FasTrak is the electronic toll collection (ETC) system used in the state of California in the United States. The system is used statewide on all of the toll roads, toll bridges, and high occupancy/toll and express toll lanes along the California Freeway and Expressway System.
As with other ETC systems, FasTrak is designed to eliminate the need for cars to stop to pay at toll booths, thus decreasing the traffic congestion traditionally associated with toll roads. Its use of technology to improve transit is in line with the U.S. Department of Transportation's Intelligent Transportation Systems initiative.
Under California's government structure, the state's toll facilities are operated by various agencies and special-purpose districts. Concerned that they would each introduce different, incompatible ETC systems, the California State Legislature passed Senate Bill 1523 in 1990, requiring the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) to develop a statewide specification that all these toll agencies were required to meet. Three years later, Transportation Corridor Agencies opened the Foothill Toll Road in Orange County, implementing the statewide ETC system for the first time, and naming it FasTrak. The state continues to delegate the responsibility of selling and maintaining FasTrak accounts to the different toll agencies.
Operations and functionality
Under California law, the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) was given the mandate to develop and maintain an open, statewide ETC specification. This specification is known in the transportation industry as "Title 21" after it was added to Title 21 of the California Code of Regulations. FasTrak uses RFID technology near 915 MHz to read data from a transponder placed in a vehicle (usually mounted by Velcro strips to the windshield) moving at speeds that may exceed 70 mph (112 km/h). A teardown analysis of the transponder and analysis of its security issues was published at Black Hat 2008 The RFID transponder in each vehicle is associated with a prepaid debit account; each time the vehicle passes underneath a toll collection site, the account is debited to pay the toll. If a vehicle does not have a transponder, or if a transponder is not detected at the Toll Plaza, a Violation Enforcement System triggers cameras that take photos of the vehicle and its license plate for processing.
If the license plate is registered as belonging to a FasTrak user, the account is debited only the toll charge, and no penalty is charged; otherwise, a violation notice is sent to the registered owner of the vehicle. In the case of drivers whose vehicles are company owned or leased, as long as the vehicle license plates are not properly listed, the violations will be sent to the registered owner and not the employee driver.
It is for this reason that the License Agreement mandates that customers list all vehicles, including motorcycles, motor homes, and trailers of all types on their accounts so that when transponders fail to read the toll can be debited based upon the vehicle's license plate. A license plate may be listed only on one account. A toll collected based on a license plate is called an Image Toll and can be identified on the customer statement by noticing the license plate number listed instead of the transponder number. FasTrak customers can and will receive Toll Violation notices if they fail to correctly list license plates on their account. Conversely, a license plate should be removed from an account after a change in ownership. Failure to do so may result in paying for another driver's tolls via the Image Toll process.
Each toll agency in Southern California has their own billing and customer service center. For convenience, all toll facilities in the San Francisco Bay Area instead share the same billing and customer service center. Although anybody with a FasTrak transponder can use it to pay tolls on any California toll facility using the system, people are encouraged to open their accounts with the local agency in charge of the one that they use the most. Each center establishes its own fee and discount structures, and people may be charged a fee if the majority of their FasTrak use occurs elsewhere.
Currently, FasTrak transponders are not compatible with E-ZPass and other ETC systems used in other states.
As the first ETC system in North America was installed on the Dallas North Tollway in 1989, many California toll facilities started to express interest in the technology. Because the state's toll roads and bridges are run by different government agencies, there was the possibility that a number of different incompatible ETC systems would be instituted throughout California. Therefore, the California State Legislature passed Senate Bill 1523 in 1990, requiring Caltrans, the state's Department of Transportation, to develop a state wide technical specification which all systems would be required to meet. As a result, California was the first in the nation to require all of its toll bridges and roads to use the same ETC system. This technical specification was later codified in Title 21, Division 2, Chapter 16 of the California Code of Regulations.
When the Foothill Toll Road in Orange County opened in 1993, it became the first California toll facility to use an ETC system. Transportation Corridor Agencies (TCA), the local agency in charge of the toll road, named the system "FasTrak". To this day, TCA still holds the trademark to the "FasTrak" name and logo.
When TCA first introduced the FasTrak system, the electronic transponders consisted of a gadget about the size of a Walkman in which a smart card was inserted. However, the smart cards were unpopular with both tollway officials and users because they cost more, offered little advantage, and customers were charged with a $10 annual fee (which has since been discontinued). By the time the 91 Express Lanes opened in 1995, the FasTrak transponders were redesigned to be the size of a coaster that could be mounted by Velcro strips to the windshield.
TCA later deployed the FasTrak system to the two other toll roads they administer as soon as they opened: the San Joaquin Hills Toll Road in 1996 and the Eastern Toll Road in 1998. Also in 1998, the system was then deployed on the high-occupancy toll (HOT) lanes along Interstate 15 in San Diego.
