The Pros and Cons of Cashless Toll System

It seems that more agencies and municipalities are implementing cashless toll collection systems. Some use electronic readers, such as E-ZPass, to automatically charge drivers for crossing bridges and driving on roads. Others use systems that snap photos of license plates. The images are used to track travel, and drivers are billed based on these records.

Nearly half of the nation’s 336 tolled highways, bridges, and tunnels use cashless tolling exclusively, according to the International Bridge, Tunnel, and Turnpike Association, a respected industry group. The trend toward collecting tolls electronically is expected to increase significantly in the years ahead.

Here are negative and positive impacts this system could have on your projects. If you’re thinking about implementing an electronic toll payment system on your bridges or roads, this article will help you decide if that’s a smart move.

The negatives

For motorists

The transition to automated toll collection has presented drivers with significant challenges.

The biggest issue: Even though it’s easier than ever for drivers to purchase and refill automated toll passes, many forget to do it or choose not to. Because there are fewer (or no) toll lanes on bridges and roads that accept money, they’re forced to wait in long traffic lines to pay using cash, or they get tickets in the mail and face large penalties for not paying their tolls.

In addition to collecting money, counting it, and making change, toll collectors provide other services that drivers miss when they are no longer available, including:

  • Warnings. Toll collectors tell drivers when there are accidents ahead or other issues that could cause traffic slowdowns on bridges and roadways.
  • Directions. Of course, GPS is ubiquitous these days, but many drivers, especially those who are older, prefer to get directions from real human beings who know the local areas well. People also like to get a second opinion that their GPS systems are accurate at recommending the best, most efficient routes.
  • Monitoring. Toll collectors look out for inebriated people and others who shouldn’t be behind the wheel, and report them to police.
  • Advice. There’s plenty of information available online about hotels, restaurants, and gas stations. However, many travelers appreciate personal advice when selecting lodging and dining options — or finding mechanics who offer the automotive services they need.
  • Tips. Toll personnel often provide advice on how to get from one place to another faster and more efficiently.
  • Friendliness. Many locals enjoy a cheerful “good morning” at the beginning of the day or a “good night” at the end from a familiar face in a toll booth.
  • Emergency help. Toll collectors have been known to use their own money when drivers don’t have enough cash to cover tolls. Sometimes it’s a loan. Other times, it’s a gift.

Other concerns for drivers include:

  • Surprises. When people hand over cash, they know how much they’re spending on tolls in real time. With cashless systems, they may not be aware of how much it coststhey’re spending to cross bridges and use highways until they get their statements.
  • Privacy issues: Many individuals and advocacy organizations are concerned that automated toll collection provides a way to track people as they drive from place to place.
  • Billing errors. Drivers have little recourse when they’re charged in error or are forced to pay unexpected penalties that can far exceed the actual tolls.

Many of these issues can be mitigated with signage, good communications, well-trained customer service reps, and additional traveler advisory kiosks at rest stations.

For toll collectors

Toll collectors who are forced to leave their dependable jobs often face reduced circumstances. Even with help from their labor unions, it’s difficult for many displaced workers to find jobs that pay as much or provide comparable benefits. Allowing plenty of time to transition toll workers to new jobs will help prevent the negative impacts of a forced job change.

The positives

For motorists

There are many benefits to cashless tolling for drivers, including:

  • Convenience. Most people prefer the ease of loading a pass or paying a monthly bill online compared to having to find cash while driving and waiting in long lines to pay tolls.
  • Less wait time. Cashless tolling eliminates the human factor and keeps traffic moving through toll plazas.
  • Enhanced safety. Drivers in cashless toll plazas are less likely to unexpectedly change lanes to find shorter toll lines or slow down or brake as they approach the toll booths. This reduces the possibility of accidents.
  • Improved traffic. Electronic toll collection allows officials to raise and lower tolls to control traffic. Higher tolls discourage drivers from entering congested areas, while lower ones encourage them to use less busy, albeit often less convenient, bridges and roads. 

Make sure you communicate these benefits to motorists when you implement an electronic system.

For toll collectors

  • Enhanced workplace safety. Toll collectors are frequently victims of robberies, harassment, and unwanted advances. Moving them into other jobs helps prevent crimes against them.
  • Better use of skills. People who shift from toll collecting jobs to other positions in their agencies usually end up doing more valuable and engaging work. This includes ensuring safety and security, helping out in emergencies, and managing traffic.
  • Greater job satisfaction. Toll collecting jobs are mentally exhausting because of boredom and the stress of dealing with difficult drivers. Workers who move to other types of positions generally experience less stress and enjoy their jobs more.

Highlight these benefits to help reduce anxieties about making a job change.

For the environment

Electronic toll collection has been shown to reduce pollution. Vehicles idling in toll lines release contaminantes that foul the air and contribute to global warming. The issue is eliminated when traffic can pass through toll plazas without stopping. Promote this benefit when transitioning to a new cashless system. It will resonate with drivers who care about the planet.