Big govt snoop: Toll tags in three states now interoperable

Link to article here.

It’s only a matter of time before big government colludes to bring us a national toll tag system that tracks citizens everywhere we go and can conveniently charge us for every mile we drive. The fact that this reporter nor the people interviewed in the story see this as a threat to privacy and our pocketbooks is downright scary. There’s a whole lot more to this than convenience….

Improved system makes cross-county and cross-country travel easier
Florida Weekly
December 24, 2014

The word interoperability is tough to spell and pronounce and isn’t one used in everyday communication.

Unless, that is, one works in a bridge or highway tollbooth.

Yet, interoperability might affect anybody who drives a car or truck over bridges or toll roads anywhere in Florida and a couple of nearby states. Eventually, perhaps in every state.

Interoperability means that Floridians who use SunPass — an automated system for paying road tolls — now can use the system to pay tolls in Georgia and North Carolina.

The target date to make interoperability national is 2016, according to Susan Hopwood, Lee County’s toll facilities operations manager. Making that happen may be more challenging than spelling interoperability.

“Getting the agencies together to work out the details and who’s going to do the clearinghouse, who’s going to do all those types of things and be the hub of processing the various transactions for the agencies,” Ms. Hopwood said in her office in a building a few steps away from the Midpoint Memorial Bridge toll plaza in Cape Coral.

The convenience of SunPass, with more than 10 million transponders sold around the state, is well known to people such as Dana Williams, who used to teach at the Canterbury School in Fort Myers but now lives in Tampa and plays the French horn for the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra.

“I know I-75 very well,” Ms. Williams said.

She often commutes from her Tampa home to Punta Gorda for concerts via the Sunshine Skyway. Instead of stopping at the tollbooth to pay the $1.25 toll in change or bills she breezes through the automated lane where the transponder on her car automatically deducts the toll from an account she set up.

“You’re not scrounging for change,” Ms. Williams said.

The news that SunPass could someday work in every state was music to Ms. Williams’ ears.

“That would be awesome,” she said.

Joe Hammer owns and operates Naples Elite Transportation, a limousine service with five vehicles. He frequently ferries customers to Fort Lauderdale and Miami and has SunPass transponders for his fleet.

The convenience is a plus.

“I don’t have to give my drivers cash for every trip,” Mr. Hammer said.

Interoperability probably won’t affect his business for a couple of reasons. Naples is a long drive from the Georgia state line and of more importance, Mr. Hammer explained, is that he would need “special insurance” to operate his service in another state.

Still, he uses SunPass here in Florida for a couple of reasons.

“Fifty percent customer service,” Mr. Hammer said. “Fifty percent it’s easier to handle than cash.”

Fort Myers resident Lynn Schneider used to live in Cape Coral and commuted to work in Fort Myers. Her husband, Craig, is a lumbar salesman for Suncoast Contractors Supply Inc., who drives all over Southwest Florida. The Schneiders have his and hers SunPass transponders for their vehicles.

Like most people she didn’t know the word interoperability until recently and didn’t know that the goal is to make it a national concept.

“That would be great,” Ms. Schneider said.

It’s actually a federal law passed in 2012 and called Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act. Evidently, the bill made such sense that nearly everybody in Washington liked it. Both Senate and House approved the bill and President Barack Obama signed it into law.

Florida’s Turnpike Enterprise is now working with counterparts in South Carolina and Alabama to expand interoperability into those states.

In Lee County, for example, transponders had to be changed by Nov. 1 to be compatible with the system operated by the Florida Turnpike Association.

Toll roads in Florida and North Carolina became interoperable in July of 2013. Georgia joined the interoperability club in the fall.