Pennsylvania bills address toll collection concerns

April 25, 2022

Keith Goble

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Toll collection on the Pennsylvania Turnpike is the focus of multiple bills at the statehouse.

Two Senate bills are touted to update and improve the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission’s method of collecting and reporting on tolls.

Sponsored by Sen. Marty Flynn, D-Lackawanna, the bill would direct the Turnpike Commission to accept payment apps as valid methods of toll payment. Currently, E-ZPass and Toll By Plate are used for payments.

The Turnpike Commission would be authorized to accept Cash App, PayPal, Venmo, and Zelle as valid forms of payment for tolls. E-ZPass and Toll By Plate would remain as payment options.

Flynn said the additional payment options are needed to counter frustrations of turnpike users with the Toll By Plate billing method.

He explained in a memo to legislators that a customer’s first Toll By Plate invoice is generated 30 days after the travel date. The payment due date is 20 following the invoice generation and mail date.

“This sluggish process undoubtedly contributes to the Turnpike Commission’s low collection rates,” Flynn wrote.

He adds that the bill, SB1053, would allow for “almost instantaneous payment” of tolls. Specifically, invoices could be sent to customer’s mobile phones to allow them to pay by one of the mobile payment apps.

“We need to start thinking about the ways people pay for things now, and will be paying for things in the future, and get with the times.”

Accountability

A second bill from Flynn would require the Turnpike Commission to submit an annual report to the Pennsylvania General Assembly.

SB1051 specifies that the report detail the tolls that went collected and uncollected during the prior fiscal year.

“We need to start holding the Turnpike Commission more accountable,” Flynn wrote in a press release. “If they begin reporting to us instead of only reporting to themselves, maybe they’ll take the hundreds of millions of dollars in lost revenue more seriously.”

Both bills have advanced from committee and await further consideration on the Senate floor.

Cashless toll collection

The legislative pursuits are in response to a March 2020 furlough of turnpike employees because of coronavirus concerns. In place of fare collectors, the turnpike switched over to cashless toll collection.

Less than three months after the furlough, the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission voted to permanently eliminate 492 positions. Most of the employees were fare collectors.

At that time, Commission CEO Mark Compton told the Senate Labor and Industry and Transportation committees there were three factors in the decision: the impact that the pandemic has had on the commission’s traffic and revenue; the health and safety of customers and employees; and the operational challenges in a post-COVID-19 world.

The turnpike reported a loss of more than $104 million from uncollected tolls during the fiscal year.

Limited in-person toll collection

A related pursuit is intended to lessen revenue loss on the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

Rep. Manuel Guzman, D-Berks, has highlighted a report from the Associated Press that shows about 11 million trips without tolls occurred on the Pennsylvania Turnpike in 2020.

“Reports have shown that nearly half of the motorists traveling on the turnpike without an E-ZPass account passed through tolling facilities without being charged, making it clear that the commission was not adequately prepared to roll out an all-electronic tolling model,” Guzman said in a November 2021 memo to House lawmakers.

Guzman is behind a bill to bring back in-person toll collection during peak periods.

“By offering both in-person toll collection and electronic tolling, the PTC will be able to improve its electronic system during times when less turnpike traffic is expected and put an end to insufficient revenue production.”

HB2080 would establish a hybrid system that would bring back tollbooth workers during the road’s busiest hours.

The bill is in the House Transportation Committee. LL

More Land Line coverage of news from Pennsylvania is available.

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Keith Goble has been covering trucking-related laws since 2000. His daily web reports, radio news and “OOIDA’s State Watch” in Land Line Magazine are the industry’s premier sources for information regarding state legislative affairs.