However, the system had to be modified so that it could be used on California's toll bridges. After a test run on the Carquinez Bridge in 1996, it had accuracy problems in dealing with the 18 different toll classifications for different kinds of trucks. After the changes were made and another test run, the Carquinez Bridge became the first California toll bridge to use FasTrak in 1997. However, bureaucratic inaction, technical troubles, and financial mismanagement delayed the deployment of the system to the other six state-run toll bridges in the San Francisco Bay Area until October 2000. Meanwhile, the Golden Gate Bridge, run by the independent Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District, installed their system a few months earlier in July of that year. The FasTrak system was also briefly used on the state-owned San Diego-Coronado Bridge until tolls were discontinued on that structure in 2002.
Since then, several other new toll facilities around California have either opened, are under construction, or are in the planning stages. They are all required to accept FasTrak as per the aforementioned state law.
In 2009, San Francisco International Airport began accepting FasTrak in all of its parking garages, including long-term parking. It should be noted that a FasTrak account must have been opened with either Bay Area FasTrak or the Transportation Corridor Agencies in order for it to be eligible for use at San Francisco International Airport at this time.
When the Metro ExpressLanes opened in Los Angeles in late 2012, it introduced FasTrak transponders with a special switch that indicates the number of occupants (1, 2, or 3 or more) in the vehicle. This enables the open road tolling system to automatically compute the carpool or solo driver toll. Currently in other HOT lane facilities, drivers "declare" that they are a carpool (and thus do not have to pay a toll) by covering their FasTrak transponder in a mylar bag.
There has been a recent push to strictly use open road tolling only. The Golden Gate Bridge began only accepting electronic payments in March 2013, and all the Orange County toll roads run by TCA will likewise do the same beginning in Summer 2014. For those who do not carry a FasTrak transponder, both the Golden Gate Bridge District and TCA will offer toll-by-plate accounts, and accept one-time payments via online or by phone. All of California's HOT lanes only use open road tolling; cash is not accepted.
Under MAP-21, passed by the Federal government in 2012, all ETC facilities in the United States must reach some form of interoperability by October 1, 2016. In response, the California State Legislature passed Assembly Bill 493 in 2013, authorizing Caltrans and the state's various toll agencies to help develop compatible systems.
Toll facilities using FasTrak
- * Under construction
- Halloran, James V. (1992). "Standardizing Electronic Toll Collection". Retrieved 2006-04-27.
- Hallissy, Erin (February 20, 1996). "Bay Area Bridges to Offer Electronic Tolls". San Francisco Chronicle. p. A1. Retrieved 2006-04-27.
- "Title 21 Support". California Dept. of Transportation. Retrieved December 29, 2013.
- Downey, Cheryl (October 4, 1993). "Tollway officials must sell the public on new product". Orange County Register. p. A4.
- "Pilot program puts TCA FasTrak on Costco shelves". Retrieved 2006-04-27.
- Downey, Cheryl (August 13, 1993). "Toll Tech: 4 Ways To Pay: Transportation: Video enforcement will capture license plates when drivers don't pay on Foothill toll road.". Orange County Register. p. B4.
- Downey, Cheryl (July 29, 1994). "County tollway officials are having second thoughts about expensive toll-paying 'smart cards.'". Orange County Register. p. C4.
- Pund, Ernest E. (December 24, 1995). "Highway 91 about to take its first toll". The Press-Enterprise (Riverside, CA). p. A1.
- Nolte, Carl (September 23, 1996). "Automatic Tollbooth Technology Not Yet Ready for Prime Time". San Francisco Chronicle. p. A15. Retrieved 2006-04-27.
- Cabanatuan, Michael (October 5, 2000). "All Bay Toll Spans Finally Going FasTrak". San Francisco Chronicle. p. A1. Retrieved 2006-04-27.
- "FasTrak Users are "Good to Go" at SFO" (Press release). San Francisco International Airport. 2009-05-15. Retrieved 2009-07-04.
- "Metro ExpressLanes FAQ". Retrieved 2012-07-06.
- "All Electronic Tolling at the Golden Gate Bridge". Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District. Retrieved February 10, 2013.
- "All Electronic Tolling". Transportation Corridor Agencies. Retrieved February 10, 2013.
- "Text of AB 493 2013". California Legislative Information. Retrieved 2013-12-29.
- "Metro ExpressLanes". Retrieved 2012-03-31.
- "Alameda County ExpressLanes". Retrieved 2013-12-29.
- FasTrak account agencies
- Bay Area FasTrak Customer Service Center – handles accounts for all toll facilities in the San Francisco Bay Area
- SANDAG: Interstate 15 Express Lanes
- 91 Express Lanes
- Transportation Corridor Agencies – administers the Orange County toll roads
- South Bay Expressway
- Metro ExpressLanes
- Other links
- Golden Gate Bridge official web site
- Alameda County Express Lanes – Information on the I-680 and I-580 HOT lanes in Alameda County
- Silicon Valley Express Lanes – Information on the HOT projects in the Silicon Valley