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September 14, 2021

Pennsylvania Turnpike lost $104 million in revenue after switching to all-electronic payment, report says

Camera system failures and faulty equipment prevented the system from capturing the license plates of motorists

Transportation Pennsylvania Turnpike
PA Turnpike Tolls Lost THEFXEXPERT/Wikipedia Commons

The Pennsylvania Turnpike lost more than $104 million in toll revenue in 2020 partly because its toll-by-plate system failed to record the license plates of 1.8 million vehicles.

The Pennsylvania Turnpike reportedly lost more than $104 million in toll revenue last year because millions of drivers passed through its toll-by-plate system without getting billed.

The turnpike switched to all-electronic tolling in 2020 amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission now bills drivers through E-ZPass, which tracks drivers through a transponder, or through its toll-by-plate system, which captures images of license plates and sends invoices to drivers through the mail.

Drivers who didn't use E-ZPass had nearly a 50% chance of not being billed by the toll-by-plate system, according to an internal report obtained by the Associated Press. Nearly 11 million of the 170 million turnpike rides did not generate revenue. 

Such issues can stem from faulty equipment, camera system failures or the inability to send toll bills to some out-of-state drivers, Mark Muriello, who works for the International Bridge, Toll and Tunnel Association, told the AP.

The turnpike commission could not bill 1.8 million drivers because the system failed to read the license plates of their vehicles, the report said. In about half of these cases, the plates were not in the frame of the photo. About 41% of image failures were attributed to objects blocking the license plates. A little more than 1% were due to intentional obstructions. 

Motor vehicle agencies also failed to provide driver addresses in more than 1.5 million cases, making it impossible to mail bills to some out-of-state drivers. In 1 million cases, bills were undeliverable for other reasons. The remaining 6.7 million cases were marked as "not paid." 

In 2014, the turnpike commission signed a $45 million contract to transition to all-electronic tolling by 2022, and pays vendor TransCore about $10 million each year to operate the toll-by-plate system. The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated that plan in order to reduce the potential spread of the virus via interactions between drivers and attendants at toll booths.

The turnpike commission imposed a 45% rate increase for drivers without E-ZPasses last year at the same time it decided to lay off hundreds of toll collectors. A drivers who uses toll-by-plate would pay $95 to travel cross Pennsylvania on the turnpike compared to an E-ZPass user who would pay $47 for the same trip.

Pennsylvania's toll collection rates are on par with other states' and are slightly less expensive than the national average, state Transportation Secretary Yassmin Gramian told the AP. 

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