I'll be traveling with a rental car from Virginia to New Hampshire. What do I do if I only want to pay with cash? I've been informed that some tolls, for example in NY, don't accept cash. What's the solution?
Road tolling is not standardized in the U.S., and even within the same state there can be multiple tolling authorities, systems, and policies. Therefore, the answer depends on the system.
Some authorities have a "pay by plate" system, in which a photo or video is taken of your license plate and an invoice sent to the address where the car is registered. As all are pushing for electronic toll collection, the prices are either structured to give a discount to electronic tolling customers or to apply surcharges for photo/video tolling; for example, the Maryland Transportation Authority assesses video tolls at
1.5 times the cash or base toll rate. The Video Toll surcharge is subject to a minimum of $1 and maximum of $15 above the cash or base rate.
Florida, similarly, is moving to all-electronic tolling, and allows you to resolve a pay-by-plate charge on their website or over the phone. The Toll Roads of Orange County (California), also all-electronic, will let you pay cash at their service center, and still other agencies have mobile apps.
Other authorities will only acknowledge pay-by-plate if you have registered with them in advance, as with MassDOT in Massachusetts or the Pennsylvania Turnpike. If you are not registered, you may be considered a violator.
In still other cases, you have no choice except not to take the road. For example, the Dulles Toll Road in Virginia (VA-267) only staffs full-service toll booths between 5:30am and 9:30pm. If you do not have an EZPass transponder, you are required to pay in exact change, and if you do not have the exact change (in coins), you must contact the authority to arrange payment or you will receive a toll violation ticket, as per their FAQ:
Q: I went through a ramp toll plaza location after hours and did not pay because no one was present to provide change - is that a toll violation?
A: Yes--exact change and E-ZPass are accepted 24 hours. Due to low traffic volume late at night, it is not cost effective to have attendants in the ramp toll booths. You should contact the Customer Service Center at 1 (877) 762-7824 to arrange payment of your toll.
One workaround, if a person has a US address or doesn't mind dealing with things as soon as they arrive, is to buy a transponder and prepay a balance. I live in Canada but have transponders for both Illinois and Florida, and these transponders are usable on other systems. (I had the transponders mailed to my Montana address, but you can buy the transponders in the states in question as well.) Some states charge a monthly fee or maintenance fee, but Illinois and Florida don't.
Your rental car already comes with a toll tag, inside a container that is open. Do nothing and the tolls will automatically apply to the rental car's toll tag. These will be billed back to you at positively unfair rates, and likely activate some sort of "optional plan" with high daily fees, even if you do not use the tag that day. It's all automatic, just pay the bill.
On fact the toll tag will automatically scan even if you roll up to a manned toll booth to pay cash. The taker won't take your cash and say "your toll tag scanned, you're all set. Move along please."
This single ding will activate the toll-tag rules in your rental car contact.
You will need to manually close/cover the toll tag container, which is supposed to shield it so it can't be scanned, and do this before your first scan. And make sure nobody opens it up again.
And then, arrange your own toll payments. Mind you if you go through a toll-tag-only lane even once, or have your own toll-tag and it misreads, it will fall back on a photo of the license plate of the car, which is tied to the rental agency's toll tag, causing a "ding" to it, and those same effects.
Quite simply, you have to be very careful.