Auditor General Blasts Turnpike’s “Free Rides”

Auditor General Jack Wagner wants the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission to stop giving employees and vendors toll-free personal travel.  “They can utilize the Turnpike at will, both for work-related purposes and for free personal use,” Wagner told a crowd of reporters gathered in a Finance Building conference room.  “In our first finding, we basically state that the free personal use should be eliminated.” 

Wagner was previewing an upcoming audit report, which shows the Turnpike gave out a total of $7.7-million dollars worth of free rides between January 2007 and August 2011.  While the Turnpike has no mechanism for differentiating between on-the-job and personal travel, Wagner says the issue – at least – begs for more oversight. 

Pointing to next month’s toll hike, Wagner says the Turnpike should be doing everything it can to hold down fares for its customers.  Wagner’s letter to the Turnpike Commission asks for a written response that he can include in the final report, which is due out before he leaves office next month.  A Turnpike spokesman says the letter was received Monday afternoon, and a draft of Wagner’s report is currently under review.

Turnpike Sets 2013 Tolls, Takes Step Toward Possible All Electronic System

The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission has approved tolls for next year.   There will be a differential again in 2013 between what E-ZPass customers pay and what cash customers pay.

Tolls for cash customers will rise 10%, but E-ZPass users will pay only 2% more. Turnpike Spokesman Carl DeFebo says it costs less to collect the tolls electronically. With the toll increase next year, the difference between E-ZPass and cash fares will be about 25%.  He says it’s currently around 17% on average. He says that means substantial savings for people who sign up for E-ZPass.

DeFebo says the commission has also selected a program manager to lead the potential conversion to all electronic tolling. But he says they’re looking at a minimum of 5 years to covert the system.  

He adds even an all-electronic system would still have an option for someone who does not have  E-ZPass. DeFebo says they’re looking at some type of video tolling.  That would involve taking a photo of the license plate and sending a bill in the mail to the licensed owner.

DeFebo says the commission has been reducing the number of toll collectors through attrition since E-ZPass began. He says the workforce has been reduced by more than 250 over the past decade.  He says that effort will continue.

DeFebo says you currently can get E-ZPass on line, through AAA and at Giant Eagle, GetGo, Karns and Acme Stores.  He says the commission is negotiating with a couple of major national retail chains to make transponders more available.

Turnpike to Take Next Step Toward All-Electronic Tolls

Imagine a Turnpike with no toll booths.  A new study concludes that vision to be feasible both financially and physically.  The first advantage cited in the Turnpike’s feasibility study is safety, because motorists would no longer have to slow down, jockey for position and merge at every toll plaza.

“We’re also looking at a cleaner environment, improved convenience because you don’t have to slow down, and certainly – as the study points out – operational efficiencies because it’s a much less expensive way to collect a toll,” Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission Carl DeFebo explains. 

But the 39-page document does note several disadvantages as well.  For instance, a high initial cost of conversion and the number of images to be processed in order to bill non E-ZPass customers.  An All-Electronic Toll system would likely involve photos being snapped of non E-ZPass vehicles; the owners would then receive an invoice for the required tolls. 

E-ZPass users currently pay about 17% less than cash-paying Turnpike travelers.  DeFebo says they would continue to pay a lower toll rate based on the higher cost of processing invoices for non E-ZPass users. 

With the new study in hand; the Turnpike Commission will hire a program management firm to oversee the next phase of the study process.  “This is a minimum five year process,” DeFebo says, noting they could encounter a number of ‘stop signs’ along the way.

Turnpike Commission Polling Cash Customers About Electronic Toll Collection

The Pennsylvania Turnpike wants to know what cash customers would do if it went to an all electronic tolling system.  The Turnpike Commission has launched an online survey.

Turnpike spokesman Bill Capone says the purpose of the survey is to get input on the possibility of the toll road converting to a cashless system, or all electronic tolling system.  He says for people who don’t have EZ Pass, electronic tolling would involve taking a photo of their license plate and billing the vehicle owner by mail. About one-third of the turnpike’s customers pay with cash.

The survey ends on August 22nd.  It can be found at  By completing the survey, you will be eligible to win a $100-dollar Sunoco gas card. 

Capone says people in some other states who are passing through Pennsylvania on the turnpike may not have easy access to EZ Pass, so an all electronic system would take that into account.  Right now, EZ Pass is available in 14 states.

The turnpike commission announced recently that tolls would go up 10% for cash customers beginning January 1st, 2012.  There will be no increase for EZ Pass customers.

Capone says the turnpike commission is currently conducting a feasibility study to look at converting the turnpike to an all electronic tolling system, so they need to know from their cash paying customers how that might affect them.  He says they want to know whether those customers would be willing to convert to EZ Pass or pay their tolls in another way.