How Will Toll Road Changes Affect Orange County Residents?

November 14, 2019 Updated: November 14, 2019

Orange County residents now have the opportunity to give feedback on proposed changes to local toll roads and other transportation needs, including potentially adding new toll lanes on the 5 Freeway, as other major changes come to the local transportation system.

The Transportation Corridor Agencies and Caltrans released the proposal (pdf) on Nov. 8 regarding a number of local traffic relief effort options. The Orange County Transportation Authority has already voiced concerns about converting carpool lanes on the 5 Freeway to toll lanes after spending millions of sales tax revenue on 5 Freeway carpool lanes, causing residents to pay twice for the upgrades, according to the OC Register.

“It would accurately be an accusation of a bait-and-switch,” La Habra Councilman and OCTA board chair Tim Shaw said, reported the news outlet. “That’s going to provoke a very strong response out of me that we can’t do that.”

Orange County’s toll roads also recently switched out their hard case transponders for new bandage-sized FasTrack stickers for users, marking the biggest shift for users of the toll road system since pay booths were phased out in 2014.

FasTrack account holders are being sent the stickers in the mail to replace the transponders, with technology that’s read by toll road sensors in the same way as the hard case boxes.

Transportation Corridor Agencies (TCA) Chief External Affairs Officer Kit Cole said the new technology would be cheaper for the toll roads’ 1.5 million customers and would be easier to use.

“The tricky part about those hard case transponders is they’re expensive,” Cole told The Epoch Times. “The sticker transponder allows us to do two things: They are so much less expensive, so we save money and pass those savings along to the customer.”

Cole said customers’ account maintenance fee will be waived due to the savings. She also explained that because of their size relative to the hard case, the stickers were less cumbersome for the customer.

“Because its adhesive bandage size in thickness, it’s less obtrusive to have on your windshield,” she added.

Cole said the components of the sticker, known as “protocols,” are now in compliance with new requirements set by the state that the technology be interoperable with toll roads nationwide. Currently, the hard case transponders are only compatible within the state.

“The challenge has been if you wanted to drive from California to Atlanta, you might go through some toll roads in states like Colorado, Texas and Florida. The federal government wants the transponder in California to be interoperable with other states’ toll roads.”

Hard case transponders will still be operable until 2024. However, in an effort to phase them out, the TCA, starting on July 1, began charging $20 for those wanting to replace a hard case transponder. These can be purchased at the main Irvine location.

Cole confirmed that the sticker transponders will not a have a feature for acquiring account credit for carpool lanes, which the current hard case transponders have. For that reason, she said that users should hold onto their hard case transponders to continue having access to the carpool discounts.

“We encourage folks that have a switchable transponder to put it in your glove box and keep it. You want to be able to drive the 110 and the 10 and get the discount if you do have a carpool.”

Those that have both the new sticker transponder and the old hard case transponder will not be double charged, confirmed Cole.

“The gantry is only going to read it once, so you’re not going to get multiple charges. We have a protocol in the back office where it is going to resolve that it read your hard case and sticker, and only charge you once,” she said.

One major difference with the new sticker transponders is that unlike the hard cases, stickers cannot be moved from car to car, as it would break. This makes it so each car that an accountholder owns to have a sticker transponder in it.

Cole also confirmed that account holders would still have the ability to drive on the toll roads without a transponder of any kind and have the gantry read their license plate associated with the account.

Also in July, the TCA implemented a new discount policy that will be included with the new sticker transponders.

“FastTrack accounts that are prepaid, when they drive our toll roads and spend $40 in tolls in one statement period get $1 off every toll on our roads in the following statement period,” TCA spokesperson Lori Olin explained to The Epoch Times.

TCA will also be working with all the major rental car companies in the state to ensure that the stickers are installed in the cars.

“We sent out tens of thousands [of sticker transponders] to all of the major rental car agencies. They have them and are working on getting them in the vehicles for their drivers,” said Olin.

The rental car companies that cooperate with the TCA include: Alamo, Avis, Budget, Dollar, Enterprise, Fox, Hertz, National, Payless, Sixt and Thrifty.

The Orange County Transportation Authority confirmed that they will be mailing out sticker transponders in late December or January 2020 to customers, after completing a technology upgrade to their readers on the 91 Express Lanes, coinciding with the statewide goal of having the stickers available by January 2020.

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