HARRISBURG, Pa. (KDKA) - A state senator says it's time to stop the bleeding of toll revenue on the Pennsylvania Turnpike.
The turnpike lost $104 million in uncollected tolls last year from June 2020 to May 2021.
Pennsylvania Sen. Marty Flynn, a Scranton Democrat, sits on the Senate Transportation Committee which heard testimony earlier this year from officials at the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission.
"When one of the members of the Turnpike Commission seemed to brag about their over 90 percent collection rate, it kind of snapped me into attention, knowing that $104 million wasn't collected, and our turnpike rates continue to skyrocket every year," Flynn told KDKA political editor Jon Delano on Monday.
Digging into the numbers, Flynn says the problem got worse when the turnpike took out toll booth collectors switching to all-electronic tolling or AET.
In a one-year period, nearly 11 million trips on the turnpike went unpaid.
Instead of correcting the problem, Flynn says the turnpike imposed a 45 percent surcharge on those who did pay.
"They forced the people who were following the rules to pay for this and let the people who are breaking the rules and not paying the tolls get away with it," says Flynn.
The problem is not so much those who use E-ZPasses. It's the electronic tolling that depends on reading your license plate.
"If you go through E-ZPass without an E-ZPass, there's a 50-50 chance that they're going to identify you and actually get you," says Flynn.
That's a lot of lost revenue.
In a recent memo to his colleagues, Flynn says he's looking for support for three measures.
One measure would restore some toll collectors at high volume exits like Monroeville.
"I think there is a significant proportion of that money is people who would have paid if they saw a place with cash," says Flynn.
Flynn would also extend the statute of limitations to five years to catch scofflaws and also trigger suspension of a vehicle's registration after just four unpaid tolls or $250 in unpaid tolls.
Flynn would also require the Turnpike Commission to annually report its toll collection success and failures.
In a statement to KDKA, the Commission defended its move away from in-person toll collectors, saying, "Returning toll collectors to the lanes while collecting via Toll by Plate is functionally impossible, presents a substantial health and safety risk for workers and customers, and would not increase revenues due the high cost of cash collection — not to mention the costs of operating duplicative systems."
"Fact is that revenue collection at the PTC is above industry average. Overall, we collect 93% of total revenue — which in FY21 equates to $1.2 billion. So, while we take leakage and all unpaid tolls seriously, it is important to consider the context of $1.2 billion in overall revenues collected.
"Leakage or bad debt is not unique to AET. Since the PA Turnpike began charging tolls in 1940, some customers have refused to pay. Toll evasion was present in cash lanes as well as E-ZPass lanes. Theft is a fact of life for us as it is for retail business."
Flynn says collecting the uncollected tolls at toll booths would more than offset the cost.
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