Monday, November 30, 2009

Riding Toll Roads on a Motorcycle

While the east coast has grown up with toll roads (turnpikes) for a long time, they're a recent phenomenon here in SoCal. It's only been about 15 years now that we've had them.

As such, I still make the mistake of riding my motorcycle onto a toll road.

It happens when I'm looking for a freeway on-ramp, and find one only to realize that I'm getting on to a toll road. I'm sure there was a sign back there that warned me it was a toll road, but I don't seem to pay attention.

The first thought is to do a u-turn and get out of it, but you can't do a u-turn because freeway on-ramps are all single-direction. So the next thought is that I could just ride through the toll booth without paying, and have the camera photograph my license plate and send me a violation notice.

Most of the on-ramps are completely self-serve. There's nobody there collecting tolls. You have to have exact change to toss into the basket, or bills to feed the machine.

Yesterday, I found myself doing such a thing on the 125 toll road in San Diego. I was fortunate to have three one-dollar bills. It cost me $3.00 to travel a distance of about 3 miles. Toll roads in SoCal are pretty expensive, and as such very few people use them.

It's always a hassel to stop my bike, put it in neutral, set the kickstand, take off my gloves, reach into my pocket and find money. I feed the machine, and instantly the light turns green for me to go. Except I have to put the rest of my money back into my pocket, put my gloves back on, stand up the bike, put it in gear and go.

I wish motorcycles were exempt from toll roads. And in fact, one toll road in Orange County (the 91 toll road), is in fact free for motorcycles, when you pass through the "3+ Lane" but with some exceptions.

Interestingly, as I rode further down the 125 toll road, I see this giant electronic sign that said, "Didn't Pay the Toll? Call XXX-XXX-XXXX"

And obviously you only get 5 seconds to memorize the phone number before passing by, and when you're on a motorcycle you can't exactly write it down. And why do they have such a sign anyways? I thought it was illegal in California to call on a cell phone while driving?

The ideal way to ride the toll roads is to get a transponder, a little device you mount to your car's windshield, or motorcycle. Then you can pass through the toll booth without stopping. And I actually have one, but not on my motorcycle.

Perhaps if they made all toll roads free for motorcycles, then motorcycles wouldn't have to split lanes through public freeways. Maybe it would encourage more people to ride motorcycles to work, decrease traffic overall, and even reduce gasoline consumption just a little.


  1. "I thought it was illegal in California to call on a cell phone while driving?" lol

    FYI, If you call 'The Toll Roads', you can associate your vehicle plate with your account. In most cases, they won't fine you if you don't have the transponder. They just charge your account the normal toll.

    If they do send you a violation, you can just call them when you get the ticket and they will remove it and just charge your account what the toll would have been.

    Only time I got a violation is when I got a new car or bike and didn't have the transponder.

    One time I racked up about 3 tickets in a matter of a couple days. They added the bike and removed the violations no questions asked. She even said "hey, that's a good looking bike!" while looking at the violation picture.

  2. I wholeheartedly agree riding toll roads on a bike pretty much sucks, having ridden thousands of miles on them. You are correct that out my way they are indeed a time-honored pain in the ass. I-90 is a toll road from Mass all the way out to Illinois, and I've ridden both it and I-80 both ways in the last 3 years. You nailed it with the part about what a pain it is to have to put it in neutral, take the gloves off, get the money, pay, put the money back...etc. I REALLY got sick of I-90 in Illinois, which is probably the worst state for these toll roads. When you cross the Dan Ryan Expressway and Chicago Skyway, you stop and pay a toll 3 times in the spanse of barely 10 or 15 miles if memory serves. It is SO ridiculous it's not even funny. I was so frustrated with it the last time, at the 3rd toll I said to the guy in the booth, "Hey, wouldn't it be easier to do away with all these tolls except for the FIRST ONE, and just collect all the money there ONCE??" He looked back at me nodding and said, "Yeah, it would. They'll be doing that as soon as I retire."

    I guess if you ask a silly question...

  3. I call all kinds of bullshit on the statement that toll roads are free on the 91 freeway. I just got a ticket for testing this theory too. As a warning to future riders on the 91 toll road, have a transponder or get a ticket.


About Steve

A vagabond who hauls a motorcycle around the country in a toy hauler, earning a living as a website developer. Can often be found where there's free Wi-Fi, craft beer, and/or public nudity. (Read more...)