SOUTHERN INDIANA — A bi-annual report from RiverLink, the company which oversees tolling on three of the area's five bridges over the Ohio River, shows a growth in the number of people using transponders or prepaid accounts in the second full year of tolling.
Tolling began in 2017 on the three bridges — the Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy connecting Southern Indiana and downtown Louisville, and the Lewis and Clark connecting Utica to Louisville. The Sherman-Minton and Clark Memorial bridges remain toll free.
The report released Wednesday by RiverLink shows that in 2018, the second full year of tolling, there were 32.3 million crossings on the three tolled bridges, up 8 percent from 2017, which had 29.9 million crossings.
"I think if you were to pick one word to sum up the second year of tolling, it would be growth," Mindy Peterson, spokesperson for RiverLink said Wednesday. "We did see a growth in the number of people using the tolled bridges, a significant increase in people opening accounts, getting transponders, and we saw a growth of new services being offered."
RISE IN TRANSPONDERS AND PREPAID ACCOUNTS
There were 91,000 new transponders requested in 2018 — a 27 percent increase from the previous year — bringing the total to 424,807. The number of prepaid accounts rose 29 percent in 2018 with 43,000 new accounts opened. The total number of prepaid accounts at the end of 2018 was 193,208.
Peterson said a new tolling system is expected to experience substantial initial growth, but as the use of the tolled bridges and the online services becomes more normal that growth will level off.
"People get used to the system," she said. "It becomes a way of crossing the river, using those bridges and having that account."
2018 also brought new or improved services to customers. Phone customer service wait times had been an issue after tolling began; Peterson said Riverlink has reduced the average wait time to 35 seconds for phone customers.
"We had really heavy needs for customer service when tolling first launched at the end of 2016, and it was taking people entirely too long to connect," she said. "That's been an area we knew was a priority early on ... and we've seen continued improvements."
The website also has undergone improvements, she said.
"Whether they're going online for assistance or picking up the phone for assistance, we want to make sure that help is available as quickly as possible," Peterson said.
RiverLink also launched in 2018 new ways to pay tolls. In September, a pay-by-plate option was introduced, which allows people with no account to pay online by looking up their license plate number, rather than waiting for an invoice. This does not require the customer to sign in.
"We did hear from people who were crossing the bridges and did not set up a prepaid account, but they really did want to take care of those tolls," she said. "If they knew they crossed a tolled bridge, they wanted to pay the toll they owed and wanted to make that as quick as possible."
Earlier in the year, the company introduced an incentive for people without accounts to open them, by forgiving any late fees (if the charges had not yet received their fourth notice. At that point, the charges would also be reverted to the lower rate for having an account. This option isn't available if the charges are already in collections.)
The report shows that more than 12,500 drivers took advantage of the one-time account conversion option, saving nearly $1.5 million in tolls and waived late fees. The average driver saved $120.
Although revenue numbers are preliminary for the third and fourth quarters of 2018 as some invoices are still out, nearly $55 million has been collected for that time period. Another $4.3 million is expected to be the total for drivers from other states who used EZ-Pass transponders. More than $186 million has been collected since the start of tolling, split between Indiana and Kentucky.