When we formed Tollsmart back in 2015 we did so with the mission of helping travelers make smarter driving decisions by providing full visibility of tolls along any route. This means any type of tolling facility anywhere in the world. It's a bold mission, but we're one step closer with the launch of Express Lanes on Tollsmart and now have complete coverage of every Express Lane system in the US on the platform.
Express Lanes, also known as HOT Lanes or Managed Lanes, represent one of the biggest trends in tolling and often involve the conversion of high occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes to tolled (HOT) lanes as a way to further reduce traffic congestion by allowing solo drivers access to HOV lanes for a fee. The fees can be tied to a fixed schedule or be variable based on traffic congestion, changing as frequently as every few minutes. Drivers are notified of prices via overhead signs near entry points to these lanes.
Here at Tollsmart Express Lanes represented several unique development challenges, which is why we didn't include them in the initial launch of the Tollsmart app. One is the variable nature of the pricing which makes it difficult to predict actual costs. The other is that some lanes are only open during certain times of the day or days of the week, or may reverse direction based on traffic flows.
But because these lanes are popping up in metro areas across the US we felt we needed to provide drivers with visibility into this new method of tolling, not only to make them aware of where these lanes exist, but also to let them know how they operate and when they're an option for bypassing traffic - provided they are willing to pay a fee.
The newest versions of Tollsmart for iPhone and Android include over 40 of these lanes in metro areas like Seattle, Washington DC, Baltimore, Minneapolis, Los Angeles and Miami. For a number of these lanes we display the current price from feeds made available by the operator of the lanes, and we're working on getting feeds for all systems. For those where feeds are not yet available, we display the average maximum/minimum prices.
To activate this new feature download the latest version of Tollsmart and select HOT/Express Lanes from the Options menu and toggle the Use HOT/Express Lanes button to 'on' and indicate the number of occupants in the vehicle. Now when you enter routes in the Tollsmart app Express Lanes will appear automatically along your route as double red lines when available. Tapping on the double lines opens a window that displays pricing and transponder information as well as a link to the official tolling system's website where you can find additional information.
When you activate the Express Lanes feature and indicate the number of occupants Tollsmart applies this information to the business rules behind these lanes to determine if you can drive for free (note that to qualify as a carpooler many of these lanes require a special 'flex' transponder that allows you to activate carpool status when you have the required number of occupants in the vehicle). Also, if you've stored your vehicle information into Tollsmart it will notify you if your vehicle type is permitted to use these lanes.
Also, these lanes are only displayed when they're actually open to drivers. This is done using predictive timing to determine when a traveler will arrive at the Express Lanes. The default setting assumes an immediate departure, but users can change this to reflect actual time and date of departure.
These are indeed maps as you've never seen them, and we're tremendously excited to release this innovative new feature given the technical challenges it introduced and the added benefit to users, and look forward to adding more real time pricing feeds until we have 100% coverage. On that note we'd like to thank WSDOT for their innovative spirit in being the first agency to make real time pricing feeds available through the Tollsmart app, and invite other agencies to follow suit. Please contact us to learn more.