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RFID Puts Salt Lake City Drivers in the Fast Lane

Utah's Department of Transportation is using the United States' first passive EPC Gen 2 UHF RFID toll-collection system to ease traffic congestion and collect fees from drivers in the HOV lane.
By Claire Swedberg
Oct 01, 2010After utilizing a prepaid windshield stickers to move more commuters through the express lanes on Interstate Highway 15, the Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) launched an electronic toll-collection system this summer that it says is a first in the United States to use EPC Gen 2 passive ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) RFID tags. The tags transmit their ID numbers to readers located 20 feet or more away from vehicles traveling at a speed of 55 miles per hour or more.

Utah's Express Pass tags contain an EPC Gen 2 RFID inlay that can be switched on or off.

The system went live one month ago, and UDOT has sold 7,200 transponders to date. Since then, the agency reports, traffic has improved through the more congested areas of Salt Lake City. Users are attaching the transponders to their vehicle windshields, and readers mounted above the highway are capturing those tags' ID numbers, enabling UDOT to charge each driver a varying amount of money based on the zone in which he or she drives, as well as the time of day and the amount of traffic present at that time.

The express lane on I-15 (which runs north-south through Salt Lake City) was first provided for high-occupancy vehicles at the time of the 2002 Winter Olympics, says Catherine Cutler, UDOT's express lanes program manager. The agency had created 38 miles of contiguous HOV lane by 2006, and began looking into phasing in a toll program that would help ease traffic during peak hours. At that time, it began selling stickers, priced at $50 per month, that commuters could apply to their windshields and thereby access the express lanes that had previously been dedicated only for high-occupancy vehicles. Those stickers did not employ RFID technology, and instead used text and colored ink to identify a particular car as being entitled to use the HOV lane even if its driver had no other passengers in the vehicle. Approximately 1,600 customers participated in the sticker program. "We had good success with it," Cutler says, "and decided to move forward into an electronic program."

UDOT's Catherine Cutler
Engineering firm PBS&J served as project manager for the electronic toll-collection system, worked with UDOT to identify an automated toll-collection system that utilizes passive UHF RFID technology, says Julie Dillard, PBS&J's consultant project manager for the express lanes project. PBS&J and UDOT picked electronic toll-collection system provider TransCore—which contributed the system's readers, as well as the software that receives and interprets data for tag reads—to set up an infrastructure of highway readers.

The agency wanted inexpensive tags, so a passive UHF tag model was deemed a cheaper alternative to the battery-powered transponders used by many other highway agencies around the world. However, the agency also sought a tag that could be turned on and off, thereby allowing a commuter to disable his or her tag in the event that a passenger is in the vehicle (in which case the driver need not pay a fee when using the express lane). Although TransCore does offer a such a passive UHF tag, based on the ISO 18000-6b standard, , the tag included many other features in addition to switching on and off, making it a costlier choice than a simple tag containing only an on-off switch.


Curt Carrender 2010-10-04 09:16:31 AM
Utah DOT The Utah system looks well designed and it is great to see Gen 2 technology making inroads with transportation. However, this is not the first passive UHF RFID toll collection system in the USA. That honor goes to the Dallas North Tollway and Amtech, (now Transcore), in about 1989.

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