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posted: 1/6/2020 5:30 AM

Machines that don’t give change add $152,000 to Illinois tollway coffers

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  • Drivers use the new automatic toll collection machines at an on-ramp along the westbound Jane Addams Tollway.

    Drivers use the new automatic toll collection machines at an on-ramp along the westbound Jane Addams Tollway.
    Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

  • Drivers who pay cash at some automatic toll collection machines like these along the westbound Jane Addams Tollway paid the Illinois tollway about $152,000 extra in 2019.

    Drivers who pay cash at some automatic toll collection machines like these along the westbound Jane Addams Tollway paid the Illinois tollway about $152,000 extra in 2019.
    Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

 
 

Keeping the change from cash-paying customers is adding up for the Illinois tollway.

The agency pocketed about $152,000 extra in 2019 from people without I-PASS accounts feeding coins or bills into automated machines, according to a Freedom of Information Act request.

The tollway's $76,000 Automated Toll Payment Machines do provide change on 30 mainline toll plazas -- but not on 80 ramp locations.

And that annoys some cash customers, who pay twice as much as I-PASS owners, including one woman who told Daily Herald photographer Mark Welsh "it's a pain" recently.

Asked why they can't dispense equally to all customers, tollway officials said the machines replacing old-school buckets are a huge improvement in that they accept credit cards, which results in fewer overpayments.

In 2017, the tollway's coin buckets collected over $400,000 more than expected in cash transactions, officials said.

"With nearly a billion transactions a year, our customers now have more ways than ever to pay their exact toll amount, and they're taking advantage as seen by the continual decline in cash revenue," spokesman Dan Rozek said. Options include credit, online and, as of recently, Google, Android and Apple Pay.

The tollway has spent $16 million so far of a $33 million contract with BIT Mobility Solutions for the Automated Toll Payment Machines.

Thirty machines installed at mainline plazas are in locations with low traffic and do provide change.

Eighty machines that don't give change have replaced cash baskets, which also kept overpayments, Rozek said.

A FOIA response indicated of "3,220,825 total transactions in 2019 at ramp ATPMs, the tollway has received $152,446 above expected revenue."

That reflects total revenue above expected revenue collected by tollway ATPMs, including payments in coins and bills and a small amount of credit transactions, officials said.

Some toll collectors told the Daily Herald that the machines not only glom onto change, they don't work 100% of the time.

"It's not fair to the patrons who prefer not to have an I-PASS," said longtime toll collector Tim Henert, who works in the Dixon area.

Tollway officials said the "ATPMs operate reliably and function well in real-world conditions."

"Even at the cash machines, a ticket can be obtained to pay online," Rozek said. "No customer is required to overpay to use our system. Overall this has been a win for customers and the Tollway in reduced costs, added efficiency and multiple ways to pay."

You should know

There's still time to opine on what Metra's future railcars should look like. The commuter railroad is conducting an online survey of rider preferences, from headrests to USB chargers to cup holders.

The railroad is seeking proposals from manufacturers to build up to 200 new railcars and could option 300 more with funding from a new state capital program. Metra has budgeted about $1.2 billion over five years to replace its iconic double-decker gallery cars that have lasted for 70 years. To participate, go to metrarail.com.

Your voice

Several readers weren't thrilled with new fees and taxes in 2020 to fund a $45 billion capital plan.

"Gas is cheaper, roads are better and there are no toll roads in Wisconsin," reader Stan Zimmerman of Des Plaines said.

Meanwhile, Dan Kotara of Des Plaines writes, "yes the roads need to be fixed but accountability for our tax dollars also needs to be fixed. The buildup to our new 19 cents per gallon increase was sold over and over and over again using the logic of 'we have not had a tax increase in over 20 years and it's to fix the dangerous highways that put our children and senior citizens at risk of injury or even death.'"

Got an opinion or transportation question? Drop an email to mpyke@dailyherald.com.

One more thing

Planning to use the Chicago Transit Authority? You can add unlimited one-day, three-day or weeklong ride passes to your Ventra card using the Ventra app at rail stations, online or at local retailers such as Jewel/Osco. To learn more, go to ventrachicago.com.