Here's a tip to save money on toll roads when visiting Orlando

May 9, 2019, 12:42 PM · Don't get me started on toll roads.

As much as I love coming back to Central Florida, the region's dependence upon toll roads ranks near the top of my list of annoyances when visiting. (The airport's dire needs to expand bathroom facilities and to upgrade its food and TSA services lead that list, BTW.) Florida long has promoted itself as a low-tax haven, and the state's been able to do that in part by soaking its tourists with a variety of taxes and fees, including toll roads.

The days when Central Florida lacked the population to pay for the infrastructure that its tourists need are long over, as the Orlando metro area now has more than 2.5 million residents. But the people of Central Florida appear in no mood to tax themselves to pay the full cost of all the roads (and, heaven forbid!, mass transit) that the region needs, so the toll roads will be with us for quite a while.

But there is some relief for visitors flying through the Orlando International Airport this summer — if not from the tolls themselves but from the rental car companies that compound the pain with extra fees, surcharges, and penalties for driving on the area's often-inescapable toll roads.

The Central Florida Expressway Authority is offering a Visitor Toll Pass on a trial basis through August 1, for visitors picking up and dropping off rental cars at the Orlando International Airport. This trial program cuts out the rental car companies as middlemen between you and the toll roads.

To participate, reserve your pass online, then go to the Visitor Toll Pass counter in the rental care pick-up area on Level 1 in either terminal. The counter is open seven days a week from 9am to 1am. They will give you a tag that you will hang from the rearview mirror of your rental car. That tag allows you to avoid the cash lanes and drive through the electronic pass lanes on any Florida toll road... and it will charge you the lowest applicable toll rate, with no service fees.

That means that you can decline any offers for toll programs or transponder rentals from your rental car company. The Expressway Authority says that the Visitor Toll Pass can "save as much as 80% compared with rental car toll programs, plus an additional 23% on tolls by paying the electronic toll rate."

If you are headed to Walt Disney World, Universal Orlando, SeaWorld, or other area attractions from the Orlando airport, it's pretty much impossible to get there in any timely manner without going on a toll road, so this pass provides the best deal to manage that trip if you're renting a car to do it. The program officially ends August 1, but seeing as though the Expressway Authority is promoting this as a trial, here's hoping that it might continue after that date.

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Replies (17)

May 9, 2019 at 1:00 PM

Does Florida do specific "tourist taxes" at the hotel level as we're starting to see in the UK (Edinburgh to be specific)?

May 9, 2019 at 1:20 PM

@Chad, yes, it does. They are usually called "bed taxes" and are tacked onto all hotel rooms in the state. The rate is about 5%. The money is collected by the state and then distributed back to the counties for various uses, such as promotion, beach re-nourishment, stadiums, etc.

May 9, 2019 at 2:39 PM

The fees that rental car companies (and tolling administrators) charge are usurious, and I don't understand how they can get away with it. If you don't have a transponder (which rental car companies will gladly "rent" to you for a fee, even though it costs them NOTHING to maintain and little to purchase - $20 for the standard SunPass and $5 for the "mini"), tolling agencies gladly charge you higher tolls, as much as double of what those with transponders pay, and an "administrative fee" they say is necessary to query the DMV database to track down the address of the vehicle owner and send a bill in the mail. To top it all off, tolling agencies conveniently take their time mailing out tolling invoices, exposing drivers to late fees even if they didn't physically receive the bill until after it was due. Agencies recommend drivers immediately check online after they've passed under a gantry to pay their toll electronically to prevent late delivery of invoices and occasionally will remove the administrative fees and reduce tolls for electronic payers.

However, for all the fleecing that the tolling agencies do, they have NOTHING on the rental car companies. Not only do they charge users a fee to borrow one of their transponders to eliminate the administrative hassle paying tolls, but some have started requiring drivers to pay a non-refundable prepayment of tolls. The prepayment fees can be as high as $20, and the staff at the rental counters rarely know what tolling rates are in the area (you might pay less than $5 to get to and from the airport), and/or misquote current rates to encourage drivers to prepay when it is optional (provide bonuses to agents at the counter for every upsell), similar to prepaid fueling charges. If you do decide to rent a car without a transponder and unknowingly (or knowingly) pass under an automated tolling gantry, the rental car company often doubles or triples the toll and administrative fee, and will deliberately hold off notification, forcing you to pay the late fee and any additional penalties, which are subsequently marked up by the rental car company. The same happens in regions where there is automated traffic enforcement (speed, parking, red lights, etc...), where car rental companies deliberately delay notification to drivers so they can reap additional profits from marked up late fees and increased fines.

It's a complete racket. This Visitor Toll Pass appears to help in a small way. However, the real solution is to create a universal transponder that drivers can use across the country (and around the world). Remote tolling technology is the same pretty much everywhere, so there should be absolutely no reason the different tolling agencies cannot combine resources and share databases to allow for charging tolls across the country. EZPass governs one of the largest and densely populated parts of the US and their transponders work throughout the Northeast, Mid Atlantic, and as far west as Illinois. Yet, I can't use my EZPass in Florida or California, even though it's the exact same as ones issued in those states. I don't understand why these different agencies can't just get on the same page so drivers can take their personal transponder with them, and simply link it to the license plate of their rental car.

May 9, 2019 at 3:42 PM

Floridians themselves pay the bulk of tolls statewide, not tourists. That said, Orlando saw a 4.2% increase in visitors in 2018 reaching another record total, 75 million guests. The state already shared their own consecutive record total earlier. Meanwhile, it is Florida's own commuters paying the most to underwrite roads far from their own commutes- South Florida in particular has been over paying so Central Florida can grow more roads for decades, a thorny issue in the Miami/Ft Lauderdale area for generations.

