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MnDOT struggles to keep up with MnPASS demand

Courtesy of MnDOT

Twin Cities BusinessIn February, MnPASS alerted the public that it couldn’t keep up with the 500 new applications per month it receives for at least two months, costing the state tax revenue and leaving the system — which allows drivers to pay to use fast lanes on Interstate 394 and 35W otherwise reserved for multi-occupant vehicles — with a black eye.

MnPASS has long used a proprietary operating system that limits the number of compatible suppliers of transponders and clips that fasten them to windshields to just one: Israel-based Telematics Wireless. MnPASS submits a request for proposal each time it needs to restock.

So when a recent order for the devices hit a couple of snags, the program suspended new applications entirely. Bobbie Dahlke, MnPASS spokeswoman, says Telemetrics objected to language in the warranty section of the RFP, adding two months to the process while MnPASS reworded the contract. By the time Telematics began preparing the order, several months had passed.

Last year, 25,503 customers leased 32,043 transponders. MnPASS brought in more than $3 million in toll receipts in 2013, which pay for the program’s operations and maintenance, improvements along the respective corridors, and are shared with the Metropolitan Council for transit operations along the corridor.

Surprisingly, MnPASS is incompatible with the other transponder-based road toll systems operating on the East Coast, and in California, Florida and Chicago. Dahlke says the state was required back in 2005 to accept Telemetrics’ low bid, but that an overhaul expected this summer would make the system less proprietary and likely increase the number of vendors able to supply compatible devices. The Federal Highway Administration has also directed states to make their toll pass systems compatible by 2016. 

This article is reprinted in partnership with Twin Cities Business.

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Comments (3)

Bidding process

Minnesota was required to take the low bid when the bidder was international? And this supplier is able to take a few months off from supplying transponders with no financial penalty? If memory serves, this contract was signed during the Pawlenty administration, when low cost government was a compulsion, regardless of the consequences Perhaps business was trusted to deliver on their promises a little more than was appropriate?

Wouldn't it be appropriate to charge the company for projected lost revenue because of this service lapse? Perhaps not so much for a politician who would never want to appear to be too tough on business,and one who now happens to be a top leader of a business lobby group..

re: Bidding process

You get what you pay for. Merit is not allowed; only the bottom-line consideration for taxpayers, some of whom are probably - and ironically - being inconvenienced by this snafu. But, hey! That's the way government spending rolls.

I

Have 2 transponders in my glove box: a MN Pass and an I Pass from IL. The MN Pass is good for a few miles on 394 and 35W in MN. The I Pass? IL, IN, OH, MI, PA, NJ, NY, and MA. And those are just the places I have tried. The I pass can be purchased over the counter at almost every truck stop in IL and it immediately is activated. One more example of TPAW's fee based legacy of incompetence: plenty of examples of how to do it and an inability to learn and apply any of it.