It's a plastic block about the size of a deck of cards, with magic inside.
Here at RideApart we are always interested in new technology as it relates to our motorcycles. One of those things, unfortunately, is a toll transponder. I’ve seen a ton of questions come across various groups and motorcycle forums about these things so let’s dig a little into how they work so that you can use them without penalty.
Lots of you will say “just stay off toll roads on the bike” and while that’s certainly a good strategy in a lot of places, I will say that I learned the hard way you cannot get out of, for instance, San Francisco, without taking a toll road, and the best riding is definitely outside of San Francisco.
You will need to sign up for that transponder, whether that means online or mail-ordering one from your local or state motor vehicle department, or wandering into an office to procure one. When you do that, request one that is motorcycle-specific, especially if your area tolls are cheaper for motorcycles. You will at least want one that is weatherproof. Some municipalities have these available and some do not; keep in mind whether yours is weatherproof when you are figuring out where on your bike to put it. This transponder is then keyed to your account. If you loan someone else your transponder, any tolls they go through will be charged to your account.
The transponder itself is a transmitter, and puts out Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) signals. The toll gantries and antennas you encounter read these signals and store the information in their local network. The information is then transferred to a database system where your account is matched and charged the appropriate amount for the toll you’ve just triggered.
These toll systems are great when the alternative was stopping on a roadway where there’s been a ton of traffic, which means hundreds of thousands of drippy leaky cars and trucks have gone before you and left a nice pile of sludge for you to slip on. They’re not so great when the previous situation involved no toll at all.
When you’re looking for a good position for this toll transponder on your motorcycle, there are a few things to take into consideration: they are moderately directional; metal will block the signal; your municipality may have an automatic plate-reading system making the transponder more of an afterthought.
Yes, you read that right, but keep in mind that some places will charge you a higher toll for a plate reader vs. a transponder reader. As the technology advances (and keep in mind these are government systems, so the tech is advancing very, very slowly), the differences in tolls between transponder readings and plate readings is going away. It behooves you to do the research for the tolls you’re likely to go through regularly so that you don’t give the system any more money than you have to.
It’s best if you orient your transponder so that the back of it (the part with the fastener) is facing up or forward, and is not inside a metal box. This means, if you do not want those sticker fasteners on your windshield (yuck) or you don’t have a windshield, or you park somewhere the thing might get stolen off your windshield, you can stick it to the inside top of your (plastic) saddlebag or topcase lid, or simply store it at the front of your tank bag. If you have no luggage at all on your bike, it will read from your jacket pocket.
Years ago when these contraptions were first introduced, I wanted a little more information about them so I contacted my state’s Registry of Motor Vehicles, and asked about carrying it in my leather jacket pocket. The person I spoke with insisted the signal would not carry through leather (she was wrong) so I joked that I’d need some extra sticky fasteners to mount the transponder to my helmet.
She didn’t think I was joking. I received more fasteners in the mail, gratis, a week later.