May 9, 2019 at 4:07 PM

Or we just get rid of toll booths and just fund roads.

May 9, 2019 at 6:28 PM

The problem with that Brewags, if it can be seen as a problem, is the money has to come from somewhere. I'm willing to accept that in the long term that a toll road probably ends up costing more (as there's the cost of collection, plus many are privately funded/managed so there needs to be some profit margin there), but if you're not going to collect the money to pay for road infrastucture in tolls, its going to have to come out of tax revenue... I believe John Oliver did an episode showing that there's not a lot of money for infrasturcture through much of America as it is, so the natural question then comes what are you willing to accept in return? Higher taxes, or lower spending somewhere else?

May 9, 2019 at 6:52 PM

We have a lot of places where we spend like defense spending that can and needs to be cut to find things like infrastructure. Wealthiest country in the world with a crumbling infrastructure lol

May 10, 2019 at 3:05 AM

When flying to Orlando Sanford International Airport (love that airport, it's small and quick only a bit longer ride to our vacation home) we used Alamo where then (about 5 years ago) was just a tiny fee and the use of the toll road was deducted from our CC a week after we came home. It was really easy. But if rental companies ask a lot this is a great option.

May 10, 2019 at 6:49 AM

It's a good solution for anyone visiting from outside the US, but for US vacationers it's just as easy to purchase a Sunpass or E-Pass on line and use that.

Strangely coincidental that the toll companies bring this out just before the express lanes open on the 528 ... ??

May 10, 2019 at 9:55 AM

@Makorider - That makes sense, but why should 1-time visitors have to pay full freight for a transponder they will only use for a week? It makes far more sense for agencies to stock "loaner" units that tourists can rent for a short period of time and not have to pay the full cost of the transponder. It also doesn't address the fact that you would still be forced to get a new transponder (the utilizes the same technology) for every region that has a unique system. It's a joke, and intended in part to confuse tourists and expose them to additional, exorbitant costs when they can't figure out the tolling rules and requirements.

When we traveled to Sweden 7 years ago, we ordered a transponder for the Oresund Bridge/Tunnel (connects Sweden to Denmark and mainland Europe). Aside from the shipping costs, we didn't pay any extra for the unit (as long as it was returned), and were able to take advantage of the reduced tolling rate compared to the manned booths (20% less if I recall correct, through the round trip toll was still over $100). Additionally, the transponder was quite small compared to most American units (about the size of a pad of mini post it notes) and could work on tolling facilities throughout Central Europe if we chose to go beyond the immediate Copenhagen Metro Area. The only reason US tolling agencies don't standardize transponders is because there's too much money to be made in selling the devices and confusing visitors (and even locals - wait till those Express Lanes open) so agencies can profit from extra administrative and late fees when drivers don't follow the rules to the letter.

May 10, 2019 at 10:58 AM

Russell .... Publix sell the SunPass transponders for $20, but I do agree that for a visitor the lure of an E-pass booth at OIA would be the more convenient way to go.

My transponder is fixed to the windshield, so when I visit CP my drive from Cleveland always sees me pay the tolls.

May 10, 2019 at 11:00 AM

Isn't E-Z Pass now useable on some of the toll roads, like those that accept E-pass, not Sunpass?

May 10, 2019 at 1:43 PM

Since vast majority of our area's guests are staying in or near the attractions and will only encounter a highway toll enroute to and from the airport, really making way too much of this. Cheaper and easier to just pay the dang toll! Or just GPS your way with a slower, no toll route. I commute here daily and encounter none at all ever!

May 10, 2019 at 2:25 PM

"Cheaper and easier to just pay the dang toll!"

How is it cheaper and easier when you have to purchase or rent a transponder? If Florida moves completely to all-electronic tolling, which is the case in an increasing number of states, visitors have no choice but to get a transponder or use local routes. If you're in the theme park district, that's pretty easy to do, but getting to and from MCO or making any journey outside the immediate Orlando area, it's getting more and more difficult.

As you say, most visitors are typically only going to encounter a toll to and from the airport. Why should they have to pay $20 for a transponder for $6 worth of tolls or sit in long lines to pay cash?

May 10, 2019 at 2:36 PM

Orlando still has cash lanes! Don't require a transponder. So definitely cheaper and easier! Notice right hand side of photo with this article pointing out those cash lanes?

May 10, 2019 at 11:03 PM

Here's an idea, go into Google maps and use the toll avoidance feature. I live in Orlando literally surrounded by toll roads on all sides of my house and never ever pay tolls...and still get everywhere I want to go! Tolls are a choice and everything in Orlando is close enough to each other that you can easily opt out and barely even be inconvenienced.

May 13, 2019 at 7:29 AM

Yes Dave, there are still cash lanes on most of the Florida tolling facilities (not all though). However, the trend around the country is for all tolling to eventually transition to cashless, leaving those without transponders to pay the increased cost of "pay by tag" systems or proactively paying tolls through online systems shortly after passing underneath a gantry. Cashless tolls have not completely taken over Florida, but based on most of the rest of the country, it won't be much longer before manned and exact change booths are relics.

I'd also note that paying with cash can be a slow and arduous process, particularly at the booths around MCO, especially if you don't happen to carry exact change in coinage. Tolling administrators are doing what's best for them, not necessarily what's best for drivers, and as such those that are not well versed in tolling operations in foreign regions are doomed to pay up the nose or sit in lengthy lines just to leave and return to the airport

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