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With tolls increasing again, Turnpike pushes E-ZPass

By Randy Kraft, WFMZ.com Reporter, RKraft@wfmz.com
Published On: Jul 29 2013 06:39:05 PM CDT
Updated On: Jul 30 2013 04:42:57 AM CDT

People who use the Pennsylvania Turnpike will need to prepare for a toll hike.

HARRISBURG, Pa. -

A 12 percent increase in cash turnpike tolls has been approved for 2014 by the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission.

It will go easier on E-ZPass customers, who will experience only a two percent toll increase next year.

The majority of people who use the turnpike have E-ZPasses. And the turnpike commission is using its announcement about the toll increases to encourage more to get E-ZPass.

The increase — approved by the five-member Turnpike Commission at its July 15 public meeting — will take effect Jan. 5, 2014.

“Our E-ZPass customers have seen lower increases than cash customers since 2011, and this will be the fourth year we’ve been able to minimize the impact to E-ZPass users,” said turnpike CEO Mark Compton.

“Since more than 70 percent of our customers pay with E-ZPass today, most customers are taking advantage of these lower rates,” Compton added.

Next year, a mid-length turnpike trip for Class-1 (passenger) vehicles -- such as between the Lehigh Valley and Pocono interchanges on the Northeast Extension -- will increase from $2.71 to $2.77 for E-ZPass customers and from $3.55 to $4 for cash-paying travelers. E-ZPass users will save $1.23 on such trips.

A longer trip for Class-1 vehicles will increase from $7.10 to $7.25 for E-ZPass customers and from $9.10 to $10.20 for cash-paying travelers. An example of such a trip is between the Mid-County and Wyoming Valley interchanges on the Northeast Extension.

E-ZPass customers pay less because of the lower costs of collecting tolls electronically, according to turnpike commission spokesmen. On average, E-ZPass costs about five to 10 times less per transaction than processing a cash toll.

The average Class-1 toll for a cash customer on the turnpike mainline is $4.49 today. The same toll is just $2.92 with the E-ZPass discount — for a savings of $1.57 per trip.

“Besides being faster and more convenient for motorists, E-ZPass is a more efficient, environmentally responsible way for us as an agency to collect tolls because it reduces idling at the tollbooth and cuts emissions,” Compton said.

 The turnpike commission reports many people don’t know enrolling in E-ZPass is so affordable. The initial cost to open an auto-replenishment account is $38; however, $35 of that is the available balance from which tolls are deducted.

“The only cost to E-ZPass customers is really the $3 annual service fee,” Compton said. Most current cash customers  earn back that $3 annual fee after only two trips (a single round trip) if they switch to E-ZPass.

The 2014 increase is needed to allow the PTC to meet its funding obligation to the state. Revenue from the increase also will  help fund the turnpike’s capital-improvement plan,  aimed primarily at completely rebuilding the 73-year-old toll road and widening it from four to six lanes.

The increase will be the 11th rate hike in the history of the turnpike commission — and the sixth yearly toll increase implemented after the passage of Act 44 in 2007. Act 44 directs the commission to make annual payments to PennDOT for off-turnpike investment in the state’s ground-transportation network.

“We understand that these recurrent annual increases can create an economic hardship for some, and for this reason we ardently support a measure in the general assembly that would modify the funding requirements in Act 44,” Compton said. “If passed, this measure would mean that the turnpike comission could eventually reduce the magnitude of future toll increases.”

Since Act 44’s passage, the turnpike commission has transferred almost $3.9 billion to PennDOT and will continue to make annual disbursements of $450 million. Of that, $200 million is used for highway and bridge improvements while $250 million is used to support the operating expenses of various public-transit authorities in the state.

The turnpike's outstanding Act 44 debt now stands at $4.3 billion with associated debt payments of $226 million a year and climbing.

E-ZPass is available online or by calling 1-877-736-6727.

Customers can buy an E-ZPass GoPak at more than 300 retailers across the state, including most AAA offices and at certain stores in these chains: Acme, Giant Eagle and GetGo, Karns, Walmart and Wegmans.

The E-ZPass GoPak allows travelers to obtain a transponder that is already activated and can be used immediately. (Retailers charge a one-time convenience fee.)

A Pennsylvania Turnpike E-ZPass can be used on any toll facility where the purple-and-white logo is shown.

More than 20 million E-ZPass transponders are in use on toll roads, bridges and tunnels nationwide.