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Miami tolls are the biggest tourist rip-off in the country

Miami tolls are the biggest tourist rip-off in the country

Old Jan 20, 15, 8:05 pm
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Miami tolls are the biggest tourist rip-off in the country

I think Miami has devised the "perfect" way to rip-off and annoy visitors who rent cars -- even more diabolical than the absurd taxes one has to pay for a rental car picked up at the airport.

I'm talking about the Toll-By-Plate scheme and a very unholy alliance between the state toll authority and the rental car companies. This has been kicking around for a few years now, but now that the highways from the Miami airport to I-95 (and downtown and Miami Beach) have gone "cashless," it's going to cost visitors a huge sum of money and aggravation.

Before renting a car at MIA, carefully review the toll policies of the various rental car companies. I believe the current information is here:

https://www.tollbyplate.com/rentalcar

Basically, it's now almost impossible to pick up a car at MIA and not drive on a cashless toll highway. That means you're going to trigger the collection rules of your rental car company. Some companies require an "opt in," and if you don't opt-in and wind up driivng a cashless toll road (which you almost certainly will from the MIA airport), you're going to have to pay big bucks. "Opting-In" is a bad deal, but it's a heck of a better deal than the penalties you'll pay if you don't.

I just rented from National, which has one of the more "humane" policies -- still a major rip-off, but humane. With National, you automatically pay $3.95 for each day you drive a cashless toll road. There's no opting in or opting out. You are then also billed at the "toll by plate" rate, which is generally twice the regular toll rate charged to all locals who have the Sunpass device. With a rental car, you are not allowed to get a Sunpass for the vehicle, or independently pay the "toll by plate" rates -- you MUST pay National's daily surcharge.

In four days of driving around Miami (including a visit to the Everglades) I figure this cost me about $25 more than what the tolls would have cost me had I been allowed to pay cash like in the "old days." Nice, right? But as I say, I was lucky. Those who don't know the rules, or who rent from less reputable car rental companies, will get ripped-off more.

How this system was allowed to be created is unimaginable. But I guess nobody cares about treating visitors fairly. At least not in Miami.

EDIT: If you read further into the thread, you can see that it IS possible with a little effort to get your own Sunpass transponder, freeing yourself from the usurious toll rates set by the government and rental car companies.

Last edited by iahphx; Jan 13, 16 at 8:39 pm Reason: new info
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Old Jan 20, 15, 8:18 pm
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Fly into FLL?
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Old Jan 20, 15, 10:18 pm
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Originally Posted by dieuwer2 View Post
Fly into FLL?
Yes, given a choice, I would fly into FLL instead of MIA -- even if I was heading to downtown MIA or Miami Beach!

First, you can completely avoid the toll problem (you're not allowed to take a rental car on the Dade County "express" toll lanes on I-95 anyway). And despite the slightly further distance, you might save time because renting a car at FLL is so much faster than renting a car from MIA.

Other than making sure you know where the Dade County toll roads are (and stay off the Turnpike everywhere in Florida, which is easy enough), the only potential problem is if you want to head to the Everglades or the Keys. You can avoid the toll on the Turnpike's Homestead extension by driving US 1 through the southern Miami neighborhoods. It's not great, but doable.
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Old Jan 21, 15, 7:12 am
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Originally Posted by iahphx View Post
How this system was allowed to be created is unimaginable. But I guess nobody cares about treating visitors fairly. At least not in Miami.
Where are visitors treated as anything but cash cows? Why are room taxes at least double the sales tax rate in most cities? Why do airports surcharge the bejeepers out of car rentals? Why are the gas stations on the way to the airport $0.50 a gallon more than 2 streets over?

How long before other cities study the Miami model and emulate it, with all kinds of encouragement from the rental car lobby?
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Old Jan 21, 15, 8:27 am
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Don't forget the 'express' lanes on the highway . I accidentally got stuck in one . Never did get a bill for it.
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Old Jan 21, 15, 8:52 am
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Orlando is very similar though I do think at the moment there are still cash options at most of the toll booths (but I'm sure before too long those will go away as well.) And while it is possible to get into or out of the airport without traversing a toll road, it takes effort. You can't just follow the signs as those will direct you to the "toll" options.
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Old Jan 21, 15, 10:18 am
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Originally Posted by United_727 View Post
Don't forget the 'express' lanes on the highway . I accidentally got stuck in one . Never did get a bill for it.
Yeah, I read the same thing elsewhere. Maybe they give tourists a one-time pass. I'm sure there are many tourists who don't understand the difference between Sunpass and Toll-by-Plate and take those I-95 express lanes to save time -- especially those who've signed up for the usurious all-you-can-drive-toll-pass from Dollar and such.

