My favorite part of driving is the toll plaza. The inevitable lane spread, halting driving, paying, and then crushing merge of cars just does it for me. Who doesn’t love a little break from simple, cruise control-fueled highway time, after all? Hold on, I’m looking back at that and realizing that I wrote “My favorite part of driving” when I meant to say “The part of driving that makes me want to scream at aardvarks.” Sorry, typo.
Toll plazas are the hazelnut coffees of the roadway – I guess someone wants them, but it’s not clear why. To avoid the worst parts of tolls – apart from the paying bit, although it can be cheaper – the greatest capitalist minds have given us electronic payment options.
But, they’re not all interchangeable and they don’t all offer the same perks. Today, we’ll look at some of the largest systems, where they work, and why you should get one or all of them lined up for your next road trip.
E-ZPass is the choice of my people – East Coasters not in Florida, South Carolina, or Georgia. The trick to E-ZPass is to figure out where you need to get one to get the most value out of your travel. The company offers a discount to users in the state where the device is purchased.
For instance, I live in Maryland and get 25% off the two-axle rate at almost all tolls. There are some exceptions and some bonus savings, but 25% off across the board isn’t bad. Once I get out of Maryland, though, I get bupkis. Nada. In every other E-ZPass state, I pay the full fare – though I get to do it at 30 to 50 MPH.
But I don’t have to live in Maryland to buy one there. So buy your E-ZPass wherever you drive on toll roads most to get the most bang for your buck.
If you’re on the east coast, E-ZPass is clearly the way to go – unless you’re in Florida, South Carolina, or Georgia.
In Florida – home of 4 Rivers barbeque – you’ll be rocking the SunPass. SunPass offers a series of (slightly complicated) discounts based on where you travel and how often you go there. Most of the discounts kick in after a certain number of trips in a month.
The idea is to reward frequent users – commuters – by giving them a little kickback when they use the service. For the rest of the population, there are some smaller savings to be found along the way.
For instance, using SunPass’s toll calculator, you can see that a trip from Wildwood to Cocoa Beach would cost you $7.20 in tolls if you use SunPass – there are five booths along the way – and $8.25 if you’re using cash.
If you’re a frequent commuter, though, you can snag some solid returns. Orange County drivers who use the Beachline Expressway (SR 528) more than 40 times in a month get a 5% rebate applied to the next month’s bill.
SunPass is also accepted in Georgia and North Carolina.
South Carolinians (Palmettians? That can’t be right.) who want to skip the line can use Palmetto Pass. While North Carolina is on the E-ZPass system, that’s as far as it goes. As it turns out, though, there aren’t really any toll roads in South Carolina.
The state is home to just two pay-to-drive roads – the Southern Connector in Greenville and the Cross Island Parkway on Hilton Head Island. If you’re not going to either of those places, you might skip this one.
Peach Pass is Georgia’s own toll-time-saving system. Like South Carolina, Georgia doesn’t have a lot of toll roads, especially after GA 500 stopped its toll collection a few years back. Actually, now you’re really just paying tolls if you’re using the I-85 express lanes.
Peach Pass lets you do that. There’s really not much else to it. You can also use it in Florida and North Carolina.
Jumping across the country, we find FasTrak – the California toll transponder system. FasTrak used to be focused don San Francisco, but has expanded to include travel around Los Angeles and San Diego. For drivers in California, this one is a must.
FasTrak has a range of discounts – you get $1 off on the Golden Gate Bridge, for instance – and it’s used in some other promotions. San Diego drivers can currently be entered into a drawing for $50 is free tolls by using the system.
FasTrak operates only in California.
For truckers, Bestpass is a great solution. The company allows you to use multiple transponders, covering a ton of locations and providers. Later this year you’ll even be able to go to Canada. The system allows you to take advantage of those discounted rates while managing a whole fleet of vehicles through one place.
You make one payment, instead of managing a dozen different provider payments. You get a single customer service line to take care of all your needs. You can even get fleet-wide reports on what your trucks are doing and where they’re going, to make sure you maximize efficiency and costs.
For a toll system that’s currently this disjointed, Bestpass is an awesome solution. There’s a fee to join, based on the number of trucks you’ll be registering. You can also sign-up for weigh station benefits, to allow your drivers to skip the weigh-in.
Legislation passed in 2012 has stipulated that all toll transponders must be interoperable by October 2016. Now, of course that’s not really going to happen on time. California is looking at 2018 to be up to snuff and ready to work with the rest of the country, for instance. There’s a good rundown on Minnesota’s Transportation and Land Use site that gives a breakdown of all the pieces in play, fi you want to know more about this.
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