Q: Why doesn't the state of Florida make their tolls compatible with the most popular and common system in the country — E-ZPass? There are literally hundreds of thousands of visitors and part-time homeowners here in Florida with E-ZPass transponders, and could take advantage of the convenience. Many other state systems incorporate E-ZPass for its widely known acceptance.
— Fran Fayan, Naples
A: When this question was first answered five years ago , the Florida Department of Transportation did not plan to make SunPass — the state's prepaid, electronic toll program — compatible with E-ZPass or other toll systems outside the state.
"To make any toll system compatible with another would take a significant investment in money. Right now, that's just not something we are willing to do," a spokesman for DOT's Florida Turnpike Enterprise said at that time.
In 2007, Florida's transportation priority was widening roads; toll system compatibility was put on the back burner. But times have changed.
Within months, SunPass devices will be electronically interoperable with E-ZPass systems, according to the Florida Turnpike Enterprise. The state is working with the E-ZPass Group to establish a partnership where Florida's SunPass can be used while driving in other states, and vice versa.
States using E-ZPass are Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Virginia and West Virginia. With the addition of Florida, these states would account for about 70 percent of the transponder and license plate tolls in the U.S.
The popularity of Florida's prepaid toll program has grown exponentially since we checked in five years ago. Operating since 1999, SunPass sold three million transponders by the first quarter of 2007. As of the first quarter in 2012, seven million SunPass transponders have been sold, the Turnpike Enterprise reports.
The idea behind SunPass is to save motorists time and money and create more efficient, less-congested roadways. SunPass toll traffic still must slow at toll plazas, but doesn't come to a complete stop. As cars pass through SunPass-only or mixed-use lanes, toll plaza equipment electronically deducts the toll charge from each motorist's prepaid account. A small transponder attached just below the rearview mirror inside vehicles' windshields communicates with special antennas at toll plazas.
SunPass mini sticker transponders ($4.99 plus tax) or portable transponders ($25 plus tax) are available online at SunPass.com and at all authorized retailers , which includes all Publix supermarkets, CVS pharmacy stores and turnpike service plazas. Both kinds of transponders require a minimum opening balance of $10 for a personal prepaid account from which tolls are electronically deducted, according to frequently asked questions at SunPass.com.
SunPass customers pay an average of 25 percent less than cash customers for most tolls because the prepaid toll program is a more efficient method of collecting tolls.
If you previously have hesitated, now may be a good time to get a SunPass . Toll roads statewide are expected to increase an average of 25 cents each by the end of this month. A 2007 state law requires toll adjustments based on inflation at least every five years.
The rate hike would raise the cost for most vehicles crossing Interstate 75's Alligator Alley to $3 for cash payments, or $2.75 for SunPass electronic payments, FDOT reports. The Alley's tolls last changed in February 2006, when the cost increased $1 to $2.50 cash or $2 with SunPass.
Last year, Florida began an effort to create an all-electronic tolling system in the state with the plan to eventually eliminate collection booths on the turnpike and other toll roads. Part of Florida's Turnpike already has replaced cash toll booths with cameras that take photos of license plates, used to identify and bill the vehicle's registrant for tolls. Tolls for drivers with SunPass are still subtracted from the motorists' accounts, saving a monthly billing charge.
Last summer, a mobile site in both English and Spanish was launched for SunPass. Customers may access their account balance, add funds, update vehicle or credit card information, and view recent toll activity with smartphones.