When you look at your bottom line, there are always moments of “did we really spend that much?” If you’ve had this reaction to toll charges, there may be a few things you can do to keep costs down.
Whether it’s looking over your charges for a past month, carefully reviewing any fines, or correctly classifying your trucks, you need all the right information to get everything in proper order.
“An effective toll management program addresses four key areas: consolidating toll data, payments, and accounts; maintaining accuracy with respect to toll data and vehicle inventory; identifying ways to save time and money on toll; and cultivating some degree of insight into how toll impacts your fleet,” says John Andrews, president and CEO of Bestpass, which offers toll management for trucking fleets and owner-operators.
For some fleets, depending on their size, toll management can easily become a full-time job.
Choosing Your Battles
Toll violations are nothing new to most fleets, and neither is fighting them with your tolling agency. But bringing the right weapons to the fight can save you more than just a couple of bucks. The best first step is to learn more about toll violations and the process to dispute charges by visiting each toll authority website in which the violation occurred. Rules are usually listed on each site, which can vary depending upon the toll entity.
“This process can be very time-consuming, especially when more than one toll entity is involved and there are multiple toll violations,” says Andrew Johnson, chief marketing officer at PrePass Safety Alliance, which offers weigh station bypass and toll management services.
For PrePass customers, access to the company’s Inform Tolling software provides a snapshot of toll invoices and violations. It also monitors daily tolling activity and can send notifications when suspect charges are occurring. Carriers can then file a toll dispute directly within the software.
For Christiana Rivera, a fleet recruiter at CSX, entering those challenges in Inform Tolling, instead of sending by mail, has been the fleet’s most successful strategy.
“Prior to entering them myself into Inform, it would take months for a resolution, and at times it would lead to registration/license suspension,” Rivera explains. “When I upload the violations myself, I am able to track to see what has been waived, paid, etc.”
Multiplication Through Misclassification
Another way to ensure that your monthly toll charges add up is by misclassifying your trucks. In many cases, a misclassified truck will pay the wrong rate for toll transactions, according to BestPass’s Andrews.
“If the misclassification results in a higher rate, and especially if it is magnified across multiple vehicles in the fleet, then over time it can have an unnecessary and negative impact on the company’s bottom line. Even if the miscalculation results in a lower rate, the fleet could be exposing itself to penalties for underpaying,” he says.
For example, a truck can be classified as having seven axles when it only has five, and that can result in a higher toll rate. One PrePass customer went two years with a transponder misclassified by a tolling agency as having seven axles when, in fact, it only had five. As a result, this company racked up more than $15,000 in toll overcharges they never saw, because they weren’t managing their tolling.
There can be a number of reasons why a truck can become misclassified. Simple human error can rear its ugly head and cause fleets to incorrectly enter the codes.
“Within the E-ZPass network, for example, there are many different classifications, and it’s not uncommon to select or enter the wrong one,” explains PrePass’s Johnson. “Trucks can also be misclassified when someone moves a transponder from one vehicle to another vehicle. When moving transponders, it is incumbent upon the carrier to reclassify the transponder with each toll authority.”
Counting on Accounting
For Nic Davidson, a member of the technical services team at Combined Transport, an Oregon-based provider of flatbed, heavy, and specialized trucking services, the key is handling accounting on a per-truck basis. Only the trucks can generate revenue or incur expense in the software, he explains, which is critical in making sure the right truck is billed the right amount.
“Practically, this means a trailer cannot be ‘charged’ in our accounting system,” says Davidson. “The tricky thing comes in the form of fees and discounts. Every tolling authority has their own special rules for how fees and discounts work. Sometimes it’s a volume per truck thing, other times it is volume per carrier as determined by DOT Authority, or peak times, or volume by dollar amount.”
In other instances, a transponder is charged a fee only if that transponder was active in that specific state for a specific calendar month. Davidson includes a logic in the company’s programs to look for some of these parameters and bill the trucks as such.
“For the bigger discounts, we apply the entirety of the discount fractionally to every truck that ran that toll,” adds Davison. “For example, if 100 trucks ran a toll that gave us a $200 discount, each truck will get back $2.”
Reducing Transponder Abuse
There are several steps a fleet can take to reduce transponder abuse – a driver using a company transponder for personal use. Bestpass, for example, offers transponders that are mounted on the roof of the truck or its license plate, making it much more difficult for a driver to move the device to another vehicle.
“Our proprietary software also allows fleet managers to set up exclusion zones, which can notify them if a device is used for a toll transaction at a time when the truck should not be in operation,” says Andrews.
Keeping an eye on monthly invoices can also catch an improper toll charge.
“The invoices you receive will show the plate number, which you can verify,” says CSX’s Rivera. “There are also alerts within Inform Tolling that you can set for non-toll charges, high-volume plate reads, etc.”
Davidson and the team at Combined Transport take drivers’ home time very seriously, so if a toll has to be run when not on duty to ensure a driver gets home on the day that was promised, then Davidson allows them to run that toll.
“$100 is not worth breaking that promise,” Davidson says. “If a driver is running a toll during a 34-hour reset at a truck stop on personal conveyance, I am not super concerned. I trust he/she is running the toll because that is the most practical, or possibly the only option to get their personal business done while they are off.”
PrePass’s Johnson recommends carriers have documented policies and communicate with drivers regarding transponder misuse.
“Carriers should review their toll transaction reports from each toll authority and identify suspect charges,” he says. “Charges on non-company routes, during non-working hours, food charges, and airport parking are examples of misuse.”
In the end, it is up to the fleet to keep a good eye on all toll transactions to ensure their bottom line is not inflated by either mistakes or misuse.
“Depending on the size of the fleet, managing toll can easily become a full-time job. Based on our experience with more than 7,400 clients with hundreds of thousands of vehicles, toll is, at best, a strain on company resources, or, at worst, completely unmanaged,” says Andrews.