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Behind the scenes at QuickPass, the Golden Ears Bridge tolling centre

Behind the scenes at QuickPass, the Golden Ears Bridge tolling centre

The QuickPass offices at 12167 Harris Road, Pitt Meadows.
The QuickPass offices at 12167 Harris Road, Pitt Meadows.

Last week, I joined the media for a behind-the-scenes tour of the Quickpass offices in Pitt Meadows. (Quickpass is the name of the electronic tolling system on the Golden Ears Bridge.)

Rosa Rountree, the CEO and general manager of Quickpass, took us around, and we got to see just how the system works in practice. Read on to see what we learned!

The front desk and the call centre

A customer being helped at the Quickpass counter.
A customer being helped at the Quickpass counter.

Quickpass’s front office is a lot like a bank: there’s a customer service counter, where you can talk to staff about your account and pay in person. (They’re open Monday to Friday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m, and there’s another service centre in Langley Gardens at Village Square, too — 12-8948 202nd Street.)

The call centre at Quickpass.
The call centre at Quickpass.

But go through the door behind the front desk, and that’s where you’ll find the Quickpass call centre.

The centre has 17 staff who can work on the phones from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday to Friday, and they take about 700 calls a day. However, when invoices go out twice a month, the calls spike to about 1,200 calls a day.

Each staff person can do 90-100 calls a day though, so that number is still manageable. Quickpass also has an interactive voice system on its phone lines, which can deliver automated answers to common questions, take payments, and give toll transaction details before sending you to a rep.

Reviewers at the Quickpass office examine license plate photos flagged by the system.
Reviewers at the Quickpass office examine license plate photos flagged by the system.

In another area of the office, five staff members examine license plate photos that the Quickpass system has flagged for review.

A view of the reviewer’s screen, showing the front and back license plates to be matched. The reviewer has access to 24 photos of the car. (Click for a much larger view!)
A view of the reviewer’s screen, showing the front and back license plates to be matched. The reviewer has access to 24 photos of the car. (Click for a much larger view!)

Quickpass takes 24 photos of every car that crosses the bridge (12 of the front and 12 of the back!), and uses optical character recognition technology to “read” the license from the photos.

If the system is unsure that the front and back plates match—or if there is a match, but the car isn’t registered in the system—a reviewer will take a look and confirm the license plate number.

Oddly enough, the reviewers are currently looking at high number of photos because most people aren’t registered with Quickpass.

Out of 300,000 accounts in the Quickpass system, 266,000 are unregistered customers. That means almost everyone is paying the highest rate to cross the bridge every time. Also, Quickpass is sending out a lot of paper statements to the unregistered, while people registered with the system can opt for e-bills.

Please do remember, you can pick one of three ways to register your vehicle for the Quickpass tolling system:

  1. Lease a Quickpass transponder and save 30% off the standard toll rate. (Transponders are $1 a month plus a $10 refundable deposit.)
  2. Register as a Quickpass video customer and save 15% off the standard toll rate. (You don’t carry a transponder and your license plate is read by cameras.)
  3. Pay as you go and pay the standard toll rate.

You can register in many ways: at www.quickpasstolling.ca, call 604-460-5050 or at 1-877-299-0599 (toll free), or visit the Quickpass customer service centre in Pitt Meadows (12167 Harris Road) or Langley (12-8948 202nd Street).

By the way, Rosa says that a reviewer can process a car in nine seconds — so each reviewer can do 4,500 cars a day!

Quality assurance

Two screens show video that is used in quality assurance checks.
Two screens show video that is used in quality assurance checks.

Quality assurance for the Quickpass system takes place in an office at the corner of the centre.

As shown above, Andrew Anderson, the quality manager with Quickpass, has two separate sets of data coming in from the bridge which help him judge whether the system is working or not.

Andrew Anderson, quality manager with Quickpass.
Andrew Anderson, quality manager with Quickpass.

On the left screen is the view from a camera that’s focused on the Quickpass cameras themselves. This of course helps identify whether anything’s going wonky with the Quickpass cameras, or if someone is trying to tamper with them.

