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Florida Drivers Can Pay for Toll Roads With New Apps

Florida is seeing many new apps that pledge to make it easier to pay highway tolls, but transportation officials say sticking with the pre-existing SunPass and E-PASS is still the best way to pay.

Florida (21)
(TNS) — Florida is seeing many new apps that pledge to make it easier to pay highway tolls, but transportation officials say sticking with SunPass and E-PASS are still the best way to pay.

These apps offer to pay your bills from driving on Florida’s Turnpike, I-95 express lanes and other tolled highway stretches across the state. But state officials say there’s a caveat: Most, if not all, of these apps add on fees.

These apps “may have their place, but at the end of the day, the cheapest way to pay tolls is to have a prepaid electronic account like a SunPass or an E-PASS,” said Brian Hutchings, spokesman for the Central Florida Expressway Authority. “That’s always going to be the cheapest way to pay tolls.”

The apps are vying to compete with the physical transponders offered by SunPass, which is operated by Florida’s Turnpike Enterprise, and E-PASS, which also works on toll roads across the state.

How it works

Uproad is the latest app to extend service to Florida, joining at least three other highway tolling apps that have become available in app stores in recent years. The Uproad app works in 18 other states as well, but adds a 4.9% fee per transaction.

Here’s how Uproad works: Once you download the app on your phone, you add your license plate number and your preferred payment method. Uproad then links your information to various tolling agencies, allowing the app to directly pay your tolls. The coverage area varies depending on the app you choose.

When you drive through a toll, the app sends an alert on your device, notifying you of the toll and how much it costs. Uproad then automatically pays the toll, while taking a transaction fee, which varies depending on the app you choose.

Uproad began in California in 2020 and has since rolled out to various states across the country, including New York, Texas and North Carolina. Uproad’s user base is in the hundreds of thousands, according to Kathryn Kiritsis, Uproad’s director of marketing, who didn’t provide specific figures. Uproad is able to work in Florida because it connects directly with national tolling technology, which links numerous states across the country, Kiritsis said. (There’s no need to buy a transponder.)

Embracing new technologies

Such added payment options could serve as a boon for tolling agencies across the U.S. — and it’s a sign of the traffic improvements that we’ll see in the coming years due to technological advancements, according to Rocky Moretti, the director of policy and research for a national transportation research organization called TRIP.

“You look at what’s happened with Uber and Lyft in the past decade, and it just seems likely that we’re seeing a convergence of technology and mobility,” Moretti said. “So it seems extremely likely to continue.”

Such apps aren’t official state partners.

Florida’s Turnpike spokeswoman Angela Starke said that SunPass remains “the preferred method to collect tolls,” even though the idea of “a mobile app is aligned with the department’s move toward electronic toll collection.”

Drawing customers

Customers using several of the toll-paying apps offer a range of compliments or complaints in the review sections of app stores.

Generally, some customers comment about the convenience and easiness of using the apps while others complain about billing issues, or having a hard time reaching customer-service representatives. In the app stores, the companies tend to monitors the customers’ reviews and step up with offers to help.

Hutchings said he’s seen mobile apps pop up more in the past few years as technology continues to advance. E-PASS, which is run by the Central Florida Expressway Authority, is not currently partnered with any of these apps, but Hutchings said “given the fact they’re happening more and more,” they’re developing a policy on how to handle the apps.

“We recognize more of these things are coming online, and we need to have a standardized process with which to evaluate and consider working with these,” Hutchings said.

Still, government-operated services such as E-PASS remain a strong option, Hutchings said. “It’s cheaper to have an E-PASS and your information is not being used without your knowledge.”

Offering upgrades

In South Florida, Florida’s Turnpike has eliminated all of its cash toll plazas, converting to all-electronic tolling, which uses mounted cameras and sensors to bill drivers. There are still many advantages to staying with SunPass and E-PASS, state officials say.

While the toll money is all going to the state regardless of a device, Florida makes revenue off selling transponder devices, which may range from $5 to $15. But the services won’t include additional fees and they have dedicated customer service lines.

And they continued to improve their service, too.

As a result of a partnership with E-ZPass, a tolling transponder company that services states across the country, SunPass users can use their devices in 15 additional states along the East Coast.

Drivers need to purchase a SunPass Pro to gain access to the additional states. The upgraded transponders cost $14.95 and can be purchased online or in person at various locations, including Publix, Walgreens and CVS.

© 2021 South Florida Sun-Sentinel. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.