Tech startup tests cellphone transponder on Central Florida toll roads
Central Florida has become the testing ground for a cellphone as toll transponder app by a San Francisco startup with nationwide ambitions.
The PayTollo phone app would notify drivers when they are approaching a toll and give them the option to pay through their phone after their ride is over — a convenience for casual toll customers and tourists with no E-Pass or SunPass accounts.
“The a-ha moment came when I crossed the Golden Gate Bridge, and I received an invoice in the mail, and the only way I could pay was to use a money order,” said Abenezer Yohalashet, PayTollo co-founder.
PayTollo has been working with the Central Florida Expressway Authority, which operates 109 miles of toll roads in Orange County.
All users have to do is download PayTollo (it’s currently available for Apple products only) and plug in their contact, vehicle and payment information to become a beta-tester. Testers can pay their tolls this way.
“It just gives consumers another option, especially as visitors that come to the area and people that don’t have transponders,” said Michelle Maikisch, spokeswoman for the toll agency.
More frequent toll users might find it less useful.
“The world is going to iPhones, but I don’t think it’s all that necessary,” said Marty White, a motorist who was walking into the E-Pass Service Center on Colonial Drive on a recent weekday. “But transponders will probably all be obsolete someday.”
PayTollo isn’t the only company working on such technology.
PToll launched its cellphone-transponder app to the public in 2014 after testing in Austin, Texas.
That was the same location of a conference hosted by the International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association in 2014. PayTollo competed against Ptoll,GeoToll and other companies in a “shark tank”-like competition at the conference and won for having the most innovative toll payment option, Yohalashet said.
The company later linked up with the Central Florida Expressway Authority and Yohalashet says it has been helped greatly by the vibrant Orlando tech scene.
“We like to say that [Central Florida Expressway Authority] incubated us,” Yohalashet said. The Florida toll agency is not paying PayTollo for its services.
The toll authority recently voted to allow the company to collect tolls when the technology is fully developed. Yohalashet didn’t give a timeline for fully launching the app.
Tolls, which are a frequent solution to maintain and pay for new roads, are only going to grow.
The toll revenue market is estimated to grow 10.9 percent a year between 2015 and 2020 to $8.65 billion, according to a report by research firm MarketsandMarkets.
The industry is already moving towards a more convenient, universal system in other ways.
A 2012 law passed by Congress mandates that by October of this year all toll agencies must agree on a single transponder that can work on their systems. What may be the country’s only universal transponder – the Nationalpass – is coming out next month.
That doesn’t mean E-Pass or SunPass would no longer work on Florida toll roads, but those roads must be compatible with at least one type of nationwide transponder.
PayTollo has been actively testing the technology on Central Florida roads since January with about 30 testers. Now, it’s looking for about 1,000 users to help them stress test the tollway system.
“We’re really trying to pitch to other toll authorities and use [Central Florida Expressway Authority] as a base,” Yohalashet said.