MIAMI -(CBS4) – It is done, no more cash for tolls on the Florida Turnpike from the Miami-Dade County line southward.
Drivers who pass through one of the 37 toll plazas from the Broward County line to Florida City will notice something — there are no more human toll collectors.
That’s because on Saturday the toll plazas along the Homestead Extension of Florida’s Turnpike began collecting tolls electronically with SunPass, or through a “toll-by-plate” option.
Officials say drivers should be on the lookout all weekend for traffic delays while people get used to the new system and while crews remove toll booths.
“We’ll have multiple construction crews about 13 that will mobilize across the southern 47 miles of the Turnpike and begin the final conversion to cashless,” said Chad Huff with Florida’s Turnpike Enterprise of the Department of Transportation. “Electronic tolling is basically the future of toll collection.”
It means an added convenience for drivers, but several former toll collectors recalled the days of their now dying industry.
They shared their stories with CBS4 news partner The Miami Herald. One toll collector recalled how she met her husband while collecting tolls.
About 270 employees have been affected by the electronic technology taking over their jobs. The newspaper reports that 60 people were reassigned, while others have retired or returned to school. Others simply didn’t know what they would do.
Ana Maria Silva is among those facing unemployment. She collected tolls and made change at the Northwest 41st street exit from the Turnpike.
“I don’t know what I am going to do,” she said.
But officials say a cashless system will make it easier for drivers.
“It’s going to make the road safer, it’s going to make traffic flow better and it’s going to be better for the environment,” said FDOT spokesperson Sonyha Rodriguez-Miller.
To automatically re-load their accounts when needed SunPass customers can link their accounts to a credit card. They can also be re-loaded at Navarro Pharmacies and several stores. Visit SunPass.com to find a location near you.
Drivers who do not have a SunPass will be will pay toll premiums ranging from 50 to 100 percent, depending on the toll location, as well as pay a monthly service charge of $2.50. They will receive their bills in the mail.
At a Broward County Turnpike service plaza motorist Anne Lackey welcomed the advent of totally cashless tolls.
“I think it’s a good thing, to speed it up a little bit,” Lackey said. “I didn’t like stopping every five minutes to put a dollar in.”
“I think it’s a great idea,” said another driver. “I already have my SunPass.”
Many who drive the Turnpike are visitors from out of state, or tourists in rental cars.
The FDOT’s Rodriguez-Miller said rental car companies will offer customers “toll packages” to cover their tolls. The tolls of rental customers who don’t purchase the coverage and still use the turnpike will be billed to the rental companies, Rodriguez-Miller said.
As for drivers from out of state who use the turnpike, they will be billed by mail like other “toll-by-plate” users. The FDOT estimates at least 70 percent of out of state drivers who receive bills will pay up, and that only two percent of those who drive the Turnpike extension are from out of state.
Overall, the FDOT says it collects more than 95 percent of the tolls it bills for.
“The vast majority of our customers are very honest,” Rodriguez-Miller said.
Demolishing the manned toll booths and lanes with change baskets and converting them to electronic tolling is expected to cost about $58 million.
The FDOT says the eventual goal is to make the entire Turnpike a cashless toll road.
(©2011 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. CBS4 news partner The Miami Herald contributed material for this report)