Transponders selling (a little too) well

Back when the discounted toll rate for transponder users was officially set by the Washington State Transportation Commission, the board’s executive director Reema Griffith said it was looking like the incentive offered to get Tacoma Narrows Bridge users to sign up for electronic toll collection was definitely working — and perhaps a little too well.

“The transponders are selling like hotcakes, and that’s good. That’s what we wanted,” Griffith said in June. “But the danger in that is if we start having more people paying the lower rate than the regular rate,” it can lengthen the time it takes to pay off the bridge.

At the time, Griffith said 65 percent, or 50,000 transponders, would be the tipping point. Al-ready, the transponder sales had reached 40 percent.

Today, more than 100,000 transponders have been sold, according to the latest numbers released by the Washington State Department of Transportation. However, Griffith said it’s not time to panic yet.

“That number is definitely a red flag for us, but the department is being cautious and is waiting to get counts of actual usage,” she said, explaining that just because 100,000 transponders were sold, it doesn’t mean 100,000 of them will be used on a regular basis.

“Some of those transponders could be for secondary cars, and we really won’t know how many will be used until the bridge opens,” she said, adding that the WSDOT will be monitoring the bridge traffic and reporting those numbers to the commission this fall.

“At that time, with the real data, they’ll see if they need to make any adjustments, but we’re hoping not,” she said.

Overall, though, she said it is a very good thing that so many people bought transponders.

“From a traffic management prospective, it’s great to have them jumping on board,” she said.

The new bridge opens to traffic on Monday, and WSDOT reports that its staff is scrambling to make sure there are enough stickers available, and enough people to sell them in the last few days before the big opening.

“We want to make sure that everyone who wants a transponder has one,” explained Greg Selstead, WSDOT’s Director of Tolling Operations. “With more than twice as many people setting up Good To Go! accounts than anticipated, our supply is dwindling and TransCore is working diligently to add to our inventory.”

Officials said it is too late to receive a transponder in time via online, mail or phone orders, and drivers needing a transponder before Monday’s bridge opening should visit one of two customer service centers. Also, they should expect long lines and plan accordingly.

Selstead said all available staff has been directed toward staffing the customer service centers.

“We are extending our hours, opening mobile centers, and increasing the number of representatives available to process in-person orders,” noted Selstead.

New accounts established online, by phone, or by mail will not receive transponders for several days as service centers try to keep up with in-person demand.

• Good To Go! transponders, which save drivers $1.25 per bridge crossing, can be ordered via phone, online, fax, or snail mail or in person at customer service centers in Tacoma and Gig Harbor.

• The Gig Harbor Office at 3212 50th Street Court, Suite 200, will be open today from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Monday from 4 a.m. to 7 p.m.

• The Tacoma office at 2115 S. 56th St, Suite 306, will be open today from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. and Monday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

• Transponders will also be sold at the WSDOT facility off the Mullenix exit in Port Orchard from 6 to 10 a.m. and 3 to 7 p.m. on Monday and Tuesday.

• Good To Go! booths will also be at the bridge opening ceremony tomorrow.

• Instructions for installing a transponder are available online.

• Only cars with transponders can use the express lanes; all others must pull over and pay cash at the toll booths.

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