No ‘big uptick’ in RiverLink transponder use on Ohio River toll bridges
The sluggish growth has increased the pressure on RiverLink, a consortium of consultants and advisers overseen by Kentucky and Indiana state governments, to recoup outstanding tolls by mail.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Before tolls began on the region's Ohio River bridges, a consultant predicted that drivers would increasingly use transponders when crossing the spans and avoid getting invoices by mail.
By 2018, the second year of tolling, vehicles with transponders would make up 65 percent of all trips across the river, climbing to 80 percent by the time the toll bridges were more than a decade old in 2030.
But bridge crossings with transponders are increasing only slightly as the RiverLink toll network approaches its one-year anniversary, averaging 61 percent during weekdays and 45 percent on weekends, according to data released in late October.
“The needle is not moving enough on that front,” said Mindy Peterson, a RiverLink spokeswoman.
As a result, there is more pressure on RiverLink, a consortium of consultants and advisers overseen by Kentucky and Indiana state governments, to recoup outstanding tolls by mail.
But that method has been dogged by several high-profile glitches, including sending out more than 5,000 notices to drivers last month that wrongly assessed late fees. Other drivers have told WDRB News they have gotten billed for crossings they never made.
That’s the scenario Elijah Clarke of English, Ind., said he is trying to rectify. He claims he recently received a bill for $8 in tolls in less than one minute, but the car pictured on the invoice doesn’t belong to him.
He said he prefers taking the Sherman Minton Bridge, which connects Floyd County, Ind., with Louisville via I-64, to avoid paying tolls. And while he has made a few crossings on the toll bridges, he has no plans to get a transponder.
“That would involve me trusting them, which is already in doubt,” he said.
Jimmy Lee Wilson of Louisville, who got an erroneous notice in October charging him a $5 late fee he didn’t owe, also said he won’t get a transponder. For him, one of the main reasons is online security.
“You hear a lot of scary stories about hacking and people getting your information,” he said.
The lowest toll rates -- $2 per crossing – are charged to vehicles with transponders. And officials have emphasized that drivers could have saved roughly $7 million during the July-September period by using transponders tied to a prepaid account.
In an effort to make it easier for people to get transponders, RiverLink began offering "starter kits" over the summer at Speedway and Thornton's locations.
The kits -- akin to a gift card -- let drivers load money onto an account and stick a transponder onto their windshield, foregoing having to give RiverLink their personal information. More than 1,900 kits were sold from July through September.
Peterson said it’s the job of all the consultants and companies working on RiverLink, as well as officials in both states, to help increase transponder use, which remained flat during weekends from July through September. Meanwhile, the weekday rate climbed by two percentage points.
Traffic on the toll bridges during the late summer months was “steady and consistent,” she said. On average, there were about 89,300 weekday crossings on the Interstate 65 Kennedy and Lincoln bridges and the Lewis and Clark span -- a 3.5 percent decline.
“One of the numbers that is also remaining fairly consistent is the number of folks that are traveling those toll bridges with transponders and prepaid accounts,” she said. “We just haven’t seen a big uptick there.”