October 13, 2016
No cash while traveling on the turnpike? No worries – tollbooths along the Pennsylvania Turnpike now accept credit cards, though officials are encouraging motorists to use the form as a backup plan instead of as a go-to.
The Turnpike Commission began the new method in September, as initially reported by The Incline, with no formal announcement as it slowly rolled out a pilot program. Before plastic methods were accepted, EZ-Pass-less drivers without money had to fill out a Certificate of Passage, something that Carl DeFebo, director of public relations and marketing at the Turnpike Commission, compared to an "IOU."
Officials launched the pilot on Sept. 12. They saw success at the three test sites, including the Lehigh Valley Interchange, Harrisburg East Interchange and the Gateway Toll Plaza at the Ohio border, and extended the credit card system across Pennsylvania.
"The whole concept – there's two reasons, really," DeFebo said. "The whole concept of a soft launch was important because we didn't want to get swarmed with 10,000 credit card transactions in a single day because the technology was untested in some booths, so we wanted to make sure we were doing this quietly."
DeFebo said that the reason for implementing the new transaction method was two-fold – the commission saw an uptick in certificates, which can back up waiting lines at the booths for about five minutes, and the technology was there. The credit card machines are small and portable, making it easy to extend to tollbooths across the state.
Motorists have certainly been taking advantage of the program since its September launch. DeFebo said that the commission's gone from processing 7,000 certificates a week to about 2,500. And out of the 540,000 drivers who take the turnpike – 75 percent of whom have EZ-Passes – there are about 1,500 to 2,300 credit card transactions processed daily, he said.
Cash is still very much the preferred method of payment, however, he stressed. It's faster and more reliable for the commission's revenue stream.
"For 76 years, if you don't have an EZ-Pass, cash is the preferred method," DeFebo said.
DeFebo said that all major credit cards, including a Diners Club charge card, will be accepted.