Some South Florida motorists who are no longer required to pay tolls at toll-booths on the region’s highways may harbor the misconception they can avoid paying toll. However, this mistake could risk their driver’s license.
In recent years, toll booths on segments of the Florida Turnpike and major Miami-Dade expressways have been replaced by an image-based electronic toll collection system that photographs a vehicle’s license plate to identify motorists responsible for payment – commonly called the ‘Toll-by-Plate” system.
Most South Florida motorists use the system by using a pre-paid electronic transponder, SunPass, affixed to their vehicles. When one drives through a toll zone, the related toll charge is deducted from the prepaid account, which can be replenished as required.
But some 10 percent of motorists without a SunPass are billed by the toll-by-plate system, when the vehicle crosses an electronic collection portal. A monthly invoice is mailed to the vehicle’s registered owner.
And it’s not unusual for these invoices to take registered owners by surprise. Monique Pearle said she loaned her car to her brother for a week when he visited from Jamaica. But when he returned home, Peale said she was surprised to receive “a bunch of bills with my car’s photographs for unpaid toll charges. My brother wasn’t even aware of driving through toll zones, and the car didn’t have SunPass.”
The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) – responsible for Toll-Plate collections on the Florida Turnpike – and the Miami-Dade Expressway Authority(MDX) – responsible for collections on Miami expressways, including the Don Shula, Dolphin and State Rd 112 – have both reported sluggish payments when the program initially began. But both agencies have implemented a system to counter delinquency. If the initial invoice isn’t paid by the due date, an additional $2.50 in administrative charges are added to a second invoice. If this invoice is ignored, it’s submitted to a collection agency, which adds additional fees to the balance owed. If the invoice isn’t paid, both agencies have authority to place a hold on the debtor’s driver license.
“The vehicle’s owner won’t be able to renew his/her license until the outstanding tolls are paid,” said Mario Diaz, MDX public information manager.
Profits on toll pays motorists dividends
While Diaz was unable to provide data related to delinquent payments, he said revenue from the Toll-by-Plate system was strong. “Every day over a million trips pass through the toll zones on the MDX System,” he said.
Revenue from the system is used by MDX to maintain the county’s expressways and ensure smother traffic flow. This year, revenue so exceeded budgeted expenditure that MDX’s board implemented a “Cash Back Toll Dividend Program” last July. A decision was made to refund some $2.2 million in toll charges to drivers who used the toll system.
“This is a dividend because the tolls motorists pay are an investment into the MDX expressway system,” Diaz explained, stating that eligible motorists should receive dividends averaging $75 each.
To be eligible for dividends under the program, the only one of its kind in the U.S., motorists, individuals and businesses must be registered, be SunPass customers in good standing, and spend over $2 weekly ($100 annually) in tolls on any of MDX’s five expressways. The dividends will be paid each year the agency makes a profit. Motorists registering this year will be automatically enrolled for future years.