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.
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.