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Archive for Thursday, September 24, 2009

Drivers’ use of K-TAGs rises as toll increase approaches

September 24, 2009

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Retail sales

Sales of K-TAG starter kits from Sept. 1 to 15 through selected retail locations, as reported by the Kansas Turnpike Authority:

• Dillons: 1,080, including 143 at four stores in Lawrence; 274 at stores in Topeka; and five at a store in Leavenworth.

• Walgreens: 1,043, the total for 50 participating stores in Kansas (the turnpike would not disclose details for specific locations).

• AAA: 222, including 37 at an office in Lawrence and 109 at an office in Topeka, the most for any single retail location in Kansas.

Each starter kit costs $15, and includes $10 in toll credits. Retailers keep $1.50 from each sale.

While an impending increase in tolls for cash-paying customers on the Kansas Turnpike is driving dozens to sign up for using an electronic-payment system, the technology upgrade won’t include partnerships with toll roads across state lines.

Drivers increasingly are turning to the turnpike’s K-TAG system to pay monthly bills, instead of having to make cash payments during stops after each trip. During the first two weeks of this month, drivers bought more than 2,300 new tags at AAA, Dillons and Walgreens locations — adding to the 42.5 percent of turnpike travelers who already had been reliant on K-TAG to calculate their bills.

Drivers now have even more incentive to sign up for the electronic payment system, as tolls for drivers paying cash will see their tolls rise by an average of 15 percent beginning Oct. 1. Tolls for commercial customers will go up by an average of 5 percent.

K-TAG customers won’t see their bills go up at all, even as new K-TAG subscribers ending up paying as little as $5 for new electronic readers that cost the Kansas Turnpike Authority $12.50 each.

Consider it economic encouragement.

“We’re selling it at a loss,” said Lisa Callahan, a turnpike spokeswoman. “We’re willing to lose a little bit of money (on the K-TAG reader) to move cash customers into the K-TAG lane.”

That’s because K-TAG is more efficient and less expensive for the turnpike authority to operate, as compared to cash transactions. Drivers move through faster. Their transactions are handled by fewer personnel.

But the K-TAG efficiency looks to be limited to the turnpike itself, at least for now.

While other states are working on programs to coordinate payment systems — so that their customers could use their readers to calculate and pay tolls on other toll roads and turnpikes — officials at the Kansas Turnpike Authority are skeptical of such coordination making sense in the Sunflower state.

At least for now.

“We’re part of a group of toll businesses that have looked and are looking at issues of interoperability,” said Michael Johnston, the turnpike’s president and CEO. “That’s well down the road. That’s not imminent. Eventually we’ll get there, but there are a lot of details. The devil’s always in the details.

“We could do it tomorrow. Technology is not the impediment. The costs really are.”

New programming, back-office adjustments and related changes might cost $300,000 a year but would not be expected to “generate one additional dollar of revenue,” he said.

“That,” Johnston said, “wouldn’t be a wise business decision.”

Instead, the turnpike authority will rely on shifting as many turnpike customers onto K-TAG to increase the system’s efficiency, he said. K-TAG launched in 1995, and its ability to move drivers through toll plazas with increased speed — anywhere from three to five times faster than a cash-paying customer — has enabled the authority to avoid some major capital costs.

“If we didn’t have the electronic system today, we would have had to spend millions of dollars on lanes and facilities to handle customers,” he said. “It’s an opportunity to be more efficient.”

Comments

SettingTheRecordStraight 5 years, 2 months ago

What a scam.

Drivers going 70+ mph on what should be an interstate - not a tollway - are forced to come to a complete stop, usually wait in line, perform a financial transaction, and then rejoin traffic.

All this because our state government demands one more means of taxing its citizens.

RogueThrill 5 years, 2 months ago

Well, I suppose the government could close the road and see what happens. The whole Eisenhower Highway System is about as socialist as it gets, we should close it all down.

lubyloo 5 years, 2 months ago

What I don't understand is why Kansas uses toll workers to stand there and take your money or, worse yet, hand you the toll ticket. What a waste of money. We just should use machines like other states have.

KSChick1 5 years, 2 months ago

2 things in response to above posts: paying the toll isn't a tax and if you think it is, you deserve to have your toll doubled. It goes for road maintenance and other related things. Most of the time now, you pull up and your ticket pops out with no worker there. Saved half the employee budget by only having workers to take your toll fee. If you don't like having to stop, buy a ktag. I just did and I have been sailing along through the booths like nobody's business. Gotta pay, might as well make it as easy as you can!

SettingTheRecordStraight 5 years, 2 months ago

KSChick1,

"Gotta pay." That sort of mindset will keep you in bondage to the whims of government control for the rest of your life.

Also, the toll is nothing but a bait and switch. Here's how it works. The company that owns the tollway takes our money and pays for tollway upkeep while the state collects the federal highway dollars that would have gone toward upkeep of that stretch of highway (known as the tollway). The state then spends those tens of million$ in additional taxpayer dollars on everything but roadways. Yeah, the toll is a great deal - for government.

average 5 years, 2 months ago

Finally have a tag, between the incoming slight discount, and the fact that they've stopped charging a monthly/annual fee.

Another small benefit worth mentioning is that you get a discounted rate with a K-TAG if you get on or off at K-7/Bonner. I think it's $1 from Lawrence instead of $1.45 going up to $1.65 next month.

While the current Eastern Terminal is at mile 217, it's called "plaza 236", and you're paying as if you were using the rest of the road the turnpike authority maintains (all the way to 18th St/69 hwy in KCK). Unfortunately, you can't get a discount for getting on or off at I-435.

hail2oldku 5 years, 2 months ago

"average (Anonymous) says… Another small benefit worth mentioning is that you get a discounted rate with a K-TAG if you get on or off at K-7/Bonner. I think it's $1 from Lawrence instead of $1.45 going up to $1.65 next month.

While the current Eastern Terminal is at mile 217, it's called “plaza 236”, and you're paying as if you were using the rest of the road the turnpike authority maintains (all the way to 18th St/69 hwy in KCK). Unfortunately, you can't get a discount for getting on or off at I-435."

How do they tell if you are getting on/off at Bonner or going all the way through to th18th Street? They took the booths off of Bonner when they built the new eastern terminal.

average 5 years, 2 months ago

If you're using a K-TAG, you go under an unmarked K-TAG reader at the top of the Bonner exit.

average 5 years, 2 months ago

For those of us who actually like Lawrence with a functioning downtown and other business districts, rather than miles of Cracker Barrels and truck stops smeared along the frontage road (i.e., Columbia), the Turnpike has been a blessing.

SettingTheRecordStraight 5 years, 2 months ago

average,

So it's a government-imposed barrier to free markets.

bearclaws 5 years, 2 months ago

On a road trip to Mississippi a couple of years ago, my little four door sedan bottomed out on in unavoidable pothole while driving on I-55 outside of Sikeston, MO. That stretch of highway resembled a reverse mogul run. Consequently, my car was never quite the same again. Even after extensive repair, it still shimmied at higher speeds.

I'll gladly pay a buck or two to confidently drive down a well maintained freeway. The complainers can always use 24-40 or K-10. In fact, I recommend it.

SettingTheRecordStraight 5 years, 2 months ago

And the tollway's contract with McDonalds and Conoco means no other businesses can compete for our food or fuel dollars. Their little monopoly called a travel island means we get charged far more than market prices.

Must be nice to have an exclusive contract with the government and no competition whatsoever for miles around.

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