- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 11, 2001

RICHMOND (AP) Despite no advertisements, Smart Tags account for more than 70 percent of all toll transactions in the state, transportation officials said.
The tags themselves are the best advertisement for the automatic toll-collection program, the Virginia Department of Transportation Department said.
"We don't make any profit on Smart Tag," said Miriam Daughtry, VDOT's assistant controller and Smart Tag manager. "We operate at cost, and every expense we incur, whether statements or envelopes, is charged back to the toll facilities or the patrons."
Here's how it works: Small radio transponders on vehicle windshields allow motorist to drive through toll lanes without stopping. As vehicles with transponders move past the toll gate, the system reads the individually coded Smart Tags and deducts the toll from customers' prepaid accounts.
Electronic toll collection can accommodate up to 1,400 cars an hour more than double the capacity of a traditional toll lane.
More than 330,000 Smart Tag transponders have been issued, and they bring in about $35 million in tolls a year.
Officials are working on ways to make Smart Tag easier for users.
For now, customers receive a statement when they need to put more money into their account. Assistant Transportation Commissioner Tom Boyd said he's trying to include an envelope to mail the payment.
Virginia's Department of Motor Vehicles has 74 customer service centers across the state, but none sells Smart Tag.
But some things will stay the same.
VDOT won't use traditional advertising. Instead, it will continue distributing brochures.
"We have found that the biggest bang for our buck was having toll collectors hand out brochures," Miss Daughtry said. "About once every three months they give out brochures. We can usually see an immediate jump in enrollments."
Richmond has more toll roads and bridges than any other part of Virginia: the Powhite Parkway, the Chippenham Parkway, the Downtown Expressway and the Boulevard Bridge. The Pocahontas Parkway will open in 2002. About 34 percent of the tolls in Richmond were paid by Smart Tag last month.
In Northern Virginia, however, about 80 percent of tolls on the Dulles Toll Road, the Dulles Greenway and the Coleman Bridge were paid by Smart Tag.
Other state toll facilities are the George P. Coleman Bridge over the York River and the Chesapeake Expressway in Hampton Roads.


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