WSDOT uses performance audit results to improve tolling programs

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A performance audit of the Washington State Department of Transportation’s (WSDOT) toll collection system has been released by the State Auditor’s Office (SAO), together with the agency’s response.

Washington’s statewide, all-electronic toll collection system began development in 2009 and started operations in 2011. Managed by WSDOT’s Division, the system has processed millions of toll transactions that generated hundreds of millions of dollars in toll revenue to meet citizens’ transportation needs. The SAO’s report finds the system to be generally sound, while offering several recommendations for the agency’s Toll Division, many of which are already underway. The audit found the system lacks key functions and has other operational limitations that affect toll processing, collection and managerial reporting.

The SAO noted that WSDOT has not been successful in enforcing contract requirements designed to ensure the toll system vendor complies with information security standards, leaving in question how well the system protects sensitive information. Enhancing leadership and management strategies would help ensure these issues do not persist as the Toll Division develops the next generation toll collection system and adds more tolled facilities.

WSDOT’s response includes both the new actions that the agency will take as a result of the audit, and those that are already underway. Ongoing or recently completed tasks noted in the report include:

Toll Division staff members are planning to incorporate what they have learned from operating the current system into a new tolling vendor contract, with the request for proposals (RFP) expected to be released in December; WSDOT’s toll vendor recently completed a third-party certification called the Payment Card Industry (PCI) compliance, further strengthening safeguards that have always been in place to secure customer information; Though the Toll Division has multiple components of a long-term plan completed, work has now begun on implementing the SAO’s recommendation to develop a comprehensive strategy that incorporates all aspects of division operations into one overarching document.

WSDOT disagrees with one key aspect of the report: toll collections. The agency collects 94% of tolls up front through Good To Go! accounts and Pay By Mail; a record that the independent Tolling Expert Review Panel determined made the agency, ‘among the nation’s best performers’. WSDOT’s collection rate is even higher, 98%, as customers resolve outstanding tolls through the toll enforcement program.

WSDOT says its toll systems are complex and unique, and should be compared to other toll system performance, and that the information and dollar amounts the auditor chose to include in the report do not accurately reflect WSDOT’s strong performance in collecting the tolls generated by the millions of drivers who use the system each year.

“Tolling plays a pivotal role in managing congestion and in building a stronger transportation system for Washington,” said WSDOT’s acting secretary of transportation, Roger Millar. “The Toll Division handles 37.6 million transactions every year, all while ensuring safe operations for drivers, safeguarding customer information, and providing ongoing reports to the Legislature about our performance. There are always areas to improve, and we welcome that feedback. I would like to highlight the strength of the Toll Division leadership team, particularly that of Assistant Secretary Patty Rubstello, who took the helm in November 2015. She brings years of experience in toll operations, and is the right leader for the division. She understands and has demonstrated success in planning, implementing, and operating toll systems, and using them to manage congestion on some of the region’s most-used highways.”

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Tom has edited Traffic Technology International magazine and the Traffic Technology Today website since he joined the company in May 2014. Prior to this he worked on some of the UK's leading consumer magazine titles including Men's Health and Glamour, beginning his career in journalism in 1997 after graduating with a law degree from the London School of Economics (LSE).

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