The amount of uncollected tolls on the Pennsylvania Turnpike increased by almost 50%, an internal study reveals.
The study found that more than $155 million in tolls went uncollected in the last year as of May 2022, and a new government audit is demanding the Turnpike Commission to address the issue and make changes to improve its finances.
Toll losses on the Turnpike were expected in 2020 when the Turnpike converted to all-cash collections, forcing the layoff of hundreds of toll collectors and auditors, but the loss of 6.5% of all transactions was higher than expected. While many vehicles utilize E-ZPasses to travel the toll road, and there are cameras to collect the license plate information of those who don’t, there are issues with obscured or faded plates, which lead to system failures and uncollected tolls. Officials attribute the recent increase in lost tolls to increased traffic and higher tolls in general.
Turnpike chief executive Mark Compton said in a written response that his agency was “actively engaged with the Legislature, the PA State Police and surrounding toll agencies to ensure we are taking all possible measures to collect.”
The auditor general’s office is urging the turnpike board to end free rides on the turnpike for its employees and contractors, except for when they are on duty. The auditor general’s office says that these employees and their free turnpike rides have cost $3.2 million in the last three years, and the cost of free rides for turnpike contractors and consultants went from $5.9 million over 2015-18 to $8.4 million in 2018-21, the audit said.
“The turnpike has said they consider those people to be on call 24-7, but given their current financial situation, it makes sense to only use this while you’re working,” April Hutcheson, communications director for Auditor General Tim DeFoor, said Thursday, reported AP News.
A recently proposed bill would allow the turnpike to have PennDOT issue a license suspension to drivers with at least $250 in unpaid tolls. The Turnpike believes this would add more than 23,000 more suspensions in Pennsylvania. The bill has already passed the House and is currently pending before the state Senate. The auditors believe that the potential law “should assist in increasing the commission’s collection of outstanding tolls and potentially deter motorists from becoming toll violators.”
The auditors also recommend having state police focus on obstructed or unreadable license plates, and investigate why so many license plates do not have valid billing addresses. Turnpike management says they support these ideas.
“The more tools we have at our disposal the better,” said Turnpike spokesperson Carl DeFebo.