Free rides cost $ 104 million in toll on Pennsylvania Turnpike finances – Daily Local

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Marc Scorforo

Carlisle, PA (AP) – The Pennsylvania Turnpike tolls failed to recover more than $ 104 million as the agency completely converted to fully electronic tolls. Possibility to drive without paying under the “Tall by Plate” license plate camera system.

The Associated Press’s internal toll report, released in July and obtained through a request from the Right to Know Act, was about 11 million out of about 170 million toll trips during the year ended May 31. Showed that he did not bring income to the agency.

“We take this issue very seriously. That’s a lot, there’s no question about it, ”said Mark Compton, CEO of Turnpike. “But as an organization, we left no stone in the way after the leak.”

As the use of E-ZPass transponders and license plate cameras continues to grow, the “drain” of toll revenue (the industry’s understatement for uncollected tolls) has become the focus of attention. interest from toll agencies across the country.

This is particularly problematic for the Pennsylvania toll highway, which has insufficient debt, where more than half of total income is spent on loans, and where the tolls of a few drivers without EZPass have more than quadrupled in 12 years. To become. vehicle.

Last week at a service station at a busy truck stop along the Carlyle toll highway, driver Colin Bryant noticed prices had risen somewhat in recent years and said he didn’t didn’t like the idea of ​​a stowaway very much. I did.

Bryant of Picayune, Mississippi, said: “either.”

Last year, 1.8 million Pennsylvania Turnpike rides failed to identify the license plate, invoices could not be delivered just over a million times, and auto agents failed to identify the license plate. could not provide the vehicle owner’s address more than 1.5 million times. 6.7 million additional transactions were marked as “unpaid”.

“I was a little shocked by this,” said Leonhard Euler of the Pennsylvania Motor Trucking Association. And this mainly represents truck drivers who use E-ZPass. “If you think about it, they are controlling the driver. In theory, you can prevent the driver from leaving before paying. It’s within their capabilities.

After charges and fees are no longer collected for about 3 years, Turnpike cancels them.

Stan Saylor, Republican House of Representatives Spending Chairman for the York County Republican Party, said income outflow has been his concern for years and believes the new numbers point to the need for action. He said Congress should do more to pressure institutions to fix it, and that this money could fund many jobs.

“This kind of loss is incredible,” Sailor said. “Sorry, if you’re in debt and the toll is as high as the Pennsylvania toll highway, you have to be more efficient.”

There are several reasons why state toll agencies are experiencing revenue leakage, said Mark Muriello, an industry group of international bridges, toll roads and tunnels associations.

This may be due to an equipment failure, such as a dead E-ZPass transponder battery. Because the camera system cannot correctly capture the plate number. Or because he couldn’t keep up with out-of-state drivers, he said.

Turnpike’s vast 552-mile system recorded 169 million transactions last year, most of which around 145 million went through E-ZPass. The E-ZPass system has helped Turnpike collect tolls on approximately 93% of all trips.

The plate toll was a hit of $ 13.3 million last year, grossing more than $ 127 million in fees. Law-abiding drivers have seen the cash or toll highway tolls drop from about $ 28 in 2009 to $ 95 this year. E-ZPass is much cheaper and currently costs $ 47 for cross-state travel.

After a pandemic decision to fire hundreds of toll collectors and auditors and end fundraising last year, Turnpike has for drivers who don’t have E-ZPass and need to be billed instead. We announced a 45% rate hike this year.

On behalf of the toll collector, license plate cameras and subcontractor employees should search for photos of the vehicle when the system does not automatically generate the owner’s name and address for sending banknotes . ..

According to a July report on Turnpike, almost half of the instances where the camera image of the license plate was not available were due to the license plate not being in the photo frame. The example provided in the report included a lack of front license plates that were not issued in Pennsylvania.

About 41% of image failures were due to obstacles such as bicycle racks. In about 1.1% of manually disabled images, the issue was due to intentional interference from the license plate.

When the International Association of Bridges, Tolls and Tunnels formed a task force on this topic earlier this year, the revenue losses were due to camera issues, equipment failures, unreliable information from state auto agencies and inefficiencies. He said this could be due to good collection practices and “customer behavior”.

Toll avoiders across the country are creative and use grease to cover plate numbers and install devices that deploy to cover the plate as the driver passes through the plate’s camera. Weather conditions and camera malfunctions can also make the plate unreadable.

Under state law of 2017, the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission passed Pennsylvania to suspend vehicle registration in Pennsylvania, resulting in approximately 10,000 suspensions. These drivers have had at least six unpaid toll violations, or at least $ 500 in toll violations, or have defaulted on unpaid toll or toll payment plans.

Turnpike also called on the county attorney to sue service theft charges for those in debt of at least $ 2,000, and since 2002 delinquency charges have been overdue for Pennsylvania and subsequent debt collectors. . inquires.

Out-of-state drivers are particularly problematic. Turnpike obtains vehicle registration addresses for 49 other states (not only provided by Iowa), but so far a contract that suspends unpaid tolls from out-of-state registration. There’s no.

Pennsylvania Turnpike has finalized such an agreement with Delaware and is in talks with New York.

Secretary of State for Transport Yasmine Gramian, who chairs the Turnpike Commission, said statewide toll collection rates were consistent with slightly higher toll collection rates in other states. to the national average.

Gramian said the Turnpike Commission wanted more power to drive ridicule out of state tolls, but that requires legislation in those states. According to Compton, the differences between states regarding fines and charges imposed on toll drivers are another matter.

“Federal unity will definitely help in this area, and inter-state reciprocity is an ongoing conversation between tolls across the country,” Gramian said.

Proponents of fully electronic tolls say they improve traffic flow, control pollution and require less maintenance than tolls that accept cash. The temporary layoff in 2020 reduced Turnpike’s workforce from nearly 1,900 to over 1,300. Total toll revenue last year was around $ 1.3 billion, with E-ZPass accounting for over a billion dollars.

Pennsylvania Turnpike approved a $ 45 million contract to develop and implement a fully electronic toll system in 2014 and currently pays vendor TransCore approximately $ 10 million per year to operate a payplate system.

We’re also spending $ 129 million to move the toll booth to the interstate gantry instead of the physical store currently on the interchange. This project is currently under development and design.

Free rides cost $ 104 million in toll on Pennsylvania Turnpike finances – Daily Local

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