As toll roads go cashless, fleets and drivers face new costs

More and more toll operators across the country are limiting cashless payments during the coronavirus pandemic.

For truck owner-operators and fleet drivers who still pay cash at tolls, it could be an added expense during an already hectic time on the road, experts said.

“We’re seeing an increase in tolling authorities proactively suspending cash payments and shifting to all-electronic and toll-by-plate transactions, which impacts nearly all of our more than 7,700 customers with hundreds of thousands of vehicles,” John Andrews, president and CEO of Bestpass, told FreightWaves.

BestPass, based in Albany, New York, is a technology company that provides toll management services to owner-operators and commercial fleets.

Transportation authorities across the country that have halted some or all cash toll collections include the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the New Jersey Turnpike Authority, Florida Turnpike Enterprise, Illinois Tollway, Bay Area Toll Authority (San Francisco), Maryland Transportation Authority, Pennsylvania Turnpike, Harris County Toll Road Authority, Delaware Department of Transportation, and the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development.

The Harris County Toll Road Authority (HCTRA) in Houston was one of the first agencies to announce suspension of cash payments to limit the spread of the coronavirus.

HCTRA said the suspension, announced March 12, was intended to reduce “potential exposure of both drivers and employees” to the coronavirus.

“Cash customers should drive through and pay later online,” HCTRA said in a release. “If the customer is unable to go online, a bill will be mailed to the registered owner of the vehicle.”

While most trucking companies are familiar with EZ-Pass or transponders to handle tolls, Andrews said there are still trucking fleets that are owner-operated, with many still paying tolls in cash.

BestPass’ service lets commercial fleets drive between states without needing dozens of different electronic transponders to handle different tolling systems.

“For owner-operators and fleet drivers that are used to paying cash, they will default to a toll-by-plate transaction, which means that the tolling authority will capture an image of the vehicle’s license plate and look it up in any number of databases,” Andrews said.

With tolling authorities using license plates to apply toll transactions “to an active account or issue a paper invoice to the address on file,” it could be added overhead that managers need to stay on top of, Andrews said.

“Especially in the case of paper invoices, this can result in administrative fees and delayed billing for drivers and fleets,” Andrews said.

With tighter budgets and more stress on drivers already, Andrews said he expects owner-operators and fleets to seek ways to minimize costs and streamline work.

“For companies that do not currently deploy transponders, or who have incomplete transponder coverage within their area of operation, I would expect them to seriously reevaluate their approach to tolls in light of this unfolding situation,” Andrews said.

Most of the cash suspension at toll roads across the U.S. will continue until at least the end of April.

There are currently 145,179 confirmed cases of coronavirus across the country. The state of New York led with 59,648 cases as of Monday.