On the right screen is a view from a set of cameras shooting straight down into the lanes on the bridge. These cameras capture video of vehicles from above independently of the Quickpass system, without catching license plates.

And every week, Andrew takes a random 30 minutes of these overhead videos, and goes through a checklist to verify that the Quickpass is seeing what he sees.

Real time data also flows into Andrew’s computer, showing him graphs of how traffic is flowing across the bridge, and any errors or issues that the system is encountering.

Every day, 24,000 vehicles flow across the bridge, with about 49% headed southbound, and 51% northbound. If the numbers start to vary from that, Andrew knows there’s something to look for.

Transponders: we’ve got them!

Rosa Rountree, CEO and general manager with Quickpass, shows what the external transponder looks like.
Rosa Rountree, CEO and general manager with Quickpass, shows what the external transponder looks like.

Rosa showed us the transponder storage room at Quickpass, which has boxes and boxes of transponders on hand. (Register for one if you want one!)

Everyone’s seen the little white box transponder that you mount inside your car — but Rosa also showed us the external transponder, which can be attached to your license plate if the internal transponder won’t work.

(Apparently only about 10 have been given out, and they tend to be on older cars or high-end sports cars — those cars have metal in their windshields, which interferes with the transponder.)

Rosa ran through common advice for those with transponder issues, too.

If your transponder isn’t being read by the bridge sensors, she urges you to check if it’s installed properly. The transponder really does need to be placed exactly like it says in the installation guide — if you rotate it or turn it upside down, it won’t read.

And if it still won’t work, bring it in to one of the Quickpass centres to have it checked out.

The data centre

The servers carrying all the Quickpass data.
The servers carrying all the Quickpass data.

Obviously, there’s a ton of a data being generated with a system like this. The centre has a storage capacity of 16 TB, and it’s all kept in a special data centre inside the office. (It’s temperature-controlled and security-alarmed!)

How long is your data kept? After you pay your fee for crossing the bridge, the photographs from that single crossing are kept for 90 days, and then discarded. However, if you haven’t paid for crossing the bridge, the photos of your car are kept indefinitely, until you resolve the fee.

A reporter asked if the police or other authorities could demand the data, but Rosa explained that they would have to subpoena it from Quickpass if they wanted it, since they don’t collect the data for enforcement purposes.

As for security, the system is PCI compliant, which means Quickpass data security meets the very high standards of credit card companies, and thus is allowed to process credit card transactions.

Making adjustments to your account

Matthew Russell, who showed us how adjustments can be made.
Matthew Russell, Quickpass who showed us how adjustments can be made.

On our last stop, we met Matthew Russell, who showed us how fee adjustments can be done in seconds when somebody disputes an account.

A few people gave permission to show us their accounts, so Matthew could demonstrate how it was done.

The Quickpass photo of a car towing a trailer. Click for a larger view!
The Quickpass photo of a car towing a trailer. Click for a larger view!

One sample situation presented a car that was charged as a small truck when they crossed the bridge.

But when Matthew pulled up the images on the account, we could see that the car was towing a large trailer — which does in fact change a car classification to a small-truck.

Another example featured a disputed charge – the customer said the transponder wouldn’t read. Examining the travel history of the transponder, we could see that it went one way across the bridge, but didn’t register when it returned, although the car it was in was identified positively when going back across.

How an account is displayed in the Quickpass system. This one has had a charge adjusted. (Click for a larger version.)
How an account is displayed in the Quickpass system. This one has had a charge adjusted. (Click for a larger version.)

So Matthew pulled up a screen and changed the amount of the charge – which took just seconds. You can see in the picture that the charge has been adjusted on the account.

And that’s where we finished! We also got some great info from a handout with stats on the bridge and a sample bill, which you can download here.

Again, check out the Quickpass website for registration info, and see this Oct 2008 blog post for more on how the bridge tolling technology works.

Feel free to leave questions in the comments: I can pass them along to Quickpass for some answers!