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Austin-Area Toll Roads Going Cashless; Rates Increasing Tuesday
Higher tolls, going cashless -- on Tuesday, Jan. 1, Austin-area toll roads are doing away with cash booths. TxDOT says going electronic only will save money and be a better deal for drivers, but some drivers think it’s highway robbery.
"I guess the prices are already a little bit high so that's not too cool," said driver Daniel Sanchez, who has a TxTag.
On Tuesday, rates on some plazas are going up as much as 50 percent. When you zoom through, you either pay with a Texas Tag or cameras will record your license plate number and you’ll get a bill mailed to you.
"What do travelers do?” asked Susan Richter, who was visiting Austin from Florida on Monday. “Aren't they charging you more when you go through?"
The TxTag website shows Pay By Mail rates around 33 percent higher than TxTag rates, with a $1.15 statement fee tacked on each monthly bill. The cash rate for 2012 was around 10 percent higher than the TxTag rate.
"I always go through the exact change booth," said Katie Makos, a Pflugerville resident upset with the switch to electronic-only. “They're basically telling you if you wanna go on this (toll road), you're gonna have to buy this (TXTag)."
TxDOT officials argue that not only will the move save the agency $5 million in 2013, it’s faster and more convenient for drivers.
"It's not convenient,” said Makos. “It's more expensive. They're ripping us."
Still, some drivers say if you use it enough, the TxTag pays for itself.
"You don't get (bills) in the mail, which is where you really get the problems for prices," said Sanchez.
KEYE TV is waiting to get specifics from TxDOT officials on enforcement specifics. An official from the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority, which runs the cashless 183A toll road, says they have a 72 percent collection rate, with most drivers paying within 90 days. Because of the fees tacked on for overdue bills, they eventually make up nearly all of the lost revenue. As for who they take to court, the official said they choose randomly among the bigger bills.
Drivers can still use TollTags or EZ Tags from Dallas or Houston on Central Texas toll roads. According to the TxTag site, a TxTag costs $20.
Officials from TxDOT were unavailable Monday morning for an on-camera interview.
By Adam Bennett