Problem Solvers: Confusion over need for transponder to drive in ‘free’ HOV lanes

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DENVER -- Drivers are adapting to new Express Toll lanes along U.S. 36 and Interstate 25, according to a report from the Colorado Department of Transportation. But some drivers say the "free" HOV lanes are misleading because they require new equipment to use.

Carpooling on I-25 used to be as simple as picking a lane, which is why a big change in July caught some by surprise.

“I had no idea until they sent me this bill here,” said John Castro, pointing to a bill for a license plate toll.

Castro’s bill for 10 trips was nearly $50 because even though he had a passenger, he didn’t have one of the new $15 switchable transponders.

In the buildup to the new Express Toll system, CDOT emphasized the need for transponders for anyone using HOV lanes on U.S. 36 and I-25.

Despite videos, billboards and other road signs, some say the entrance signs are still confusing.

“The board says two-plus free,” Castro said.

“Obviously, there will be some people who will say that they didn’t see it," CDOT spokeswoman Amy Ford said. "We certainly understand that that can happen, but if they reach out to us when they get their bills, we can sit and talk about that.”

But Castro said he didn't get a chance to talk about it. He called the FOX31 Problem Solvers because he said he didn’t get very far on the phone.

“I called Express Toll and they told me I had to get a hold of CDOT,” Castro said.

According to CDOT, Castro should have been able to take care of the problem with his first phone call.

After the Problem Solvers got involved, Castro connected with customer service and learned two of his toll fees would be waived. He also learned how to purchase a transponder.

“I would gladly pay that. That’s what I kind of explained to them," Castro said. "I would gladly pay the $15 opposed to the $50.”​