FL Legislature approves discount toll program for frequent commuters only; but it’s only for a year

By: - December 14, 2022 4:35 pm

Toll facilities in Florida. Credit: Florida Department of Transportation

The Florida House on Wednesday unanimously voted to support a program to offer monthly toll discounts on several roads, turnpikes, and bridges in the state, but some Democrats wanted to expand eligibility to other Floridians who may not have a prepaid toll account.

The initiative – a toll relief program that would be offered from Jan. 1, 2023 through Dec. 31, 2023 – would only benefit frequent commuters using Florida’s prepaid toll program.

The Florida Senate earlier approved the toll relief bill, SB 6-A, and it moved quickly through committees in both chambers, leading to the final vote in the House on Wednesday.

Florida toll prepaid programs include SunPass, E-Pass, LeeWay and Uni, according to the Florida Department of Transportation.

For example, some toll facilities covered under the SunPass prepaid program include Turnpike Mainline (SR 91 / SR 821), Sawgrass Expressway, (SR 869), Alligator Alley, Polk Parkway (SR 570), Sunshine Skyway Bridge, I-4 Connector, Veterans Expressway (SR 589), Suncoast Parkway (SR 589), Beachline East (SR 528) MP 0-8, Beachline West (SR 528), according to a staff analysis.

Under the toll relief proposal, people who use electronic-based transponders in Florida, such as E-Pass and SunPass, would be able to receive a 50 percent discount on tolls if they have 35 or more toll transactions per month.

The transponder is an electronic device attached to a vehicle to recognize tolls and authorize withdrawals from a prepaid account.

That said, state Rep. Anna Eskamani, questioned whether drivers who don’t have the transponder could benefit from the program.

“I just noticed during committee that it’s only for folks who have a transponder,” said Eskamani, a Democrat representing part of Orange County. “So, I am curious is there any discount for folks who don’t or might wanna buy one so they can also benefit from the savings?”

State Rep. Demi Cabrera, a Republican representing part of Miami-Dade County, sponsored the House version of the toll relief legislation. She encouraged residents to enroll in a prepaid toll program so they can get a transponder to receive the discount. However, that would mean 35 or more toll transactions.

“We want to make sure that all of our hardworking Floridians know about this program. And that they all take advantage of the program, and they can get that 50 percent rebate,” Cabrera said. “There are plenty of Floridians out there who are spending hundreds of dollars a month and end up having thousands of dollars of savings a year – a huge impact.”

And state Rep. Jennifer Harris hoped that lawmakers would have offered the savings to residents who use other means of transportation.

“I do believe it’s a good bill. I know that our constituents do need a little bit of financial help,” said Harris, a Democrat representing part of Orange County.” I just wish that we would have been able to help more of our working-class constituents by offering the same type of rebate for our voters and people out there who travel by bus or by train.”

“In my district, where I live, a lot of people work for the theme parks,” she said. “They’re the economic fuel to our engine. So was hoping that we would be able to give them a little bit of a cushion as well.”

On Wednesday morning, Florida House Democratic Leader Fentrice Driskell filed an amendment to the toll relief proposal to ensure that funds used for advertising of the program would not benefit politicians.

But her amendment failed.

“Because if we are going to use funds for advertising, they should be used to inform consumers and not for the personal aggrandizement of any one politician,” said Driskell, who represents part of Hillsborough County.

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Issac Morgan
Issac Morgan

Issac Morgan is a 2009 graduate of Florida A&M University's School of Journalism, and a proud native of Tallahassee. He has covered city council and community events at the Gadsden County Times, worked as a sports news assistant at the Tallahassee Democrat, a communications specialist for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, and as a proofreader at the Florida Law Weekly.