Originally Posted by hhoope01 View Post
Orlando is very similar though I do think at the moment there are still cash options at most of the toll booths (but I'm sure before too long those will go away as well.) And while it is possible to get into or out of the airport without traversing a toll road, it takes effort. You can't just follow the signs as those will direct you to the "toll" options.
Yeah, it's a creeping problem in MCO, too. As long as they let you pay cash for the toll on the "bee-line," savvy tourists will be OK. I haven't driven that one in a year or so, though, so I don't know the current situation.

BTW, I've recently been in JNB and they've instituted cashless toll roads, too. The difference is you're just billed at the regular price that everyone else pays. I rang up less than US$3.00 in a couple of days, and probably went through 10 tolls. I guess it's just the mentality: either you're going to treat visitors fairly, or you're going to fleece them. Florida has gone for fleecing.
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Old Jan 21, 15, 1:15 pm
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Originally Posted by iahphx View Post
Originally Posted by hhoope01 View Post
Orlando is very similar though I do think at the moment there are still cash options at most of the toll booths (but I'm sure before too long those will go away as well.) And while it is possible to get into or out of the airport without traversing a toll road, it takes effort. You can't just follow the signs as those will direct you to the "toll" options.
Yeah, it's a creeping problem in MCO, too. As long as they let you pay cash for the toll on the "bee-line," savvy tourists will be OK. I haven't driven that one in a year or so, though, so I don't know the current situation.
The Orlando area toll roads still have toll takers at all plazas and I haven't read of any plans to change this. Note that on and off ramp toll booths are not manned but you still have the option to use coins.

FWIW, the marketing gurus have renamed the Bee Line Expressway to the Beachline Expressway (still known also as SR-528 either way).
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Old Jan 21, 15, 8:53 pm
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The toll by plate deal in some cases was a response to HIDEOUS backups at the cash lanes which spilled over to the sunpass lanes on the veterans expressway outside Tampa for one example.

I for one am glad they hosed the toll plaza near Linebaugh - the vast majority of traffic on the Vet is locals and the backup is gone. Visitors will obviously feel different about it, but a traffic jam on a road you commute on and pay for is no fun.
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Old Jan 21, 15, 8:59 pm
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Originally Posted by djk7 View Post
The Orlando area toll roads still have toll takers at all plazas and I haven't read of any plans to change this. Note that on and off ramp toll booths are not manned but you still have the option to use coins.
I was in Tampa over the weekend and they are getting rid of their toll takers. They're starting to use the pay by plate method like they do in Miami.
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Old Jan 21, 15, 9:03 pm
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Last edited by angatol; Feb 28, 15 at 11:14 pm
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Old Jan 21, 15, 9:13 pm
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Definitely fly into FLL.

I live in Florida part time, and have an Epass from the Central Florida Turnpike roadways. It also works in southern Florida in the SUNpass lanes. I take the Florida Turnpike from Orlando to Miami simply to avoid the rush on I-95, but it's costly. And in Miami? Yes, the OP is, IMO, correct. It's an expensive city to toll around in. And sometimes there are non-English-Speaking tourists that get into the SUNpass ONLY lanes and tie up traffic when the gates do not swing up, because they do not have a SUNpass transponder.

Tough call, but as a part-time Floridian, I can honestly say that between Orlando and Miami, it's an expensive toll system. I try and avoid the tolls when I can, but sometimes business and timing make it hard. Time is also money. I have to balance the two costs.
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Old Jan 22, 15, 6:41 am
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Originally Posted by LowlyDLsilver View Post
I for one am glad they hosed the toll plaza near Linebaugh - the vast majority of traffic on the Vet is locals and the backup is gone. Visitors will obviously feel different about it, but a traffic jam on a road you commute on and pay for is no fun.
There is nothing fundamentally wrong with having cashless tolls: although most places seems to solve the back-up problem by having both "express" lanes for passholders and a couple of manned lanes. The problem is when you make visitors -- of which there are tons in Florida -- pay crazy prices for these cashless tolls.

