Worried it’s losing to Florida’s Turnpike Enterprise though cooperation, Central Florida Expressway Authority seeks to compete more
Toll roads may be expanded in the coming years.

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The 14-year we-are-family relationship between the Orlando and state toll road agencies appears to be ending, as a frustrated Central Florida Expressway Authority set out Thursday to compete more with Florida’s Turnpike Enterprise.

The expressway authority’s board of directors Thursday authorized a plan that would seek to convince drivers to sign up for and use the local E-PASS electronic tolling transponders rather than the state’s SunPass system, including providing deeper discounts for using the local system.

In doing so, the Central Florida board essentially said that it was tired of Florida’s Turnpike dominating the electronic tolling market in Orlando. More to the point, the expressway authority decided it did not want to lose millions of dollars a year to the state system because most local drivers using transponders have signed up for Turnpike Enterprise SunPasses.

“Competition is good,” said expressway authority board chairman Welton Caldwell, a Lake County Commissioner.

Competition generally has not been the name of the relationship for 14-years, coordination and cooperation have been.

In 2002 the two systems agreed to synch their electronic tolling technologies so that E-PASSes could be used on any state toll road and SunPasses could be used on any expressway authority toll road. The two agencies – which each have toll roads in Central Florida – would simply make sure all electronic tolls collected were transferred to the right agency, minus a small collection surcharge. At that time, officials concluded it didn’t matter much anymore which transponders people used.

Since then, the Turnpike Enterprise has aggressively marketed its SunPass transponders, selling them almost everywhere, and even placing SunPass advertising billboards in downtown Orlando. Meanwhile, the expressway authority mostly has been content selling its E-PASS transponders only to drivers who might come into an expressway authority office and ask for one.

“The Turnpike Enterprise must consider us competition because they are advertising everywhere,” said Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, a board member.

The result is that today 64 percent of the transponders being used in Central Florida Expressway Authority toll booths now are SunPasses, Michelle Maikisch, the expressway authority’s chief of staff and public affairs officer told her board Thursday. And under the 2014 Wekiva Parkway Agreement between the two agencies, the Turnpike Enterprise now charges a collection fee of 3 cents, while the expressway authority only charges 1.5 cents.

So the Central Florida Expressway Authority could be losing $7 million to $8 million a year through such cooperation, Maikisch said.

She proposed a plan that the board adopted. Among the key points:

  • Reworking discounts that the expressway authority offers drivers who frequently use E-PASSs to pay their highway tolls, providing deeper and more direct discounts.
  • Aggressively marketing E-PASS transponders in Central Florida, even advising drivers to switch because the discounts could save them more money on tolls each month  with E-PASSes than with SunPasses.
  • Selling E-PASS transponders in retail stores as the Turnpike Enterprise does with SunPasses, as well as in public buildings such as county administration buildings and city halls in the four-county system.
  • Opening the nation’s first-ever toll-booth, drive-up customer service office, where drivers could set up E-PASS accounts and get transponders.

The Turnpike Enterprise operates the Florida Turnpike and parts of State Roads 417 and 528 in Central Florida. The Expressway Authority runs most of the busiest toll roads in Central Florida, including State Road 408, the busy East-West Expressway. Drivers with SunPasses qualify for discounts when driving the Turnpike Enterprise highways; those with E-PASSes qualify for discounts on the  expressway authority roads.

So, expressway authority officials argued, getting Central Floridians to switch from SunPass to E-PASS would not only save the expressway authority millions of dollars in collection surcharges, it would save money for most drivers too.

“I will tell you SunPass is everywhere,” bemoaned board member Scott Boyd, an Orange County Commissioner. “I don’t think a lot of people realize what they could be saving…. I think this is a really good idea and I think it’s great we’re moving in this direction.”

 

Scott Powers

Scott Powers is an Orlando-based political journalist with 30+ years’ experience, mostly at newspapers such as the Orlando Sentinel and the Columbus Dispatch. He covers local, state and federal politics and space news across much of Central Florida. His career earned numerous journalism awards for stories ranging from the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster to presidential elections to misplaced nuclear waste. He and his wife Connie have three grown children. Besides them, he’s into mystery and suspense books and movies, rock, blues, basketball, baseball, writing unpublished novels, and being amused. Email him at scott@floridapolitics.com.



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