For commuters, toll roads can be a daily irritation and costly inconvience. For long-haul truckers, however, toll roads can significantly shift profit margins, especially for inexperienced owner-operators who are not yet familiar with best practices for calculating and dealing with toll costs.
The National Conference of State Legislators (NCSL) most recent report on tolling showed that more than half of the United States — 33 states total, reaching from Alaska to Florida — have active tolling facilities. Another 9 states, including Oregon, New Mexico, and Tennessee have laws that authorize tolling despite having no current facilities.
Additionally, according to The Fiscal Times, failing infrastructure and rising road maintenance costs in 2018 have led many states, like Florida, to increase the number of toll roads within their borders. Some states with no tolling facilities, like Connecticut, have also begun discussions about implementing new tolls in the future.
Unfortunately for truck drivers, the widespread presence of toll roads in the U.S. results in increased expenses that cannot be passed on to customers. In this blog, we provide you with best practices to help minimize the impact of toll costs on your profits.
Calculate Your Trip Tolls
You can predict the exact amount of some of your trucking expenses, such as your vehicle monthly payment if your buying your semi-truck. Your fuel, food, and of course toll costs are more unpredictable, especially because toll rates change throughout the day based on traffic conditions.
However, you can use toll maps and other technology to calculate your approximate costs. Websites like TruckRouter and mobile apps like Tollsmart Toll Calculator can help you anticipate the costs of a specific route before you start your engine.
Invest in the Right Electronic Pass
One of the most frustrating realities of toll roads in the United States is the fact that the same forms of payment are not universally accepted — not even cash! Many new truck drivers find themselves paying additional fees because they bring cash to pay tolls in states with no cash toll roads or they have incompatible electronic passes.
When you purchase an electronic pass, check that it covers the states you will pass through. The most common passes are as follows:
- Bestpass — a pass accepted in many states and a service intended to simplify tolling specifically for truckers by including all tolls as a single invoice
- E-ZPass — valid in 16 Midwestern and Eastern states
- FasTrak — works at most bridge and road toll facilities in California
- SunPass — primarily used in Florida but is also accepted in Georgia and North Carolina
- TxTag — works at all toll facilities in Texas
Do your research when deciding how best to pay your tolls. Unfortunately, you still can’t get an electronic pass that will work in all states despite legislation passed in 2012 by the U.S. Congress that requires the country’s tolling agencies to make their electronic toll collection systems interoperable.
Keep Precise Documentation
As a truck driver, you have a responsibility to track your expenses, especially if you are an owner-operator and handle your taxes on your own. You should be particularly thorough when documenting toll expenses because deducting toll costs on your taxes can be complicated.
Generally, toll costs apply to taxes in the following ways:
- Any tolls you pay while using your truck for commuting or personal purposes are not tax deductible
- Toll miles are subject to fuel taxes under your International Fuel Tax Agreement (IFTA) report except for any tax-exempt miles traveled on the Massachusetts Turnpike
- Tolls you pay while on taxable toll roads should be included on your taxes
- Tolls you pay while on toll roads with highway use taxes (HUT), like the New York State Thruway, cannot be included with your taxable toll costs
Your documentation should include all physical receipts or invoices you receive that show toll payments. You may also decide to log your toll activity, especially if you frequently travel in states with tricky taxable and non-taxable miles laws.
Weigh the Costs of Route Alternatives
In some cases, you may simply decide to avoid tolls altogether and risk the delays caused by additional traffic. However, you should carefully weigh the pros and cons of your route options before you get on the road.
In some states, avoiding tolls means taking side roads that are not passable to trucks. In less extreme cases, staying off toll roads could delay your next drop-off or pickup and change your entire schedule. Use the mapping resources discussed in the first section to compare different toll roads and free roads directly so you can make an informed decision.
In addition to the tips listed in this blog, you may also want to discuss your exact planned routes with more experienced truck drivers for recommendations specific to the areas you’ll drive through. Use the guidelines discussed in this blog to ensure that the toll that toll roads may take on your upcoming trucking routes is as minimal as possible.