As I mentioned, Johannesburg has recently implemented cashless tolls and the system works fine for tourists. There's a little device in your car that records your travels and the rental car company bills you that amount a couple days after your rental at the (modest) "regular" prices. There's absolutely no reason Florida couldn't do the same. Moreover, nobody would complain if the rental car companies were allowed to tack on a buck or two to that total for this billing effort.

As a tourist, I have also encountered "toll by plate" on the Golden Gate bridge in SFO. Given the tourist traffic there, it seems like also an odd place not to have a manned lane (especially since they still have such lanes on the Bay Bridge). But California does allow you to go online -- even after your trip -- to pay the regular toll and avoid rental car surcharges. Florida could also do this as well. To force tourists to pay the hefty surcharges AND double tolls is outrageous.

Originally Posted by angatol View Post
Was ripped off by Avis a couple of weeks ago. $20 for $2.60 of plate tolls that couldn't be paid cash. Was never told about tolls at rental time. Never again Avis.
I wasn't told either, but there were brochures around. They don't mention that that Rts 836 and 112 have now gone cashless, though. Those are particularly nasty cashless tolls because, for most visitors, that will likely be their only toll of the day, so they're going to get hit for $5+ just to go a couple of miles, while the locals pay something like a buck.

You say "never again Avis" but their system isn't one of the worst offenders. I think they charge a buck more each day than National/Alamo/Enterprise. As I said, for a visitor renting a car at MIA, it's very difficult to avoid being fleeced by this.

Originally Posted by RobbieRunner View Post
Definitely fly into FLL.

I live in Florida part time, and have an Epass from the Central Florida Turnpike roadways. It also works in southern Florida in the SUNpass lanes. I take the Florida Turnpike from Orlando to Miami simply to avoid the rush on I-95, but it's costly. And in Miami? Yes, the OP is, IMO, correct. It's an expensive city to toll around in.
The Fla. Turnpike has been oddly expensive by USA toll-road standards for many years. It generally saves little time between So. Fla. and Orlando, so I generally avoid it, and just pay the modest B-Line toll after driving up I-95. That's still an option -- as long as the B-line remains "manned."

For So. Fla. visitors -- at least those avoiding the Everglades and the Keys -- flying into FLL can definitely avoid this toll hassle. Just stick to I-95, avoiding the Sunpass-posted "express lanes" in Dade County. If you're headed anywhere "west," just make sure the highway you're taking doesn't have a toll.
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Old Jan 22, 15, 8:18 am
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Originally Posted by iahphx View Post
The Fla. Turnpike has been oddly expensive by USA toll-road standards for many years. It generally saves little time between So. Fla. and Orlando, so I generally avoid it, and just pay the modest B-Line toll after driving up I-95. That's still an option -- as long as the B-line remains "manned."
As a side note, I-95 wasn't completed in south Florida until 1987, and there had been talk in the late '70s and early '80s that it might never be (similarly, I-75 south of Tampa wasn't finished until 1986, with the same talk). So for over 20 years, the turnpike did save a lot of time, but since I-95 has been completed, there seems to be little value in using it south of Ft. Pierce.
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Old Jan 22, 15, 9:56 am
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Originally Posted by djk7 View Post
As a side note, I-95 wasn't completed in south Florida until 1987, and there had been talk in the late '70s and early '80s that it might never be (similarly, I-75 south of Tampa wasn't finished until 1986, with the same talk). So for over 20 years, the turnpike did save a lot of time, but since I-95 has been completed, there seems to be little value in using it south of Ft. Pierce.
What's unfortunate about the Turnpike in So. Florida is that it COULD act as a sort of western beltway relieving some of the thru traffic on I-95 and moving in to the less populated western sections of those counties. But the vast majority of its potential customers decide -- rightfully -- that it's not worth paying the Turnpike's high tolls when you can simply cruise down I-95 for free.

As you allude to, though, this has been obvious for decades, and nothing has changed. I'm not holding my breath for a "transportation visionary" in South Florida. I'd just like them to stop fleecing me now.
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