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Florida lawmakers consider 2023 toll discounts for frequent commuters

The toll relief would be for drivers who go through at least 35 toll stations each month.
 
Traffic streams over the Sunshine Skyway Bridge on Wednesday, July 21, 2021, in St. Petersburg.
Traffic streams over the Sunshine Skyway Bridge on Wednesday, July 21, 2021, in St. Petersburg. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]
Published Dec. 12, 2022|Updated Dec. 12, 2022

TALLAHASSEE — Daily commutes could soon get cheaper in Florida.

Florida lawmakers on Monday advanced a proposal to create a $500 million program that would provide a 50% discount on toll charges to drivers who go through at least 35 toll stations each month.

Savings would vary depending on each commute, but the program aims to favor those who are frequent commuters.

“With 35 transactions per month, those are typically folks who travel to work five-six times a week. Those are our hardworking Floridians, so the thought here is that we can give them an opportunity to save some money on a monthly basis,” said Sen. Nick DiCeglie, R-Indian Rocks Beach.

Frequent commuters could save an average of $550 next year under the proposed plan, DiCeglie said.

The proposal was approved by the Senate Fiscal Policy Committee on Monday, the plan’s first hearing this week during a special session of the Legislature. If lawmakers approve the program, discounts on tolls would be offered to commuters throughout 2023.

The plan would apply to all toll roads in Florida, including bridges and causeways that require tolls, such as Card Sound Bridge, Venetian Causeway and Rickenbacker Causeway in South Florida, and the Sunshine Skyway in Tampa Bay.

While discounts would be offered statewide, at least one lawmaker said she would have liked the proposal to offer relief to all drivers — not just frequent drivers.

“Was there thought given to the idea of maybe lowering rates on tolls so that all people would benefit instead of just one class of commuters?” asked Lori Berman, D-Lantana, who advocated to expand the program to those who are not frequent commuters.

Who qualifies for a discount?

To get the discount under the proposed plan, commuters would need to use Florida-based transponders like SunPass, E-ZPASS or those issued by a state toll agency, record at least 35 toll charges in a month, drive a two-axle vehicle and have an account that is in good standing. Motorcycles would be excluded.

Commuters would see their rebate the month after the credit is earned.

According to a legislative analysis, the plan would not reduce toll revenues because the state would be reimbursing all the entities that collect the tolls based on the amount of credits each of them issues.

Local toll revenues are reinvested back into the community and help fund construction of projects that reduce traffic, among other things.

The proposed state program, if approved, would not cancel out any current program that an entity offers, or prohibit them from offering something new, Senate spokesperson Katie Betta said.

Some entities may continue to offer a monthly pass, or offer a lesser rebate for a different number of trips — such as the Miami Dade Expressway Authority, which currently offers a 20% discount on toll charges for drivers who go through toll stations 30 or more times a month.

The toll relief program is the brainchild of Gov. Ron DeSantis, who in August announced he wanted the Legislature to provide a discount on tolls for frequent commuters.

Related: Frequent users of Florida toll roads to get discounts, DeSantis says

DeSantis’ proposal came after the governor launched a more narrowly tailored toll relief program for commuters who use Florida’s Turnpike System and toll facilities owned by the Florida Department of Transportation.

In the first three months of that program, which is called SunPass Savings, approximately 371,000 drivers have saved $13.1 million.

When the SunPass Savings program was announced, DeSantis and Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nuñez, a Miami Republican, said the goal was to get the Legislature to back a more expansive program to help families in South Florida and other parts of the state.

State lawmakers agreed to consider the proposal this week while they are in a special session, largely focused on fixing Florida’s property insurance market.