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Investigation: Hundreds Don't Pay Turnpike Tolls Each Day

PITTSBURGH (KDKA)- The Pennsylvania Turnpike bisects the state through the southern counties and carries just north of 192-million vehicles every year.  Most drivers stop at the end of their journey and pay their toll, but many do not.

Turnpike workers at the Monroeville Interchange estimate they have as many as a hundred violators a day just on the shift that includes the afternoon rush hour.  Extend that to the entire turnpike and Turnpike Chairman Sean Logan says, "We're talking millions of dollars."

Without toll takers or gates, the EZPass lanes are ripe for those who would choose to skirt the toll.  KDKA spent time watching several toll plazas and it wasn't hard to pick out the drivers who slid through with no EZPass showing and the red light still on as they passed.

Drivers at the turnpike rest area at Oakmont when asked, "What happens to a toll violator?" told us they expect a violator would be chased down by the state police, given a ticket, arrested, billed with a hefty fine or put in jail.  All over-estimates of the reach of the turnpike's authority.

In reality, cameras at the toll booths will take a picture of your license plate and you'll be billed for a toll from the furthest point, plus a $25 dollar processing fee.  If you don't respond to the first notice, you'll be sent a second and then your case turned over to one of two collection agencies.  Logan says, "We do about 1.5 million notices each year and we aggressively try to find those 1.5 million people."

About 70 percent of those receiving notices paid up and Logan says, "When you talk about 1.5 million people and we only collect 70% of those, those are not good numbers."

When the Pennsylvania Turnpike's fiscal year ended in May, there were $33.3 million still outstanding in unpaid tolls.

Commission Chair Logan says the frustration is the turnpike's lack of teeth to go after the money, "We are not Penndot.  We are the turnpike commission. So, if you are an habitual violator or run up a huge bill with us I can't put points on your license, or go after your registration."

Invalidating a vehicle's registration is exactly what happens to non-paying violators in Maryland. In New Jersey, scofflaws can be fined up to $500 and or sentenced to up to 30 days in jail. In Pennsylvania, the collection agencies can't even report your non-payment to the credit bureaus.

State Representative Jim Marshall is on the Transportation Committee and says the enforcement authority Logan wants was originally in the highway funding bill Act 89, "I think there is a certain group of legislators who don't want to have this into law. It was in Act 89, but it was taken out of the bill before the bill was passed."

When the fiscal year ended, the turnpike officially wrote off $3.7 million of the uncollected tolls.  Logan's concern is the level of unpaid and uncollected tolls will increase dramatically if the turnpike continues down the road to all electronic tolling without the authority to go after violators with an enforcement mechanism that gets drivers attention.

Right now, no legislation to give the turnpike that authority has been introduced.

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