K-Tags, the digital bar code pass, allow vehicles to sail through toll gates without having to stop for a ticket or hunt for loose change to pay a toll. The program works especially well for families that can register as many as four vehicles. Payments come directly out of consumers’ requested bank account. The service starts by registering the number of needed vehicle tags online, then embedded transponders with a peel-away backing are mailed to registrants for placement on the inside of windshields for toll equipment to read as drivers pass through toll gates.
Tolls are big business in Kansas with more than 35.8 million vehicles annually traveling on toll roads, generating more than $94 million in income for the turnpike authority. That’s a lot of bucks at an annual average fee of just $1.92 per trip for passenger vehicles’ average 39-mile trip and $8.41 for commercial vehicles’ average 64-mile trip in 2013. Though passenger vehicles provide 82 percent of the miles on the Kansas turnpike at an average of 4.9 cents per mile, commercial vehicles are paying a bigger share of the debt at about 13 cents per mile.
The turnpike authority’s annual report indicates operating income rose 7.7 percent in 2013 compared to 2012, in part because of a toll fee increase, ranging from 5 percent to 10 percent depending on the number of axles, implemented in February 2013 as well as a 0.6 percent rise in turnpike traffic on its 236 miles of roadway from Kansas City, Kansas, to the Oklahoma border south of Wichita. Despite its successes, the turnpike authority is working through its new legislatively-mandated partnership with the Kansas Department of Transportation, which is presumed to bring about greater efficiencies and decreased costs for both organizations.
Another partnership in the works is with the turnpike authority’s Oklahoma counterpart, Pike Pass, which should allow the agencies to use each other’s passes within the two states by the end of 2014.
The 60-year old Kansas Turnpike Authority hopes to increase its use of K-Tags from 38 percent of cash revenue ($36 million) to 60 percent in 2015 to continue improving revenues while also enhancing its customers’ experience. That customer experience, provided by more than 500 turnpike employees, includes safe roads complete with suitable restaurants and service areas. Tolls make up the bulk of the agency’s income. It is supplemented by income from its partner restaurants and right-of-way leasing contracts with utility and ISP providers. Though an increase in K-Tag use isn’t expected initially to reduce manpower at toll stations, it will take better advantage of the K-Tag infrastructure and technology that originally was installed in 1995.
Kansas Turnpike Authority research showed that most regular work-related commuters are using K-Tags and 98 percent of K-Tag customers would recommend the program to a friend. Now the K-Tag program is moving on to the next tier of customers — social commuters — those who are heavy users of the turnpike to attend social events, especially major sporting events.
Whether travelers are frequent or infrequent turnpike users, registration and activation of a free K-Tag — http://www.ksturnpike.com/mobile/k_tag — could well pay dividends when drivers find themselves without money for themselves or their loved ones to get home safely on turnpike roads — offering a priceless level of comfort and peace of mind.
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