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Playing the Odds on the 520 Bridge

520 Bridge

520 Bridge

Today, tolling began on the 520 Bridge.

As a person who crosses the bridge 5, maybe 10 times per week, you might think that I dutifully purchased a ‘Good to Go’ pass yesterday, the day before, or even months ago.

Were you to think this, you would be wrong.

“But why, Rex? Do you not realize that a Good to Go pass saves you one dollar and fifty cents every time you cross the bridge? Do you not trust Bill Nye?”

Of course I trust Bill Nye. We all trust Bill Nye. Still, after a great deal of consideration, I decided to take a risk. A very, very calculated one at that.

You see, WSDOT has been pushing the Good to Go Pass, and they’ve been pushing it hard. Television commercials, radio spots, Bill Nye The Science Guy, they really, really want us to have this pass, and they are pulling out all the stops to make us get one.

I thought about this fact. Then, I thought about it some more before cynicism reared its ugly head.

Since the toll collectors make more money if I don’t have a G2G pass, why are they so interested in my having one? Do they love me that much? Do they really care that much about me saving a buck fifty?

The wheels in my brain kept turning, then, it hit me. Like a ton of bricks … just “bam!”

“Ahhhhh …” ,I thought, “I think I know why they want me to get a pass so badly!”

See … the people that set up the tolling on the 520 Bridge are inept. Just completely inept. If you remember, tolling was supposed to start at the beginning of this year, but the company that runs it is so inept, it was postponed for damn near 10 months.

Now, are we to believe that these same people have all of a sudden gotten their act together? Are we to believe that they have gone from having no system, to a flawless system in less than one year’s time?

Sure, it’s possible, but clearly improbable.

Instead, this is what I think is going on:

The tolling company has gotten the Good to Go transponders to work. At least in some way, shape, or form. They’ve tested these transponders, and their success rate is high enough for government work.

The license plate readers, however, are nowhere near as accurate. I think they’ve run the scenarios several times, and they’ve found that rain, fog, halogen headlamps, etc … obscure the photographs and make them less accurate.

Of course, neither WSDOT or the tolling company wants to tell people this, for if they did, toll collection rates would be low. Instead, they are taking the angle that “The Good 2 Go pass will save you money!”.

Will it, though?

For the sake of argument, let’s say the Good to Go Pass has an accuracy rate of 99.9%. In order to save $1.50 each trip on the 520, the license plate readers would also have to have an accuracy rate of 99.9%. Any less than that, and the “savings” realized by the pass goes down. At some accuracy percentage, the Good to Go Pass will actually cost drivers money, not save them money.

That percentage is 70%.

If the license plate readers have an accuracy rate of 69% or less, not buying a Good to Go Pass will actually save you more money than having one. My guess is that testing has shown this to be the case, hence the endless commercials trying to convince people to get one.

What this means is that, if I am correct, purchasing a Good to Go Pass is like handing an axe to the person who is holding your dick. Instead of making them jump through the extra hoops to separate you from your valuable property, you are handing them the instrument of your own demise.

As such, at least until I get a bill in the mail greater than 70% of the times I actually cross the bridge, I shall be …

Bad to Go.

5 comments to Playing the Odds on the 520 Bridge

  • not a doktor

    Shouldn’t that be “Bad to Stop”?

    Also they want you to buy a pass because an automated system is more money efficient than humans with 401Ks and other maintenance pay.

    (that is if it’s a ‘throw coins in kiosk, which need to be collected’ thing, I’ve only been through a toll about three times in my life, and one of them involved goats and a troll)

  • John Wulff

    If you’re right Rex then the best odds are to setup an account and use the “Pay By Plate” option. Only $0.25 more than the transponder rate. http://www.wsdot.wa.gov/Tolling/TollRates.htm

  • matguy

    There’s also the other money making aspect. I don’t know the percentage of people that cross 520 that also take 167 through Renton and Kent, but if you have a pass and you take the “HOT” lanes, you’ll get charged even if you have more than 1 driver in the car. The recommendation that I read a few months ago was to disable the pass when you’re carpooling. But, the pass they’re selling now, the one you’re supposed to stick to your window, you can’t disable it when going through those lanes, so you get charged either way. I’ve also been charged the “HOT” lane charge just by crossing over 167 on 405, which you then have to go and dispute, and I’m sure the percentage of people that go to the trouble to dispute a $0.50 charge is pretty low.

    I bought a good-to-go pass for my car, but I haven’t activated it yet, for the same reason. I also don’t plan to stick it to my window, I was going to stick it to my parking pass for work that hangs from my mirror, so I can take it down at will.

    I’ve also wondered why they don’t display the toll charge before you get to the bridge. I’m waiting for the day that they jack it up high and people come to a dead stop on 520 when they see it.

  • ymar

    I’d be really interested in a follow-up to this, to see what recognition rates you’ve found. I’ve had the same strategy (with a pay-by-plate account), but have only crossed the bridge twice since tolling started, once with the sticker in place, once without. So far, I haven’t seen a charge for the pay-by-plate crossing, but I don’t know how long those take to show up.

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