Cashless Turnpikes Take a Toll on Oklahomans
Oklahoman drivers are facing a rise in turnpike tolls following the rollout of a cashless tolling system. The price increase ‘is to make up for the new system’s collection inefficiencies and billing costs.’
The state’s turnpikes started going cashless in summer, with the Oklahoma Transportation Authority announcing plans in late July for every turnpike to transition to cashless tolling by 2024. The new system employs cameras to capture vehicle license plates, with invoices then being sent to a vehicle’s registered owner if they are not signed up to pay via the state’s PikePass system.
Just two months later, at a senate interim study, Secretary of Transportation Tim Gatz announced that tolls had to be raised in order to cover the cost of introducing the system, the price of administration and postage, plus the high rates of non-payment traditionally seen with cashless systems.
We have to upcharge significantly for license plate tolling. We don’t like to do that, but that’s part of the business model that it brings to you.
Looking east, Pennsylvania’s turnpike authority has reported losses of $155 million this year—up from $104 million the previous year—with around 35 percent of drivers receiving a toll bill declining to pay it. A spokesperson for the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority (OTA) says the present collection rate for cashless tolls is around 60 percent, leaving some 40 percent unpaid. Gatz says ‘lessons learned’ from this and other states employing cashless tolling have led to the price hike in Oklahoma.
Publicly-available records uncovered by Amy Cerato, a civil engineering professor at the University of Oklahoma, suggest the toll increases will continue, with one chart showing a ten percent rise in 2023 for the most frequently-used route, and overall six percent increases continuing to 2045. It has also been suggested that PikePass users will see price hikes, though the OTA says they can currently ‘neither confirm nor deny the information.’
Gatz openly acknowledges the system is not a long-term solution.
The thing we cannot do is think that the cashless tolling system that we have in place now—that’s a license plate read—is going to serve us for all of the future, because it will not… We have to continue to explore other opportunities and other ways to more cost effectively pay those tolls.
The first tried-and-tested, proven cost-effective solution that comes to mind is cash.