Or maybe you’re not good to go

July 2, 2007 

I put the Tacoma Narrows bridge toll transponder on my windshields wrong, and had to get replacements for two cars. So I was feeling pretty stupid.

Until, that is, I went to the Good To Go customer service office in South Tacoma last week and talked to the employee behind the counter.

“Have other people come in because they put their transponders on wrong?” I asked.

“Oh yeah,” she said.

“How many?” I asked.

“A lot,” she said.

“How many is ‘a lot’?” I asked.

“Too many to count,” she said.

I feel a little better. Here’s what I did wrong as I installed the device that is designed to automatically deduct a toll for crossing the bridge that opens later this month:

I peeled back the decal with the bar code on it and stuck it to my windshield four inches below the top edge, just like the instructions said. The problem is, I peel off the wrong part.

It was Step 3 in the instruction brochure that threw me off. “Peel Off Backing,” it says.

What part is the backing? Turns out, the backing is this clear piece of very thin plastic. And I have this problem with clear. I can’t see clear. Clear is invisible.

Now, I should confess that the first time I put a nicotine patch on my arm, I taped it on. It wouldn’t stick on its own because I didn’t peel off the “clear backing.” I did wonder why I was still craving a cigarette all day long, but I figured I’d gotten the only nicotine patch with no adhesive on it. But that was before I started reading the instructions.

This time, I read the transponder instruction. Twice. No, three times.

“Flick edge with thumb to remove backing,” it says.

I flicked and flicked to no avail. I couldn’t get the edge of the backing to start peeling off. Then I noticed on the barcode side of the transponder there was a receded edge that indicated it was a decal affixed to the larger transponder. So I dug my fingernail under the edge and pulled the decal off. It was hard to do, but it can be done. I did it twice. And I was wrong twice.

Here’s how to do it right:

When you’re sitting in your driver’s seat with the transponder in your lap, make sure the transponder bar code side is face down, and the little clipped corner is on the upper left. If you look down and see the barcode side of the transponder, you’re going to peel off the wrong decal.

You want the side that has “Good To Go” in larger print than “Good To Go” on the barcode side. Then, peel back the clear, film-like piece of plastic. DON’T PEEL OFF THE WHITE DECAL! It’s right under the clear plastic and it has to stay on the device.

Only now do you want to turn the transponder over so the bar code side is facing you. Gently place it on the inside of your windshield, four inches below the top edge of the windshield, or just below the rear-view mirror. And squeeze the air bubbles out.

Janet Matkin, customer service manager for the Good To Go program, said a second batch of 30,000 transponders was ordered after her office issued the first 50,000 transponders. The new ones don’t say “Peel This Side,” as I think they should. But they do have drawings of tiny hands peeling off the backing, indicating which side actually is the backing.

The brochures for the first 50,000 transponders showed the tiny hands peeling off the backing, but the transponder themselves did not. The instructions also have two pictures of what the transponder should look like on your windshield if you’ve applied it correctly or incorrectly – two gray photos that don’t look like the transponders at all.

Fortunately, I was issued transponders for only three vehicles. (The third one, for my wife’s car, is still sitting on the dining room table. Despite my failure, she’s actually waiting for me to install it.) So when Good To Go gave me two new ones as replacements, they were free. That’s because the first six transponders issued to each account are free.

However, if I’d already gotten six transponders, the two replacements would have been considered new ones and would have cost me $10.65 each.

“That’s what they cost us,” Matkin said.

Matkin said as of a week ago, the last time they checked, only 60 people had gotten replacement transponders because they incorrectly installed their originals.

But it appears that many drivers still haven’t installed them. Only 6,700 of the 46,000 vehicles that crossed the eastbound bridge on Wednesday had transponders. And more than 75,000 transponders have been issued so far.

If you have doubts about whether you’ve installed the transponder correctly, drive across the eastbound bridge and check your Good To Go account the next day online. Your account will indicate a bridge crossing with a “zero charge,” Matkin said.

If you don’t have an account online, you can go into a customer service office and ask the workers to check your account.

I suspect there are more than 60 of us who screwed up our transponder installations. But that might be a case of misery loves company.

Tolling starts for real on July 16.

Joseph Turner: 253-597-8436

joe.turner@thenewstribune.com

HOW TO GET A TRANSPONDER

There are five ways to find out more or to sign up for a Good To Go bridge transponder.

Online: www.wsdot.wa.gov/goodtogo

Phone: 1-866-936-8246

Fax: Send an application to 253-853-4235.

Mail: Applications can be mailed to PO Box 5050, Gig Harbor, WA 98335-5050.

In person: Customer service centers are located at 3212 50th St. Court, Suite 200, Gig Harbor, and 2115 S. 56th St., Suite 306, Tacoma. Employees also will scan your transponder there to make sure it’s working.

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