Re-inventing operations. Adopting new technology. Creating new revenue streams. Changing the customer experience. Most businesses try to do these things. Sometimes it takes a little nudge. This year, everyone has been nudged – okay shoved – into implementing many new things.

The travel industry disruptions of 2020 have led travel-related businesses to accelerate such initiatives. The most entrepreneurial rental car operators are tackling these initiatives in creative ways, while facing revenue declines as much as 80% during the year. Going contactless… partnering for food delivery services… new ways to sanitize vehicles. Similarly, the toll road operators have faced revenue declines as much as 80% this year. They too have been nudged to re-invent themselves. Many have accelerated adoption of new technology such as cashless toll collection. Yet, what may be a good innovation for one part of the travel industry (toll road operators) may become a headache for another (rental car operators). But not necessarily. It could be an opportunity in disguise. This article explains why and how.

Toll Roads use technology to combat pandemic

Toll roads in the United States began embracing electronic toll collection in the early 1990’s. The most widely adopted program known as E-ZPass started on the New York State Thruway in 1993 and is now used by 32 toll agencies across 18 states from Maine to Illinois to North Carolina. Several other large-scale, regional programs exist such as SunPass in Florida, FasTrak in California, and the central U.S. cooperative program between Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas.

These programs always began with a cash-paying option. Get an electronic toll device for your vehicle, or else pay with cash. If you were in a rental vehicle, you could always pay with cash.

In recent years, some toll roads began exploring the use of video technology, whereby they could eliminate the cash-paying option. Instead of paying cash, a picture of the vehicle license plate would generate a toll bill sent to the vehicle owner to pay. No more cash. No more toll collectors. No more toll booths. The Covid-19 pandemic served as the nudge for many toll roads to stop thinking, and start adopting cashless tolling. In some cases, the adoption was temporary, while for many others it became permanent this year:

  • “Covid-19 causes PA Turnpike to go cashless”
  • “Maryland Implements All-Electronic Tolling Statewide in Response to Covid-19”
  • “NJ Turnpike Authority banned cash and moved to all electronic collection”
  • “The (NYS) Thruway converted to an entirely cashless tolling system”
  • “Manual toll collecting suspended on Virginia’s Dulles Toll Road… now permanent”

Toll roads have seen some recovery of traffic as 2020 progressed. Most still lag far behind typical volumes. That means less rush hour commuting delays for people still driving to an office. It also means significant revenue impacts to this part of the travel industry.

Opportunity for rental car operators

Of course, this introduction of contactless payment service by the toll roads has meant something different to rental car operators. No longer can rental customers lower their window to pay cash. And those paper toll bills mailed to the registered owner of the vehicles do not go to the rental customer – they go to the rental car operator.

Left unprocessed, these toll bills become another monthly expense for the rental car operator. Left unprocessed, they can lead to registration suspensions. In some cases, that can mean vehicles being impounded. For the Do-It-Yourselfer, a rental car operator can add staff to open all this new mail… figure out which tolls go with which rental agreement… add up how much money is due… and try to collect weeks or months after the rental agreement has been closed. All this sounds counter to what folks are trying to do, during this pandemic.

As the saying goes, when given lemons, make lemonade. There is a way to re-invent this operation. To turn an expense into a new revenue stream. And, to even change the customer experience in a very positive way. There are automated services available, such as OnePass® offered by Global Toll Services, that automate this entire process. In so doing, rental car operators can turn a customer’s trepidation over how to pay tolls into a convenience feature offered.

Automated interfaces with your rental software allow OnePass® to work seamlessly. Your fleet becomes automatically registered with OnePass®. In turn, it becomes registered with the toll roads in the region where you operate and where your customers travel. As tolls are incurred during a rental, they are paid immediately to the toll roads. OnePass® automation then matches all the tolls with all the rentals. It calculates the amounts due, and charges your rental agreements when they are closed. Not weeks or months later. No more toll bills in the mail. No manual processing by your staff. Your monthly toll expenses turn into monthly toll profits. And, your customers receive a timely, itemized receipt clearly showing all their tolls during their trip.

What’s most important – these services can be implemented quickly and easily. Meaning, rental car operators can spend your time working on more important matters at hand – preparing for the new year to come after the pandemic!

The Covid-19 pandemic has nudged many businesses to explore, experiment, accelerate and innovate in new ways this year. One way for toll roads has been to adopt cashless tolling – their version of contactless service. Now, rental car operators have a way to match that approach with automation that is fast, fair and easy to implement.