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TMCNet:  SunPass to replace oldest transponders

[July 31, 2013]

SunPass to replace oldest transponders

Aug 01, 2013 (Sun Sentinel - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- SunPass is replacing millions of older transponders with newer, battery-free models that will work on toll roads outside Florida.

Florida's Turnpike in June mailed about 25,000 postcards to drivers with older transponders, asking them to upgrade at no cost to a new slimmer portable model or a sticker tag. Starting in August, the remaining 2 million customers with outdated equipment will be contacted on a rolling basis either by email or by postcard.

If drivers refuse to swap, officials say their old transponders will be de-activated within the next 18 months.

That upsets drivers like Michael Savuskan, who likes the features of the older models.

"First, they sold it for an arm and a leg. Then, they took away the cool functionality, allowing me to see the charges and the balance right on it. Then, when it died, I had to buy a new, worse model," he said. "Now, they are exchanging them? Nice." Officials say they have no choice. The federal government has set an Oct. 1, 2016 deadline requiring the nation's toll roads to allow drivers to use one transponder on any toll road. And older portable models, including ones sold as recently as 2010, won't function properly elsewhere.

The transponder upgrade is necessary and mandatory, said Turnpike Enterprise executive director Diane Gutierrez-Scaccetti.

The notifications sent to SunPass drivers will include detailed instructions on how to replace their transponders, by either returning a form in the mail, contacting a call center set up to handle the swap, or online at sunpasstagswap.com.

Officials urge customers to wait until they get contacted first by SunPass before attempting to replace their transponder to avoid overwhelming the SunPass customer service center.

"Be patient," Gutierrez-Scaccetti said. "We want to make sure we respond to everyone in a timely fashion." SunPass has sold more than 8 million transponders since the program was launched in 1999.

The total cost of the replacement program to the turnpike, which runs the SunPass program, isn't known. It will depend on whether drivers choose to swap for a $25 portable model or a $4.99 sticker tag.

In addition to incompatibility with other systems, computer chips in older transponders can go bad.

Mario Imperatore of Margate was shocked in June to see his SunPass account charged $85 for parking at Miami International Airport on a day he'd never set foot outside Broward County.

"In some instances, a transponder's data can get scrambled and the unit may lose its identifier," said Sonyha Rodriguez-Miller, a turnpike spokeswoman. "This may happen due to radio frequency interference or a low battery." Some drivers earlier this year were charged more than twice what they should have paid in tolls because their vehicles were mistaken at toll plazas for bigger rigs.

SunPass unveiled its latest portable transponder -- the SunPass Slim -- about a year ago. It's barely an inch wide, compared with older models the size of a deck of cards. Because it has no batteries, it doesn't beep when a toll is paid and is expected to last longer.

For years, drivers in South Florida, especially snowbirds from the Northeast, have clamored for one transponder they could use in any state. On Monday, North Carolina's Triangle Expressway in the Raleigh area began accepting SunPass. It's the first of what's expected to be many agreements between SunPass and other states around the country with toll roads.

For more information, go to sunpasstagswap.com.

mturnbell@tribune.com, 954-356-4155 or Twitter @MikeTurnpike ___ (c)2013 the Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) Visit the Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) at www.sun-sentinel.com Distributed by MCT Information Services

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