They are the bane of many travellers, making road trips just that much more expensive. Toll roads, also called turnpikes, are roads - generally highways, sometimes bridges or tunnels - which require a fee to use. Some countries have many, and they are relatively common in North America.
The practice of charging people to travel on turnpikes has been around in the UK since the 1600s, and it wasn’t long after that they were introduced in the Americas. It is a long-standing tradition! Here are some notes on what to expect of you are embarking on a road trip in the United States or Canada.
The United States
There are plenty of toll roads in the US, with 26 states having at least one. If you’re looking to avoid them, the west and the south are the regions that hold most of the turnpike-free states.
Just like with laws and tax rates, the US makes life a bit difficult by having a range of different toll systems in different states. These are a few of them:
- E-ZPass is an electronic system used on many toll roads bridges and tunnels on the East coast and some of the more eastern parts of the midwest. They use transponders which interact with reading equipment and automatically bills the vehicle owner. Often E-ZPass lanes are in conjunction with booths for taking cash payments. Many car rental companies will equip their vehicles with an E-ZPass so you can drive through and pay later.
- FasTrak is another electronic toll collection system, this one used in California. It is statewide and has a similar transponder. If your vehicle is not equipped with one, it will take a record of your number plate and charge the registered owner of the vehicle. If your rental vehicle is not equipped with a transponder, it’s easy to set one up. Many of the tolls are in and around the Bay Area,with others in Orange County and Los Angeles. The Golden Gate Bridge is a toll road!
- Midwestern and southern states have a variety of electronic systems, many of which work together to allow easy access for those travelling interstate.
Essentially, if you are driving in the United States, especially in the east and northeast, you can expect a turnpike or two along the way. Ask your car rental company about the possibility of a transponder so you can breeze through and pay later- and keep in mind that systems can change as you travel around!
Tolls are quite a rarity in Canada. There are only around 20 of them across the country, and many are on bridges or tunnels which connect the US and Canada, such as the Rainbow Bridge in Niagara Falls or the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel. There is also a major tolled highway called Highway 407 which encircles the Greater Toronto Area, relieving traffic in that busy area. You can avoid it by choosing smaller urban roads such as Steeles Ave, or taking Highway 401 which runs closer to the city.
Highway 407 was the first electronically operated toll road opened in the world, and it has no toll booths, reading transponders or license plates. Payments can be made at www.407etr.com
. The majority of other toll payments (bridges and borders) are made at booths with cash or concession cards.
For more information about driving in either of these vast and wonderful North American nations, you can take a look at our US Driving Guide
and Canada Driving Guide
. Have a great, safe and affordable road trip!