Do you drive a truck for a living, or perhaps you are considering it as a career? If so you probably know there's a fairly steep learning curve involved in setting up your own trucking company and running it profitably. There are federal and state regulations that need to be adhered to and many expenses to account for in order to profitably quote rates for shipping freight. One of the more complex of these expenses is tolls, and given that toll roads are now in 34 US states and can represent significant costs to freight carriers we created this Truckers Toll Survival Guide to help truckers understand how different tolling systems across the US and Canada operate in order to avoid costly mistakes when shipping freight.
This is the most common method of determining toll charges across the US, counting the number of axles with 5-axle, single trailer trucks being the most common configuration. Along with axle count, other specifications like single versus double tires, number of trailers and axles-per-trailer can all factor into toll charges.
Along with axle count the dimensions of the vehicle are often used in determining toll charges, including the width, height and length of the vehicle. For example, the New York State Thruway factors in both axle count and height of vehicle when determining toll charges, with vehicles exceeding 7'6" having a separate classification.
This often surprises many first-time truckers, but some tolling facilities including the Pennsylvania Turnpike charge truck tolls by weight. It may not be evident when you pull up to pay at the booth, but you're actually driving onto a scale that is weighing the truck and applying the corresponding fee.
If you're planning on just bringing a wad of bills with you to pay for any tolls along your route you may find yourself in for a surprise as an increasing number of toll facilities no longer accept cash. In fact toll booths in general are disappearing from highways around the globe as new technologies enable high speed tolling via overhead gantries with transponder readers and video cameras to capture the license plates of vehicles without transponders, who are then sent a bill by mail to the address registered to the plate.
In 2016 a number of major toll systems made the shift to AET (all-electronic-tolling) including the Tappan Zee Bridge in upstate New York and the entire Massachusetts Turnpike, and this trend will increase in the coming years as the state of New York has made the commitment to move all it's tolling facilities to AET. In fact it's increasingly rare to find any new toll facility being introduced that accept cash.
Along with AET, another major trend in tolling in the US has been the rapid spread of Express Lanes (also known as Managed Lanes or Hot Lanes). These lanes are located in metropolitan areas and often utilize existing HOV (high occupancy vehicle) lanes by allowing solo drivers the option to pay to drive on them. The goal is to better manage rush hour traffic, and one of the unique aspects of an increasing number of these lanes is that pricing is dynamic, changing as frequently as every 5 minutes based on traffic patterns.
You can learn more about Express Lanes here, but the important thing for truckers to know is that many of these lanes are for passenger vehicles only and so may not be an option for commercial freight carriers. However these rules are changing and as more of these systems get introduced truckers will likely find Express Lanes as a viable option to bypassing traffic in metropolitan areas.
One the smartest ways for truckers to save money on tolls is by setting up transponder accounts with the agencies that cover tolling facilities in the areas in which they will operate as there are often substantial discounts offered through these accounts. Below is a list of some of the major transponders and the regions they cover:
A number of agencies offer additional volume discounts for larger enterprises, however smaller independent truckers and owner operators can also take advantage of these discounts through companies like Bestpass which aggregate the volume of all its customers so that even the smallest ones receive the maximum discount. Bestpass transponders cover all the major toll facilities in the US and they can also help reduce administrative expenses related to tolls by providing a single monthly invoice and handling any dispute resolutions on your behalf. You can learn more about these benefits on the Bestpass website.
Another way to save money and reduce the complexity associated with tolling is to use the tools provided by Tollsmart such as the Tollsmart Toll Calculator for trucks to easily calculate toll costs for a route and find alternate routes with fewer tolls, which can result in substantial savings in some regions. The app also helps you quickly see which transponders and methods of payment are accepted at each tolling facility along your route, and if there are any unique rules related to truckers, such as size or weight restrictions (see examples below).