What is Electronic Toll Collection?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

In the old fairy tale “The Three Billy Goats Gruff” three goats must cross a bridge barred by an exceptionally unpleasant troll. The ideas reflected in the tale may surely be applied to the concept of the toll road, which is by no means new and has been slowing down the stream of traffic, foot, cart, car, or otherwise, for a very long time. Since toll bridges and roads are unlikely to go the way of the troll, innovative methods have evolved for speeding up these toll passings. Electronic toll collection, for instance, is a way to collect a toll while people make short stops or don’t even have to stop as they enter a toll road.

Businessman giving a thumbs-up
Businessman giving a thumbs-up

There are many different examples of electronic toll collection in use today. These typically use some form of scanning device, either handheld or placed near a tollbooth, which may read a device or sticker on a car and automatically deduct money from the driver’s registered account. If people use the same toll roads everyday, they may be able to use the same device at all times and have access to an online means to add money as needed so that they are able to pay the toll with fewer stops and starts or without even having to slow down.

Being able to speed through a toll road may be most desirable, but it does come with one feature that can be problematic. When people don’t have the necessary device or decal on their car, they can sometimes evade the toll. Some electronic toll collection devices limit this by making people pass through a tollgate that will only function if a person has adequate money in their account or if the driver has the necessary equipment on a vehicle to show he/she has an account. Of course, the disadvantage of using gates is that it does slow traffic, sometimes to a stop and start progress.

One thing that can be said about electronic toll collection is that it is extremely varied. Each system may work slightly differently and require different equipment, decals or other things to access speedier areas of transit. Additionally, though electronic toll collection can be desired on those routes where heavy commute traffic occurs, it doesn’t necessarily preclude the need to have human toll collectors. In the San Francisco Bay Area, for example, the Fastrak program can be used on a number of bridges: a convenience for commuters, but relatively unnecessary for the occasional traveler. Ultimately, the cost to collect toll electronically can create a higher toll, which is then conferred upon the frequent and infrequent traveler at the same rate.

There are certainly positive things to be said about electronic toll collection. It is usually easy to use, more convenient and it does more than reduce time wasted paying the toll. When cars make only brief stops or able to travel through without stopping, lower vehicle emissions result. The fact that this form of collection may reduce pollution levels does not go unmentioned, and the attractiveness of collection from this aspect alone is powerful inducement to install collection systems.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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