In my discussions with trucking industry officials in recent years, I learned that—despite anti-tolls propaganda from affiliated groups such as ATA’s Alliance for Toll-Free Interstates—most of them appreciate the benefits of today’s all-electronic tolling: no need to stop and wait in line at toll plazas, avoiding accidents at said plazas, saving fuel, and the significantly lower cost of collection, compared with 20th century cash tolling. In addition, the fact that a large number of trucking fleets use toll roads and increasingly pay electronically via ATA-approved service providers Bestpass and PrePass Plus indicates a coming to terms with existing toll roads.
But there is one concern that has not gone away. Trucking officials repeatedly stress that they have no acceptable way to pass along to their customers (shippers of goods) the toll charges incurred. This has always struck me as bizarre, and my only explanation is that it is a conviction developed during the long history of cash tolling. In principle, all-electronic tolling should make it easy to figure out which loads of cargo incurred which toll charges getting from shipper to recipient—but apparently, nobody had gone to the trouble of devising a workable way to do this.
But a viable answer was unveiled last month. On March 23rd, Bestpass issued a news release headlined, “Bestpass Launches Toll Rebilling for Commercial Fleets.” Bestpass already offered its trucking company customers a single transponder compatible with tolling systems across the country, plus a single itemized monthly invoice—no matter how many different toll roads the company’s fleet may have traversed that month.
As explained by CEO John Andrews in the news release, “With Bestpass Rebilling, our customers can now recoup toll costs while radically simplifying their back-office operations.” The release explains that “Bestpass customers will be able to use the Bestpass web portal to designate single vehicles or groups of vehicles that are responsible for incurred toll transactions. They can also create toll statements for their customers on demand, for any time period and with their company logo, to provide supporting documentation so as to ensure they get reimbursed for the relevant toll charges.
So it looks to me as if the trucking industry finally has a solution to the problem of being able to pass along toll charges to their customers. To verify that I was interpreting this correctly, I queried Bestpass on this. A spokesman confirmed, emailing me that “Bestpass Rebilling does make it possible to pass along toll charges to a shipper,” and providing a few details of how this would work.
In recent decades, during periods when fuel taxes were very high, many trucking companies added “fuel surcharges” to their customer billings, and most customers paid them. That was in part due to the trucking industry making a strong public case that they could not and should not absorb such increased fuel costs.
Whether shippers will pay documented toll charges is, of course, a different question. Here is where ATA and other industry organizations can play an important role. Per-mile tolls are very likely going to be part of the replacement of per-gallon fuel taxes in coming decades. So shippers need to be educated that per-mile charges will be part of the cost of moving goods by truck. With itemized toll charges, shippers will know what they are paying for.
(This article first ran in the April issue of Surface Transportation Innovations.)
Email this author