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February 07, 2014

Stock show attendees go hog wild - sort of - for TollTags

@gdickson Stockshowtolltag

It seemed perhaps like an unlikely match when the North Texas Tollway Authority decided to set up a booth at the Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo, and try to sell attendees TollTags.

After all, much of the opposition to toll roads in Texas comes from the state's rural areas.

But as the Stock Show enters its final day of this year's festivities (Saturday), it turns out that the tollway authority has won over more than a few new customers.

The agency, which is based in Plano, has distributed 193 new TollTags at the Stock Show, spokesman Michael Rey said Friday.

"It is critical for us to get the word out to drivers so they can be aware of how they can use a TollTag to get the lowest possible rate," Rey said.

What makes the tollway authority's sales strategy make sense is a project known as Chisholm Trail Parkway. It's a planned toll road extending 28 miles from Interstate 30 near downtown Fort Worth to U.S. 67 in Cleburne. The project opens up a whole new potential customer base for the tollway authority, which in the past has focused most of its marketing efforts on the north Dallas area.

In addition to Chisholm Trail Parkway, which is scheduled to open possibly in May - a month earlier than previously disclosed - motorists on the west side of the Metroplex soon will be able to use the TollTags on managed toll lanes placed on existing freeways. Those roads include I-30, Loop 820, Texas 121/183 and (by 2018) Interstate 35W.

TolltagThe tollway authority's booth is in the Texas Room at the Amon G. Carter Jr. Exhibit Hall - adjacent to a boot-shine booth. A steady stream of passers-by has stopped by to inquire about the cost of TollTags, or to gaze at the wall-size map of Chisholm Trail Parkway on display.

"We're probably talking to more than 100 people per day," said one booth attendant, who asked that his name not be used because he's not authorized to speak to the media on behalf of the tollway authority. "On Saturday, we opened up about 35 accounts, with more than 60 TollTags."

On Friday, Bill Newsom of Azle stopped by the tollway authority's booth. Newsom, who already has a TollTag, greeted the representatives politely, but he also vented a bit of his frustration that he recently tried to update his credit card information online but couldn't get through on www.ntta.org.

Overall, Newsom is satisfied with his TollTag. TollTags are mounted on users' windshields, making it possible to pay tolls electronically - and at a discount - rather than waiting for a toll bill to arrive in the mail.

North Texas toll roads did away with human-staffed toll booths in 2010. So now, motorists who use toll roads may pay either with a windshield device such as a TollTag, or they can wait for the tollway authority - which uses license plate photography to keep track of vehicles on its roads - to send a bill in the mail.

"I have a TollTag, but about the only time I use it is when the grandkids have sports in McKinney, or something like that," he said, smiling.

In all, the tollway authority manages 1.4 million TollTag accounts, with 2.8 million actual TollTags placed on vehicles. Most TollTag accounts include more than one TollTag, because families with multiple cars will pay for the TollTags with a single account.

In all, the tollway authority representatives staffing a booth at the Stock Show made contact with 6,196 customers, including 29 bilingual contacts, Rey said. Those contacts resulted in 146 new TollTag accounts being opened, and 193 TollTags being issued.

- Gordon Dickson

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