2017-01-05 / Front Page

Spring Will Bring Card Use at Booths

Mackinac Bridge Toll Booths Program
By John Raffel

Drivers using the Mackinac Bridge who have been waiting to use credit cards at the toll booths are expected to get their wish by sometime this spring.

Implementing software that would allow credit card use has been delayed, a source of frustration for those closely involved. Bob Sweeney, executive secretary of the Mackinac Bridge Authority, has been in contact with the agencies involved, Xerox and the Michigan Department of Technology, Management and Budget, about the situation.

“Xerox was supposed to roll out the credit card processing in the toll booths at the same time they rolled out the new software in the April of 2015,” Mr. Sweeney said. “Delays in getting the software ready resulted in a roll-out of the new software in mid to late June 2015. They were not ready to roll out the credit card processing and expected that to take a couple of months to work out the details. The credit card portion of this software is a very small component of the overall toll software project.”

In mid-December, Xerox and the state budget office told bridge officials the credit card processing could be ready to go as early as March 2017, Mr. Sweeney said, with a final goal of Memorial Day.

Working out details for firewall protections and compliance with the payment card industry are two areas that have now been resolved, Mr. Sweeney said.

“Once the software is ready, we will need to test it in our lanes for four to six weeks, then, barring any unforeseen issues, we will roll it out to our customers,” Mr. Sweeney said.

He pointed out the benefits of a workable credit card system.

“Currently, a small percentage of customers per year do not carry cash and can only pay their tolls with a credit card or debit card,” he said. “When the credit card system is in place, they will be able to pay their tolls at the toll booths using a credit or debit card. Because processing credit and debit cards takes longer than collecting cash or paying with a Mac Pass card, during peak traffic we anticipate only allowing credit and debit card payments in our far right lane. This lane will be able to accept cash and Mac Pass cards, as well.”

Caleb Buhs, a spokesman with the state budget office, said his department has been the project manager.

“While there were some delays early on with this project, we are back on track and have resolved some of the issues we had over the summer that caused some of the delays,” Mr. Buhs said. “Right now, we want to wrap this up by Memorial Day so any drivers wanting to cross the bridge by Memorial Day will be able to use credit cards.

“More and more people are traveling without cash in their pockets or wallet. I think a lot of folks are used to paying wherever they go with a credit card and pulling up to the lane. This should help accommodate the trends we’re seeing in payments.”

Mr. Buhs acknowledged the project has been delayed by around six months.

“A lot of that was caused by the need to alter the conditions of the contract of the vendor who will be processing the credit cards,” he said. “This subject happens at the state because we have more stringent requirements than many private industries would. Going back and forth between various legal teams took more time than expected.

“At this time, we expect to have everything operational by Memorial Day weekend.”

Barbara Brown of St. Ignace, vicechairman of the Mackinac Bridge Authority, is among those not pleased with the project’s delays.

“They’re making progress, but it is disappointingly slow,” she said. “It’s been reported that the ability to use credit cards to use the toll booth would have been up and running quite some time ago, and it’s not. We, as Authority members, and I believe I can speak on behalf of my fellow members, are disappointed at the slow progress. Speaking for myself, as someone who uses the bridge on a very regular basis, it’s frustrating. As an Authority member who lives in St. Ignace, I do hear from citizens, and there’s understandably a level of frustration.

“In my opinion, this is beyond an unreasonable delay.”

Mr. Sweeney shares Ms. Brown’s disappointment.

“As a customer of the toll software project, we are certainly disappointed with the speed at which the new toll software was implemented and how issues were handled,” Mr. Sweeney said, and they have let the state office hear their concerns. “The Mackinac Bridge Authority staff gives the Mackinac Bridge Authority members updates at each meeting.

“This is certainly a complex project and we are glad completion of the project is in sight.”

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