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Washington State's Toll Collector Trials RFID-enabled Phone Tag, App

GeoToll's new tag attaches to a commuter's NFC-enabled phone and uses the phone's HF NFC signal to power that tag's UHF transponder.
By Claire Swedberg
Sep 23, 2013

The Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) is testing hybrid RFID technology that enables commuters to make bridge or high-occupancy toll (HOT) lane payments via their mobile phone. The technology, provided by Florida startup GeoToll, consists of a passive ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) and high-frequency (HF) RFID tag that receives a 13.56 MHz HF transmission, compliant with the Near Field Communication (NFC) standards, to send an 815 MHz UHF signal, compliant with the ISO 18000-6C (EPC Gen 2) standard, to a reader posted in the area. The technology is currently installed at two Seattle area bridges, as well as at multiple locations on a highway HOT lane, says Tyler Patterson, a toll operations engineer at the Washington State Department of Transportation. WSDOT interns, meanwhile, are driving through those read points with tagged mobile phones mounted on their dashboards, in order to test how well that data is collected and deducted from a preset account.

If the solution proves effective, Patterson says, the agency envisions being able to provide the technology as an alternative to the existing electronic payment system in which a passive UHF "Good To Go!" RFID transponder, compliant with the ISO 18000-6C standard, is attached to a windshield, front license plate or motorcycle headlamp. HOT lane users also submit payments via the RFID tag; if carpooling, however, they must cover the tag with a shield to prevent being charged.

GeoToll's Timothy McGuckin
Late last month, WSDOT launched the GeoToll solution using the agency's existing reader infrastructure at its State Road 520 floating bridge and the Tacoma-Narrows Bridge, with four readers installed at each location, one at each lane. Altogether, the tags are being interrogated at 10 locations along State Route 167's HOT lanes, where commuters can make payments if they use the lanes when carrying only a single occupant.

ISO 18000-6C is one of several standards in use by tolling agencies throughout the United States. Timothy McGuckin, GeoToll's CEO, joined the company after working for the OmniAir Consortium, a not-for-profit group he founded that focuses on supporting the use of ISO 18000-6C as a single RFID-based standard for toll-collection systems within the United States (see Efforts to Aid Adoption of ISO 18000-6C RFID for Toll Collection Move Forward). If U.S. toll operators utilized a single standard, tags could interoperate in different states across the country.

GeoToll's goal was to create a solution that would allow the transmission of an ID number linked to a specific driver's information—including the account from which the toll funds could be deducted—without requiring that the driver purchase or acquire an RFID sticker or large plastic tag and attach it to the vehicle. Such tags are expensive for the agencies, McGuckin says, in terms of costs related to materials, distribution, battery replacement (for toll systems employing active RFID tags) and disposal. Using a driver's mobile phone, he explains, reduces the hardware required for that driver to merely a small adhesive sticker, attached to the back of the handset.

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