WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Starting in the new year, frequent commuters will get a bit of a break when it comes to Florida's tolls.
Senate Bill 6-A, introduced by state Sen. Nick DiCeglie, R-Indian Rocks Beach, will provide account credits to drivers who frequently use toll roads across the state.
It's one of several new laws set to take effect on Jan. 1.
According to the bill, the program will give Floridians with 35 or more toll transactions per month a 50% credit to their account. The legislation, originally proposed by Gov. Ron DeSantis in September, was successfully passed during the recent legislative special session.
Lawmakers have agreed to reimburse toll agencies $500 million to make up for lost revenue.
It's good news for Joseph Gaskin, who owns a construction company. Gaskin said between gas prices and the frequent tolls he pays, his company has gotten slammed by transportation costs.
"It's a real kick in the shins," Gaskin said. "It's costing me a fortune out here. The price of the fuel, gas has gone up, we need something back, don't we? It's just unbelievable how much it's costing us, so if we could get 50% back, that would be real savings for us. We really need it."
Erin Maroon agreed. She recently received an email from the Florida Department of Transportation telling her that as a frequent commuter she qualifies for the toll break.
"I was like, 'That looks like spam, I'm gonna delete it,'" Maroon said while showing WPTV the FDOT email she received. "I kept reading and was like, 'Oh, wait!' The minute I realized it wasn't spam, I looked into it more and realized it's going to be great for me, I mean, I get on the Turnpike every day for work, so for me, it's at least five times a week [I'm paying a toll]."
Isabel Nodal, a college student, is another driver who told NewsChannel 5 at a Palm Beach County rest stop that she's thrilled about the toll relief program.
"I go to school at the University of Florida, but my whole family lives in Miami," Nodal said. "So, I'm constantly driving back and forth from Gainesville to Miami."
The toll alone costs Nodal $22 each way. It's a cost she pays several times a month in addition to filling her tank with gas.
"It's a lot," Nodal said.
According to the Florida Department of Transportation, more than 1.2 million Floridians will qualify, saving them on average $400 in 2023.
"That's going to help me a lot," Nodal said.
There is one portion of the bill commuters said they aren't thrilled with: the relief program will expire on Dec. 31, 2023. That means after a year drivers will go back to paying all tolls in full without any reimbursement.
"Is that it?" Gaskin asked. "Nobody told me that! What? One year, and then it's over? No!"
"I did not know that," Marron added. "I did not look that far into it. That's bad. But at least it's something."
"This bill is a common-sense solution that provides relief at a time when Floridians need it most," DiCeglie said in a statement about the bill as part of an FDOT news release. "I'm thankful the Governor supports this legislation to make tolls more affordable for commuters across the state."
Florida Department of Transportation Secretary Jared W. Perdue, P.E., also praised the bill.
"FDOT is thrilled to offer the Toll Relief Program to help Floridians with the challenges of rising costs of life," Perdue said. "Customers are at the center of all we do at FDOT, and this program will truly make an immediate impact on the everyday lives of our customers."
Nodal said she is thankful for any help she can get, even if it's just for a year.
"I'm literally all over Florida, from the top to the bottom," Nodal said. "Honestly, any little thing helps, if it gets me to see my family a little more often, it's worth it."
The 2023 Toll Relief Program comes on the heels of the SunPass Savings Program debuted by DeSantis in August, which was expected to provide almost $40 million in savings to those who use Florida's Turnpike system and FDOT-owned toll facilities.
That program began on Sept. 1 but expires on Dec. 31, 2022.