Tolling system may raise costs

For some commuter students at the University of Miami, the journey to and from school requires the use of major expressways. These students face the reality of paying tolls as a part of their daily routine.

An electronic tolling system has expanded to include roads in Miami-Dade County such as the Dolphin and Airport expressways, and it is changing the way UM commuters pay when they drive to class.

Miami-Dade Expressway Authority (MDX) developed this tolling system called Open Road Tolling (ORT) to relieve traffic congestion. The ORT initiative is an automatic billing system through SunPass. Before ORT, tolls were paid at traditional booths.

These most recent roads added to ORT are the SR 836/Dolphin Expressway and SR 122/Airport Expressway, which launched Saturday.

Although drivers may have to pay tolls more regularly than before, members of the Association of Commuter Students (ACS) did not see these changes in cost as significant in light of the overall cost of tolls.

Rather than cost, ACS member Gabriel Prado focused on the speed of automatic tolling.

“Now it’s great because you can just fly by and don’t need to stop,” he said. “It doesn’t take as long to drive places. It’s really about convenience.”

At traditional booths, drivers only pay if they happen to pass that booth. For example, MDX estimates that only about 55 percent of drivers on Dolphin Expressway paid tolls prior to ORT. For unpaid tolls, license plates of vehicles that did not pay were photographed, and the driver was issued a traffic ticket.

Unpaid tolls will now no longer result in a ticket. The vehicle’s license plate will still be photographed, but the driver will receive a bill for only the amount of the toll, plus a processing fee. The system for unpaid tolls also applies to drivers who do not have SunPass.

Freshman Annelise Fernandez, who pays about $145 a month just on tolls, appreciates this update.

“But at least, if I forget my SunPass, now I won’t get charged a full traffic ticket and just the amount of the toll,” she said.

Junior Malik Bibby, however, is not all pleased with these changes. He said the camera systems have taken away job opportunities for those that once sought work at traditional toll booths.

He also mentioned that this system could burden those traveling across state lines.

“It becomes harder to use receipts of travel from tolls to be reimbursed by a business because it takes time for them to find you and send a bill,” Bibby said.

Every vehicle automatically pays a toll just by entering the expressway. The amount of the toll, however, depends on how long a vehicle remains on the route, so a motorist who drives on Dolphin Expressway for 50 feet will not be charged as much as a motorist who drives for a mile.