Legislation afoot at the Pennsylvania statehouse addresses concerns about turnpike tolling from multiple angles.
The first piece of legislation focuses on the collection of millions in unpaid tolls. Specifically, Sen. Marty Flynn, D- Lackawanna, wants to require outstanding tolls and late fees to be paid by an individual in order to register a vehicle.
A recent Pennsylvania State Auditor’s report shows that uncollected and unbillable tolls total $155 million for a recent one-year period. The amount is up from $104 million from the prior year.
Flynn says the amount of uncollected and unbillable tolls on the Pennsylvania Turnpike continues to be a “black eye for the operational integrity of the system.”
He points out that the problem has worsened since 2020 when the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission switched over to cashless toll collection.
“Paying customers continue to face significant toll increases that put pressure on their household budgets while others avoid paying without consequences,” Flynn wrote in a memo to legislators.
He adds that unpaid tolls come at the expense of roadway maintenance and improvements.
“A main component of the annual or biennial vehicle registration process is confirmation of a legal address. This address information is how the PTC makes contact with individuals to collect tolls via the Toll By Plate system.”
Flynn wants to require the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission to share information on uncollected and unbillable tolls, along with late fees, to the state Department of Transportation.
The highway department would be required to crosscheck the database as part of the registration process to verify that an individual does not have unpaid tolls.
If an individual does have unpaid tolls, they would need to pay the outstanding balance and late fees before their vehicle registration would be issued.
Lottery winnings and state income tax returns
A related effort also targets unpaid tolls.
Sponsored by Sen. Lisa Boscola, D-Northampton, SB473 calls for garnishing Pennsylvania lottery winnings and state income tax returns of non-paying turnpike users.
From April 2021 to March 2022, the Turnpike reported a projected total of $155 million in unpaid tolls. That is up 49% from the previous year.
“Law-abiding Pennsylvanian’s have been paying their fair share. Yet, repeated offenders are getting away without paying,” Boscola stated. “If we don’t go after them with more effective methods, more and more will try to avoid paying … then the whole system falls apart.”
Tolls also are the topic of a separate House bill.
Rep. Ed Neilson, D-Philadelphia, says regular toll increases on the Turnpike “unfairly target Pennsylvania motorists who travel the Turnpike without an E-ZPass, as the Turnpike has replaced cash tolls with Toll By Plate.”
His bill, HB516, would prohibit the PTC from implementing a surcharge on Pennsylvania-registered vehicles and charge the same rate as they do for E-ZPass.
“My legislation will also ensure that the Commonwealth follows the same out-of-state tolling policies as the other states around us, by requiring the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission to charge and collect a higher toll rate from motorists with an out-of-state E-ZPass.”
Toll road conversion
Another bill from Neilson would require legislative approval for toll road conversion.
HB524 states that the General Assembly must approve any existing and free roadway being converted into a toll road.
Neilson said the change is necessary to ensure Pennsylvanians have their voices heard on the issue.
“While requiring tolls on frequently traveled roads may seem appealing, these proposals seldom enjoy broad support from most Pennsylvanians,” he said. LL