USA Today: Texans can expect the most miles of tolls added in 2006

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Car renters to get E-pay option for tolls
By Gary Stoller, USA TODAY
March 12, 2006

Car rental companies are poised to plunge into electronic toll payment, a move that will save customers time and boost the fast-growing business of user-financed roads.

Cendant Car Rental Group, the owner of Avis and Budget, plans to announce Monday that renters at 117 locations in the New York and Houston metropolitan areas will have the option, beginning in April, to pay tolls electronically.

Avis and Budget will add a daily fee of up to $2, as well as pass along toll costs. Drivers get to avoid the lines at the cash booths.

Toll roads on tap…Motorists can expect to see more toll roads.
Miles of new toll roads planned as of Jan. 1, 2005:

Texas 174
Pennsylvania 50
Florida 46
North Carolina 36
Puerto Rico 27
Virginia 21
Illinois 13
California 10
Washington 9
Colorado 7
Source: Federal Highway Administration

The companies will make the option available by the end of this year in the Northeast, the Mid-Atlantic states, Florida, Chicago and Dallas, Cendant Vice President Michael Caron says.

Rival Hertz is testing toll-collection devices and may expand availability later this year, Hertz Vice President Richard Broome says.

The companies say they’re reacting to customer demand and that the demand is likely to get stronger with the proliferation of toll-financed roads and bridges.

Neil Gray of the International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association says toll road mileage may double in five to 10 years. Now, 5,200 miles of roads in 35 states require tolls.

Most electronic payment systems involve a radio frequency device in the car that wirelessly transmits a vehicle’s identification code to a nearby reader.

That’s the technology Avis and Budget will use in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic, where toll authorities cooperate in an electronic toll-collection system called E-ZPass.

Avis and Budget renters will pay $1.50 per day to use an E-ZPass transponder, plus the toll. The Highway Toll Administration, a business partner of Cendant, will charge the renters’ credit card for tolls.

In Houston, the car rental companies will use another technology that doesn’t require a radio transponder. PlatePass uses a camera to capture license plate images to tabulate a toll. Renters will be charged $2 each day they use a toll road, plus the toll.

Toll authorities welcome rental car companies’ involvement in electronic toll collection, says Tracy Smith, of the Harris County Toll Road Authority in Texas. It could shorten lines and reduce auto emissions at cash tollbooths.

It could also cut down on “toll runners” — violators who pass through without paying. Car renters are major contributors to the non-payment problem, says David Centner, president of the Highway Toll Administration.

Many renters skip tolls because they believe they won’t get caught or are confused by the payment system, Centner says.