When states have electronic toll collection systems with no human collecting tolls and no way to use a credit card to pay a toll, travelers should not be unduly punished.
If a traveler finds it impossible to pay a toll, it is not their fault. Fault belongs to the system. Unfortunately, it is the traveler who pays penalties and extra fees when faced with an electronic toll collection system.
More and more travelers on the nation’s highways are finding tolls on roads that have no system for manual toll collection — only electronic toll collection systems. However, Travelers United believes that the out-of-state traveler without a local FastPass, EZ-Pass, SunPass, or other local toll-collection passes should not be penalized. Here are some suggestions that may help.
Travelers should do some research and find out what kinds of a toll-pass system will be used in a state they are visiting. Many times, knowing the toll-collection system one is going to encounter will allow for travelers to take measures to avoid fines. Depending on that research, pick your self-protection.
1. Bring your own toll pass
The EZ-Pass, issued in many states along the East Coast and Midwest, works in connected states. Travelers from Maine to South Carolina, and as far west as Illinois, can pay all their tolls with the same electronic toll collection system.
Wikipedia’s E-ZPass page says:
The E-ZPass Interagency Group (IAG) consists of 37 member agencies in operation within 16 states, which use the same technology and allow travelers to use the same transponder on toll roads throughout the network. Since its creation in 1987, various independent systems that use the same technology have been folded into the E-ZPass system, including the I-Pass in Illinois and the NC Quick Pass in North Carolina.
2. Buy a local pass
In Florida, where most complaints regarding automated tolls seem to originate, the SunPass electronic toll collection system can be purchased at thousands of locations like Publix and CVS.
Their website says:
The SunPass Portable transponder costs $19.99 plus tax and the SunPass Mini Sticker transponder costs $4.99 plus tax (all out-of-state customers are required to pay a flat 6 percent sales tax). Transponders are available online at SunPass.com and at all authorized SunPass retailers. Both units allow motorists to have tolls electronically deducted from a prepaid account.
In California, the FasTrak system is free to join and its toll tags are easy to purchase.
Anyone with a mailing address in the United States is able to sign up for a FasTrak account. Purchase a toll tag at a local retail store location and activate it through the new account enrollment process. It is free to open and maintain a FasTrak account; you only pay for your tolls. A security deposit may be required for the tag, but it will be fully refunded to you when you return the toll tag to FasTrak.
Even for short visits to the Bay Area, signing up for a FasTrak account has its benefits. FasTrak allows you to use Express Lanes, qualify for carpool and bridge toll discounts, cross toll bridges without having to stop at the toll booth, and even pay for parking at the San Francisco International Airport (SFO). And, FasTrak is recognized statewide. Your FasTrak toll tag can be used anywhere you see the FasTrak logo displayed, including the toll roads in Southern California.
Similar electronic toll collection systems exist in most of the United States.
3. Look carefully for signs that allow payment of tolls where there are no alternatives
In California, I once found myself on a highway without any credit card or human toll-payment options. However, after passing through the toll, I noticed signs instructing those who could not pay the toll to call an 800 number to make payment. I made the call and the toll “evasion” was not reported to my rental car. I have had the same experience on the Dulles Toll Road between the airport and the DC beltway.
Once again, here is the FasTrak page with instructions.
The FasTrak Customer Service Center, including the customer service call center and the in-person counter, is available during regular hours of operation and can assist you with new accounts, account updates, payments, and issues with tolls received in error. Please call 1-877-BAY-TOLL (1-877-229-8655) and follow the prompts. You can also email the Customer Service Center using this online form.
The Dulles Toll Road has a similar phone system to pay missed tolls.
For inquiries Monday-Friday 7:00am – 7:00pm regarding E-Z Pass, to pay a missed toll or to get assistance with toll violations, please contact the Customer Service Center at 1 (877) 762-7824.
4. Pay for a toll-collection pass when renting a car.
The easiest, but often the most expensive, system is to purchase the ability to pay your tolls with the rental car company. Virtually all rental car companies have added payments for using their toll-payment systems. Unfortunately, many of these programs cost a daily rate, which will be charged during the entire rental period, even when not driving or using toll roads.
Avoiding these automatic tolls is not easy these days and solutions take planning in advance or paying an extra fee. However, travelers should be aware of the perils of automatic toll collection systems. It seems that the states never take responsibility. Travelers are the ones stuck with the charges whenever going through a toll. If payment is not rendered by purchasing a pass, calling the toll collection office, or paying the rental car fees, penalties are high and the added costs assessed by rental car companies add insult to injury.
Charlie Leocha is the President of Travelers United. He has been working in Washington, DC, for the past 11 years with Congress, the Department of Transportation and industry stakeholders on travel issues. He was the first consumer representative to the Advisory Committee for Aviation Consumer Protections appointed by the Secretary of Transportation from 2012 through 2018.