rapid pace. In less than three years PRHTA surpassed its long-range five-year usage goal. Now the $26 million conversion project to all electronic is expected to be completed across all roadways by next summer. With the initial transition of PR-52 and PR-53, electronic toll transactions, which were 42 percent of all transactions prior to the beginning of the project, have already jumped to more than 70 percent.
"After two decades of global deployment of electronic toll collection systems and seven years in use locally in Puerto Rico, we've reached a juncture when progress will take a major step forward. That advancement is the conversion of existing toll roads to all electronic," explained Ruben Hernandez-Gregorat, Secretary of Transportation for the PRHTA.
"To accomplish this in Puerto Rico with more than 45 percent of our population without bank accounts has been truly remarkable. Through close collaboration with TransCore we were able to reach a high level of motorist participation. This successful conversion is a perfect example of using innovation and technical ingenuity to adapt an ETC system to cultural nuances, such as cash as the dominant form of payment. In fact, on our toll roads, more than 55 percent of patrons use cash to replenish their prepaid accounts."
PRHTA's goal to increase throughput of existing roadways while also increasing motorist convenience by removing choke points, improving air quality by reducing carbon emissions from backed up idling cars, and eliminating costly cash leakage associated with cash collection systems would not be possible unless PRHTA could convert all patrons to electronic payment. The move will also reduce operational costs by $2 to $3 million annually and is expected to recover another estimated $10 million to $20 million in toll-revenue "leakage."
To make it simple and convenient for drivers to participate in AutoExpreso, the PRHTA introduced a "first of a kind" in-lane replenishment (ILR) lane in each toll plaza. These dedicated ILR lanes allow a motorist to purchase a tag or replenish an account right from the convenience of their car using cash, debit or credit cards, in a matter of seconds. More than 60 percent of tag sales and account replenishments now occur in ILR lanes.
"PRHTA's original adoption presented challenges to accommodate such a sizeable cash-based population. To see Puerto Rico transition to all electronic tolling this smoothly and quickly is the best expression of confidence in TransCore's ability to solve complex transportation problems with innovative approaches," said John Simler, president of TransCore's Intelligent Transportation Systems.
Prior to the introduction of the in-lane replenishment system, when AutoExpreso was originally developed, TransCore designed a reverse-debit transaction to accommodate those without bank accounts. When a motorist opens an AutoExpreso account the motorist is issued both a windshield-mounted RFID transponder and an AutoExpreso magnetic stripe card that corresponds to the tag. A patron can visit one of more than 150 participating gas stations and retailers, swipe the magnetic stripe card through a point-of-sale machine and hand $20 to the cashier to be applied directly to open or replenish the ETC account. The transaction takes just a few seconds and the motorist can immediately enter the toll road and pass through a highway-speed toll point. Motorists can then elect to register the account by phone, on the web or in person at the Customer Service Center.
TransCore's 75-year heritage supporting the global transportation industry spans the implementation of the United States' first electronic toll collection system to the development of RFID technology at Los Alamos National Labs. With installations in 46 countries, more than 100 patents and pioneering applications of RFID, GPS and satellite communications technologies, TransCore's technical expertise is unparalleled in the markets it serves. In 2011, Engineering News-Record (ENR) ranked TransCore No. 151 out of the Top 500 Design Firms.
TransCore's extensive global experience with tolling systems includes more than 7,400 installed electronic toll collection lanes worldwide and 27 customer service centers. TransCore offers an extensive suite of enterprise software applications, business process outsourcing, system integration, customer care and maintenance services to provide complete solutions, configurable to customers' requirements.
TransCore operates as a wholly owned subsidiary of Roper Industries, a Standard & Poor's S&P 500 index company. For more information, visit www.transcore.com.