Also revoking 15-percent volume discount
By Eric Boehm | PA Independent
HARRISBURG — Tolls are increasing on the state turnpike only for cash-paying customers, as the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission tries to motivate drivers to switch to the electronic tolling system.
“The commission has both economic and customer-service reasons to encourage customers to switch to E-Z Pass, and that’s why we decided to sweeten the incentive,” said William Lieberman, commission chairman.
The commission Thursday announced the 10-percent increase that will take effect Jan. 1 and marks the second consecutive year in which drivers must pay more when using cash rather than the electronic system.
The base toll will increase from $1.10 for a passenger car to $1.25; the journey from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh on the mainline turnpike will jump from $21.70 to $23.90.
Because nearly two-thirds of turnpike drivers use E-Z Pass, the toll increase will affect a minority of the 172 million vehicles on the turnpike each year.
While the E-Z Pass costs are lower, participating in the electronic tolling program, which is faster and safer, requires a $6 annual fee.
Ted Leonard, executive director of the Pennsylvania AAA Federation, which represents the interests of motorists in the state, said many states use variable toll rates based on electronic payment or the frequency of use of a toll road.
"The electronic tolling increases savings and reduces congestion," Leonard said. "We would hope that they can pass those savings along to the motorists."
The Turnpike Commission also announced the elimination of the 15-percent commercial volume discount program, which reduces toll rates for companies that pay at least $10,000 in tolls each month. Because the gap between cash payments and E-Z Pass costs will be 17 percent beginning in 2012, the discount is no longer needed, the commission said.
Jim Runk, president of the Pennsylvania Truckers Association, which represents commercial transportation companies, said no toll increases were good, but the elimination of the discount was not a major concern.
“A very small percentage (of our members) use cash, and the idea is that E-Z Pass is really what they should be doing,” Runk said.
Under Act 44 of 2007, the Turnpike Commission is required to transfer $450 million annually to the state Department of Transportation for a 50-year period. The law also gives the commission the authority to increase tolls every year without state government approval.
The Turnpike Commission increased tolls in 2009 by 25 percent for all customers. In 2010, tolls increased again for all customers by 3 percent. In 2011, tolls increased 10 percent for cash-paying customers and 3 percent for E-Z Pass users.
Prior to 2009, officials increase tolls five times since the turnpike was founded in 1937.
The commission also announced 3-percent toll increases to take effect in 2013 and 2014, but did not clarify whether those increases would affect only cash-paying customers or E-Z Pass users as well.
Lieberman said the turnpike is planning ahead, so current and future bond holders can see the commission’s commitment to meeting its obligations. The Turnpike Commission holds $7.3 billion in debt, which is independent of the state debt but is backed by the state’s taxpayers.
Since the E-Z Pass program was implemented in 2000, the Turnpike Commission has eliminated nearly 200 toll-taker positions through attrition, according to Bill Capone, a spokesperson for the turnpike.
Calls to the Teamsters Union Local 77, which represents toll takers on the turnpike, were not returned Thursday.
Electronic tolling transceivers can be obtained by visiting www.paturnpike.com
or calling 1-877-736-6727. They also are available at turnpike rest areas and in many grocery stores.