Program to waive tolls for qualified veterans off to a slower than expected start

A program that allows some veterans to drive on certain Central Texas toll roads for free is not quite as popular as Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority staff expected.

CTRMA implemented the program in November 2018, allowing drivers to operate toll-free on Mobility Authority-operated roads if they are disabled veterans or recipients of the Purple Heart, Congressional Medal of Honor or Legion of Valor awards. The MoPac Express Lane is not part of the program.

When the Mobility Authority board approved the program in the summer, projections showed a potential revenue loss of about $1 million to $2.5 million per year. But in the first few months of the program, actual usage of the program has been much lower than those projections.

As of April 31, there are 3,067 drivers who have registered their qualifying license plate with CTRMA to sign up for the program, according to board documents. Over the first six months of the program, those registered drivers had accumulated just over 50,000 transactions, the majority of which came on Toll 183A. The Mobility Authority also operates Toll 290 and SH 71, as well as the recently opened SH 45 SW toll and the future US 183 south toll lanes.

Forgoing the toll payments on those 50,000 transactions has saved veterans just over $240,000 in the first six months of the program, a revenue loss to CTRMA that Operations Director Tracie Brown said was “well short of what we estimated when the program started” at the May 29 board of directors meeting.

Brown said CTRMA staff has included information about the qualified veterans program on bills mailed to customers and reached out directly to local veterans groups in an attempt to increase awareness of the program.

The discount is limited to one license plate per qualified veteran, and the plate must be connected with an electronic toll tag account. The DMV estimates there are 347,000 qualified veterans plates in the state.

To join the program, veterans complete a registration form available at the Mobility Authority’s website. Once CTRMA confirms eligibility, it adds the license plate to its database of exempt drivers and notifies the customer.