A Message from the Executive Director of Florida's Turnpike
Did you know the Founding Fathers left road building largely in the hands of the states and local municipalities? They believed locals could better maintain their roadways and so provided no federal mechanism for funding or constructing them. As a result, by the time Henry Ford began the mass production of vehicles that led to America's love of both cars and traveling the open road, cities and states were designing all kinds of signals and signs to direct traffic around urban areas. There were no recognized standards. The first stop sign was a white rectangle with black letters, not the red octagon we are familiar with today. Most signals had only green and red lights and a buzzer to warn the color was changing, not a yellow light. Police officers stood in the middle of the intersections and manually changed the signals from green to red. It took state transportation officials banding together to begin providing continuity. Eventually, signs and signals would be the same whether you were in Salt Lake City or Atlantic City.
Things evolved that way with electronic toll collection. Each state picked a system suited to its needs at the time, with the price of installation and maintenance near the top of the list in importance. Toll Tag, the first electronic toll system in the U.S., was installed in Texas in 1989. In the mid '90s New York and New Jersey got on the same page with E-ZPass because they were just across the river from one another and traffic continually traveled back and forth on a myriad bridges and tunnels. California picked an entirely different system, as did Washington State. When the Florida Department of Transportation was ready to begin electronic collection, we picked the technology that became SunPass.
Twenty years ago, there was no reason to believe a driver in Texas would need or want to use his Toll Tag in Massachusetts. In major urban areas, most toll traffic was locals going to and from work. Commuters had replaced the long distance travelers that made up the majority of the traffic on the legacy turnpikes in the '50s, '60s and '70s.
Florida remains the most popular tourist destination in the US, however, and we have thousands of motorists coming from the Atlanta and Raleigh/Durham areas--for football games, to visit family or the tourist attractions and beaches. Floridians are traveling to vacation spots in Georgia and North Carolina. It makes sense for us to allow our respective customers to use their own transponders when traveling nearby for day or weekend trips and longer vacations.
Florida just became interoperable with Georgia; we can use our SunPass on Atlanta's Express Lanes and they can use their Peach Pass here in the Sunshine State. Last summer, we began accepting Quick Pass from North Carolina. We are also working with other nearby states on becoming interoperable very soon. We have had some requests by winter residents to be able to use their E-ZPass here in Florida, but until recently, SunPass customers had shown little interest in using their transponders outside the Sunshine State. That is changing.
Meanwhile, on the larger stage, the federal initiative Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21 Century (MAP-21) mandates that all toll systems in the U.S. will be interoperable by October 2016.
That requires all of the agencies complete a lot of work in a short time. Thirty-five states have toll roads, bridges, tunnels or causeways. Our friends farther north in Ontario are also interested in interoperability.
We must make all of the different existing technologies "talk" to each other without requiring every state to change to one type of toll protocol, which would run into billions of dollars. Business rules must be established that include such things as the number of times per day active account data is exchanged and the timeframe for reconciling transactions and income for each agency. Most important, however, is ensuring that SunPass customers receive equal and fair treatment when traveling on other state's toll facilities without being charged higher tolls or service fees.
Also, we are participating in a national effort to develop universal signage that will tell you where your SunPass is accepted--whether you are traveling on the Capitol Beltway or the Golden Gate Bridge.
Another step in readying Florida for nationwide interoperability is our ongoing SunPass Tag Swap program. If you have received a postcard from SunPass and have not taken advantage of the opportunity to get a new transponder, I urge you to do so as soon as possible. Call 1-855-TAG SWAP (1-855-824-7927) or visit www.sunpasstagswap.com. Once you have your new interoperable-ready transponder please take a minute to review that your SunPass account is up to date by going to www.SunPass.com.