By Rich Bastan
Imagine if you could put all of the toll roads in the United States into a straight line starting in Orlando. Where in the world do you think you’d end up? Think big – you have at least 5,881 miles to work with, according to the Federal Highway Administration.
My point in this example is that tolling is bigger and more important to transportation than we think – in fact 35 U.S. states and territories have at least one tolled highway, bridge or tunnel. To some, toll roads are simply a revenue source – and to a high degree, that is their function because our roads and bridges need to be maintained. Many of the best roads and bridges in the U.S. might have never been built or renovated if it weren’t for the revenue collected through tolling. I bet people in the New York metropolitan area can’t imagine driving without the Tappan Zee Bridge.
However, well-maintained toll roads also serve a higher purpose because they mean safer travel for all commuters. In fact, the fatality rate on U.S. toll roads is three times lower than the fatality rate on U.S. roads overall, according to The International Bridges, Tunnels and Turnpikes Association. And toll roads are typically less congested than other U.S. roads – especially since most new toll facilities are built using electronic toll collection systems so commuters don’t need to stop or slow completely down to pay the toll, which helps cut down commute time.
Improving the tolling experience in Florida
Now that we’ve briefly thought about tolling on a large scale, let’s take a step back and look at one specific state: Florida.
Florida alone boasts more than 700 miles of toll roads throughout the state, and it is the largest toll agency in the U.S. The state sees more than one billion tolling transactions per year, and more than five million drivers have a SunPass account. SunPass is similar to E-ZPass – it’s an electronic transponder that attaches to the windshield, and the toll is automatically deducted from a prepaid account when cars drive through a designated SunPass lane.
I was recently in the Sunshine State for the grand opening of the customer care center at Ocoee’s West Oaks Mall. This customer care center focuses on processing tolling transactions and managing the tolling accounts across the state. Last year, Xerox signed a contract with the Florida Department of Transportation to deliver tolling-based services, including billing and transaction processing, registration identification, system reporting, invoicing, collections, transponder management, and customer account management and support. The contract also consolidates Florida’s multiple tollway operations into one efficient back-office system, which helps the State reduce operational costs, gain operational efficiencies and provide a better customer experience.
I think that drivers sometimes forget that tolling plays a critical role in managing traffic flow. There is a cost attached to it, but the benefit is that tolled roads play a large part in safe commuting and giving time back to drivers.
So tell me – where would you go if you could hit the open road?