A toll road, (also known as a tollway, turnpike, pike, or toll highway, especially if it is constructed to freeway standards), is a road for which a driver pays a toll (that is, a fee) for use. Structures for which tolls are charged include toll bridges and toll tunnels. Non-toll roads are financed using other sources of revenue, most typically fuel tax or general tax funds. Tolls have been placed on roads at various times in history, often to generate funds for repayment of toll revenue bonds used to finance constructions and/or operation. The building or facility in which a toll is collected may be called a toll booth, toll plaza, toll station, or toll gate.
Two variations of toll roads exist: barrier (mainline) toll plazas and entry/exit tolls. On a mainline toll system, all vehicles stop at various locations along the highway to pay a toll. While this may save money from the lack of need to construct tolls at every exit, it can cause lots of traffic congestion, and drivers could evade tolls by going around them as the exits do not have them. With entry/exit tolls, vehicles collect a ticket when entering the highway, which displays the fares it will pay when it exits, increasing in cost for distance traveled. Upon exit, the driver will pay the amount listed for the given exit. Should the ticket indicate a traveling violation or be lost, the driver would typically pay the maximum amount possible for travel on that highway. Short toll roads with no intermediate entries or exits may have only one toll plaza at one end, with motorists traveling in either direction paying a flat fee when they enter or exit the toll road. A variant of the entry/exit toll system exists where mainline barriers are present at the two endpoints of the toll road and each interchange has a ramp toll that is paid upon exit or entry. In this case a motorist would pay a flat fee at the ramp toll and another flat fee at the end of the toll road, thus no ticket is necessary. Modern toll roads often use a combination of the two, with various entry and exit tolls supplemented by occasional mainline tolls.
Many modern European roads were originally constructed as toll roads in order to recoup the costs of construction. In 14th century England, some of the most heavily used roads were repaired with money raised from tolls by pavage grants. Turnpike trusts were established in England beginning in 1706, and were ultimately responsible for the maintenance and improvement of most main roads in England and Wales, until they were gradually abolished from the 1870s. Most trusts improved existing roads, but some new ones usually only short stretches of road were also built. Thomas Telford's Holyhead road (now the A5 road) is exceptional as a particularly long new road, built in the early 19th century. See also Toll roads in the United Kingdom.
Toll roads are found in many countries. The way they are funded and operated may differ from country to country. Some of these toll roads are privately owned and operated. Others are owned by the government. Some of the government-owned toll roads are privately operated.
Some toll roads are managed under such systems as the Build-Operate-Transfer (BOT) system. Private companies build the roads and are given a limited franchise. Ownership is transferred to the government when the franchise expires. Throughout the world, this type of arrangement is prevalent in Australia, South Korea, Japan, Philippines, and Canada. The (BOT) system is a fairly new concept that is gaining ground in the United States, with Arkansas, California, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Mississippi, Texas, and Virginia already building and operating toll roads under this scheme. Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Tennessee are also considering the BOT methodology for future highway projects.
The more traditional means of managing toll roads in the United States is through semi-autonomous public authorities. New York, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Kansas, Oklahoma, and West Virginia manage their toll roads in this manner. While most of the toll roads in California, Delaware, Florida, Texas, and Virginia are operating under the BOT arrangement, a few of the older toll roads in these states are still operated by public authorities. Payment of the road toll may be made in cash, by credit card, by pre-paid card or by an electronic toll collection system. In some European countries payment is made using stickers which are affixed to the windscreen. Some toll booths are automated. Tolls may vary according to the distance traveled, the building and maintenance costs of the motorway and the type of vehicle.
In July 2007, the Sydney Harbour Tunnel in Sydney, Australia, became the first toll road to fully convert from cash to electronic toll collection (as opposed to toll roads that opened as electronic-only).
Travelers have disliked toll roads not only for the cost of the toll, but also for the delays at toll booths.
An adaptation of military "identification friend or foe" or RFID technology, called electronic toll collection, is lessening the delay incurred in toll collection, and may eliminate it entirely in the future. The electronic system determines whether a passing car is enrolled in the program, alerts enforcers if it is not. The accounts of registered cars are debited automatically without stopping or even opening a window. Currently, DSRC is used as a wireless protocol. Other systems are based on GPRS/GSM and GPS technology. Such a system (for trucks only) in Germany launched successfully in January 2005 and by the end of its first year of operation will have charged tolls for around 22 billion driven kilometres. One of the advantages of GPS-based systems is their ability to adapt easily and quickly to changes in charge parameters (road classes, vehicle types, emission levels, time slots, etc.). Another advantage is the systems' ability to support other value-added services on the same technology platform. These services might include fleet and vehicle engine management systems, emergency response services, pay-as-you-drive insurance services and navigation capabilities.
The first major deployment of an RFID electronic toll collection system in the United States was on the Dallas North Tollway in 1989 by Amtech (see TollTag). The Amtech RFID technology used on the Dallas North Tollway was originally developed at Sandia Labs for use in tagging and tracking livestock. In the same year in Italy the Telepass active transponder RFID system was introduced all across the Italian territory.
Highway 407 in the province of Ontario, Canada has no toll booths, and instead the rear license plates of all vehicles are photographed when they enter and exit the highway. This made the highway the first all-automated highway in the world. A bill is mailed monthly for usage of the 407. Lower charges are levied on frequent 407 users who carry electronic transponders in their vehicles. The approach has not been without controversy: In 2002 the 407 ETR a class action with a refund to users. The same method is used on Highway 6 in Israel.
Throughout most of the East Coast of the United States, E-ZPass (operated under the brands I-Pass in Illinois, i-Zoom in Indiana, and Fast Lane in Massachusetts) is accepted on almost all toll roads. Similar systems include SunPass in Florida and FasTrak in California. The systems use a small radio transponder mounted in or on a customer's vehicle to deduct toll fares from a pre-paid account as the vehicle passes through the toll barrier. This reduces manpower at toll booths and increases traffic flow and fuel efficiency by reducing the need for complete stops to pay tolls at these locations.
By designing a tollgate specifically for electronic collection, it is possible to carry out open-road tolling, where the customer does not need to slow at all when passing through the tollgate. The U.S. state of Texas is testing a system on a stretch of Texas 121 that has no toll booths. Drivers without a TollTag have their license plate photographed automatically and the registered owner will receive a monthly bill, at a higher rate than those vehicles with TollTags.
Another feature of many electronic toll collection systems is interagency interoperability, where the same transponder is accepted at many toll agencies. For instance, the E-ZPass tag is accepted at most toll facilities in the Eastern United States, from Virginia to Maine and west to the Peace Bridge spanning the Niagara River as well as Indiana and Illinois. Ohio has signalled intention to join E-ZPass for the Ohio Turnpike, but has not officially done so. The TxTAG system allows interoperability throughout the state of Texas, but is not compatible with systems used outside of Texas.
Electronic toll collection systems also have drawbacks. A computer glitch can result in delays several miles long. Some U.S. state turnpike commissions such as the Ohio Turnpike have debated implementing E-ZPass but have found that such a system would be ineffective because most of the people who use the turnpike are not commuters, are from states that have no ETS on turnpikes, or are from states that don't have a turnpike at all. The toll plazas of some turnpikes are antiquated because they were originally built for traffic that stops to pay the toll or get a ticket.
The technology does have its limits. For instance, the Highway 407 automatic number plate recognition technology has a reputation for the occasional misread plate, leading to bills being sent to motorists in remote parts of Ontario who have never been near the tollway.