Electronic and Unmanned Collection of Highway Tolls

The convenience fee charged to FlyerTalk member Jorgen occurred from Jorgen allegedly using the Sam Houston Tollway.

Sometimes it pays to avoid highways with electronic tolls — especially when renting a car.

After driving around Texas while conscientiously avoiding all the electronic toll gates in order to not be required to pay a $14.75 “convenience” fee, FlyerTalk member Jorgen eventually received a bill from Avis for $1.30 in actual tolls plus a $14.75 convenience fee.

Although being fairly certain that Jorgen did not pass through any electronic toll collection points, Jorgen unfortunately cannot prove it.

Avis Rent A Car System, LLC claims the following on their Internet web site:

“In the state of Texas customers automatically opt-in to use Avis e-Toll when they use EZ Tag, Toll Tag or Tx Tag. Vehicles are equipped with either video tolling capability or toll transponders. Simply drive through a designated EZ Tag, Toll Tag or Tx Tag based lane. When a renter utilizes these video/transponder based toll lanes, the toll system identifies the car and charges the standard non-discounted fee for the toll roads published by the toll authority, plus the convenience fee of $2.95 per day ($14.75 maximum per month). Fees will be charged to Renter’s credit card. There is no charge for Avis e-Toll unless you use it.”

Did Jorgen unknowingly use the toll transponder every day during the entire week, or should Jorgen simply have been charged $2.95 for that one incident instead of $14.75?

FlyerTalk member ALW was confused about using Ontario provincial highway 407, which only has electronic tolls. After asking for advice about what to do after not receiving a bill for using the highway and not wanting to pay any interest or penalty fees, FlyerTalk members respond with a plethora of information about how the tolling system of highway 407 works — and it can get quite confusing.

More highways across North America have been implemented with electronic toll collection, such as the former high-occupancy vehicle lanes on Interstate 85 northeast of Atlanta, where the variable toll concept — which charges a higher toll during peak traffic periods — has confused local drivers as well as visitors.

It is situations such as those described above which contribute to my disdain for toll roads — especially highways with electronic toll collection.

Even before the electronic toll implementation, I remember encountering an unmanned toll booth while driving on an exit ramp of the Garden State Parkway in northern New Jersey. Having only a dollar bill instead of the exact change of 35 cents required to drop into the basket in the exact change lane, I was forced to run the red light of the unmanned booth after waiting there for at least five minutes for assistance. I have never been penalized for that incident, but I had no intention of not paying a toll.

I understand why some highways are toll roads: among other reasons, the extra income purportedly helps to keep the toll road maintained and can bring in extra income for other highway projects. It supposedly has only the people using the road pay for it, unlike highway taxes which everyone with a vehicle must pay regardless of highway usage. Electronic tolls reduce or eliminate the need for people to man toll booths — people who earn salaries, time off and additional costly benefits such as health insurance — and translate into more profit extricated from revenue.

However, paying highway tolls should not require an engineering degree to figure out. Furthermore, people who reside in states which have few or no highways with electronic toll collection and drive to locations which have them cannot use those highways at all because their vehicles lack the necessary toll transponder. This borders on discrimination, in my opinion. Why should drivers be penalized from using a toll road simply because they have cash instead of a transponder?

Perhaps I am wrong, but if a highway must have electronic toll collection, at least provide one manned toll booth for those people who either do not have transponders for paying tolls or who have questions about the toll they should pay, as well as receive a receipt for that toll upon request so that they know exactly what they paid.

I have no proof of this, but I have also always believed that by implementing electronic tolls on highways and significantly easing the collection process while increasing the convenience of paying tolls, drivers become more complacent about tolls in general. In my opinion, complacency amongst drivers contributes to greater profits for toll roads. Back in the early 1990s, there was a campaign in New Jersey to abolish highway tolls altogether. The campaign ultimately failed. I personally have not heard of any recent campaigns to abolish highway tolls anywhere.

What is your opinion about highway tolls — both electronic and manual — and what are your experiences? Please share them here.

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Comments (Showing 1 of 1)

  • rbphilip at 11:25pm May 14, 2012

    In Colorado you get a discount for having a transponder, and a “license plate toll” bill in the mail if you don’t. I’m assuming they send the bill out of state as well. The tollway is very clearly marked, so it’s not possible to climb onto it without knowing.

    Last time I was in Texas the rental car had a small Faraday cage box. Slide it to one side and it’s open and you’re doing electronic tolls, billed to your credit card. Plus a capped daily fee. No idea what happens if you don’t use it.

    I’m pretty much for toll roads, as long as you *can* use non-toll roads to get where you are going. I gleefully pay $10 each direction to get to the Denver airport quickly and easily without having to use the non-toll roads. I save time, and stress that is well worth the $20.

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