SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — Brian Dinges thought the rides with his kids on Interstate 15 in the Express Lanes through San Diego were free.
Turns out he was wrong—and finding the correct answer for him involved multiple agencies.
“I drive up the 15 to the 79 and Temecula where I pick my kids up,” said Dinges, who lives in San Diego County.
He has a Fastrak sticker affixed to his windshield—a sticker he got from the Transportation Corridor Agencies, also known as The Toll Roads of Orange County.
When he is alone on the I-15, Dinges said he expects to be charged. It is a different story when he’s with his kids. “There [are] carpool signs that say two or more are free, so I’m assuming that I’m complying with the carpool lane and I shouldn’t be charged,” he said.
The answer isn’t that simple.
Charges depend on what type of FasTrak transponder you have. The transponder is the equipment that reads the technology to charge your account.
Dinges got a sticker transponder from Orange County that charges your account no matter how many people are in the vehicle.
Dinges was not aware of that and said the information was not in his welcome packet that came with the sticker. He said when he called The Toll Roads, customer service did not tell him I-15 was run by SANDAG, a completely different agency.
In San Diego, if you sign up for FasTrak for I-15 or SR-125, you get a physical transponder which you can put in a mylar bag given to you by SANDAG to avoid charges if you have carpool.
While an explanation about the sticker transponder and carpool charges was not in his welcome packet, the information is on The Toll Roads website buried in the FAQ section.
Under Transponder FAQs, there is a question that explains sticker transponders get charged even with carpool.
A Toll Roads spokesperson told Team 10 that “customer service representatives are committed to having a general working knowledge of all the state’s toll facilities.”
He added that “when a driver has specific… questions about a particular toll facility, they are referred to that agency.”
Dinges said that did not happen in his case. “I’m not getting any assistance from The Toll Roads and I’m not getting a clear direction,” he said.
Team 10 also questioned SANDAG why signage on I-15 does not say you will still face charges with certain transponders. A spokesperson said they are “continuously exploring opportunities to communicate with motorists more efficiently.”
Team 10 connected Dinges with both agencies so he could speak with them directly. After some back and forth, Team 10 helped get him results and The Toll Roads sent him the transponder he needed for free.
The agency sent him a transponder where you can switch a button between two or three people carpooling “that then sends a signal… not to be charged,” he said.
The Toll Roads also gave him a $25 credit on his account.
He wants others to learn from his experience and wants tolling agencies to work closer together. "I just hope that by bringing this to their attention, this will cause a little more training on their end and a little more interagency cooperation,” Dinges said.
“I have to say, I don’t think I would have been able to navigate all this without your help,” he said.
When Team 10 asked which agency would Dinges go to if he wanted to dispute a charge, The Toll Roads said it was SANDAG. SANDAG said it was The Toll Roads.
Q & A with The Toll Roads and SANDAG
Answer from The Toll Roads:
Should customer service direct specific questions about certain freeways to the correct agency? Example - if someone calls Toll Road asking about the I-15, are they told they should contact SANDAG instead?
The great thing about tolling in California is that it is interoperable — meaning that a FasTrak® account established with one of the state’s 13 tolling agencies can be used to pay tolls on every tolled bridge, lane and road in California. Tolling agency staff and customer service representatives are committed to having a general working knowledge of all the state’s toll facilities to provide the best experience possible for drivers. In some cases, the best experience is provided by the agency that operates the toll facility the driver has specific or nuanced questions about; when that’s the case, drivers are referred to that agency.
When Team 10 asked for specifics on policy, this was the follow-up answer:
When a driver has specific or nuanced questions about a particular toll facility, they are referred to that agency.
The literature that comes with the Sticker Transponder does not explain that you could be automatically charged for carpool on other freeways (i.e., I-15 Express Lanes). Is that something that should be included/explained in the packet given to customers?
Our Director of Customer Service was happy to help your viewer/our accountholder locate information about switchable transponders and express lanes included in the sticker transponder mailing. We’re also committed to providing the information in various other communications — because the better drivers understand a toll facility, the better their drive.
Answer from SANDAG:
Does the 15 Express Lanes literature sent to customers explain the charges, sticker vs. physical transponder?
Yes, when customers register for FasTrak with SANDAG, they are provided an overview of how the FasTrak service works and how their transponder should be used when using the Express Lanes and other toll roads across the state of California. Following registration, customers are provided a welcome kit that includes the terms and conditions of the service and a welcome letter by mail and email detailing carpool use and how to properly store your transponder to avoid being charged when vehicle occupancy is two or more.
The signage on the I-15 explains HOV is free. The website also says HOV is free... Is there anything on the 15 Express Lanes website that also explains that? Does the 15 Express Lanes literature sent to customers explain the charges, sticker vs. physical transponder?
Yes, customers can visit SANDAG.org/FasTrak [myfastrak.511sd.com] to learn more by viewing the FAQs.
Here is an important takeaway from the FAQ page: If you have a FasTrak account with a partner agency that has already distributed a sticker transponder and you plan to use the I-15 Express Lanes, work with your Customer Service team to be sure you have the most appropriate device for your use. Drivers with a sticker transponder will always be charged the full toll on the I-15 Express Lanes, regardless of occupancy. This means that driving in the I-15 Express Lanes with a sticker transponder will be read as single occupancy, even if you are driving as an HOV (two or more people).