Turn­pike fees ris­ing while com­mis­sion erases $5 mil­lion in un­paid tolls

In Jan­uary, tolls on the Penn­syl­va­nia Turn­pike in­creased 6 per­cent, and next year, also in Jan­uary, tolls will in­crease another 6 per­cent.

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - OPINION - — The (John­stown) Tri­bune-Demo­crat

Mo­torists have been pay­ing steadily ris­ing tolls since Act 44 was passed in 2007. That mea­sure re­quired the Penn­syl­va­nia Turn­pike Com­mis­sion to make yearly pay­ments of $450 mil­lion to Pen­nDOT, which would use the funds for non­tolled roads and pub­lic trans­porta­tion.

To af­ford the pay­ments, the com­mis­sion de­vised a mul­ti­year rate hike on those who use the turn­pike.

Al­though driv­ers grum­ble about the prices they must pay to travel the east-west, 550mile cor­ri­dor, they seem re­signed that rate hikes are a fact of life.

It’s also a fact that some peo­ple, and busi­nesses, will try to get away with­out pay­ing to use the toll road.

A re­cent story in The Tri­bune-Demo­crat ex­plained that the turn­pike com­mis­sion wrote off $5.4 mil­lion in un­col­lectible tolls in 2015.

When the agency’s fis­cal year ended on May 31, the bal­ance in un­paid tolls and fees to­taled $49 mil­lion.

That amount may be sig­nif­i­cantly less be­cause an ad­min­is­tra­tive penalty of $35 has been added to each vi­o­la­tion and the com­mis­sion as­sumes that each vi­o­la­tor has en­tered the toll road at the farthest point from his or her di­rec­tion of travel.

So, tolls keep spi­ral­ing up­ward for turn­pike users, but the com­mis­sion feels jus­ti­fied in clear­ing more than $5 mil­lion from its books as un­col­lectible tolls?

Carl DeFabo, turn­pike spokesman, said most of the $49 mil­lion will be re­im­bursed be­cause the ma­jor­ity of vi­o­la­tors were mo­torists who mis­tak­enly drove through an EZPass exit with­out be­ing in pos­ses­sion of the elec­tronic EZPass transpon­der.

DeFabo said the com­mis­sion has iden­ti­fied 24 com­mer­cial firms as its worst of­fend­ers. One of those haulers is Green Coast Lo­gis­tics, based in South Plain­field, New Jersey. Its driv­ers have com­mit­ted more than 7,600 vi­o­la­tions, re­sult­ing in a debt to the com­mis­sion of more than $678,000.

It is un­think­able to us that a com­pany would know­ingly rack up that much money in un­paid tolls, es­pe­cially af­ter be­ing iden­ti­fied as one of the worst re­peat of­fend­ers.

Green Coast Lo­gis­tics was one of 10 New Jersey-based firms on the list of scofflaws. Eight firms are reg­is­tered in Penn­syl­va­nia and the re­main­der have op­er­a­tions in Vir­ginia, Ohio, Illi­nois and Ari­zona, DeFabo said.

The com­mis­sion has asked the Leg­is­la­ture for help. It is hop­ing that law­mak­ers will pass a mea­sure al­low­ing the state to re­voke ve­hi­cle reg­is­tra­tions for vi­o­la­tors. The only draw­back to that plan is that it would only af­fect ve­hi­cles reg­is­tered in Penn­syl­va­nia.

With con­stant ad­vance­ments in tech­nol­ogy, one would think that a com­puter pro­gram could be writ­ten that would alert the com­mis­sion when a vi­o­la­tor got on the turn­pike. Po­lice units could then be dis­patched to im­pound the ve­hi­cle un­til the penal­ties were paid.

Another av­enue the com­mis­sion might want to travel is to make it manda­tory that EZPass hold­ers choose the au­tore­plen­ish­ment op­tion.

That choice au­to­mat­i­cally res­tores an E-ZPass ac­count bal­ance when the to­tal drops be­low a set dol­lar amount. The funds are with­drawn from the user’s bank ac­count.

We’re hope­ful that shame and hu­mil­i­a­tion will force the er­rant firms and in­di­vid­u­als to set­tle their debts.

Another av­enue the com­mis­sion might want to travel is to make it manda­tory that E-ZPass hold­ers choose the auto-re­plen­ish­ment op­tion.

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