The Lead

Pa. Senate committee OKs turnpike reform legislation

By: - February 7, 2022 1:02 pm

The Senate Transportation Committee meets for a voting meeting on Monday, Feb. 7, 2022. (Screenshot)

Months after the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission reported nearly $105 million in uncollected fees since converting to all-electronic tolling, the Legislature is taking steps to keep it from happening again.

On Monday, the Senate Transportation Committee approved a package of bills reforming the turnpike’s tolling system and financial reporting, with lawmakers hoping they will deter additional losses and make using the highway system more convenient for motorists.

“While the percentage of unpaid and uncollected tolls is not out of line with other states, the dollar amount of those missed collections — $104 million in the 2020-21 fiscal year — is staggering,” state Sen. Marty Flynn, of Lackawanna County the panel’s ranking Democrat and author of the legislation, said — noting an annual increase in toll fees.

The first proposal, which unanimously moved out of the Republican-controlled committee, would require the turnpike commission to submit an annual financial report to the General Assembly that outlines revenue and what’s referred to as toll leakage during the prior fiscal year. The document would resemble an internal report compiled by the commission each year.

“The Legislature has an obligation to conduct oversight, and I believe that there is a clear need reflected in the amount of toll revenue that went uncollected,” Flynn said. “This legislation will both increase transparency and ensure accountability in this vital system.”

The panel also voted 11-3 to send the full Senate a Flynn-authored bill that would let drivers have the option of paying tolls with mobile apps, including PayPal, Venmo, Cash App, and Zelle.

The turnpike commission would have to establish a billing system to accept payments made with an app and put out a request for proposal to contract with a third-party vendor for app payments, Flynn said.

Lawmakers on the panel said they were concerned about potential problems with service fees and the possibility of how mobile billing could eliminate costs associated with mailing bills to drivers who use the turnpike.

The legislation now goes to the full Senate for consideration.

Efforts to reform the turnpike’s tolling system and increase financial accountability come after nearly 11 million out of almost 170 million rides from June 2020 through May 2021 generated no revenue for the turnpike commission, according to an internal report obtained by the Associated Press last year.

Motorists who do not use E-ZPass — an automated collection system — have an almost 50-50 chance of slipping through the “toll-by-plate” camera billing system. With E-ZPass, the turnpike collects on about 92 percent of trips. Revenue helps pay quarterly transit payments to the state Department of Transportation and the resulting debt service, which comes with a legislatively mandated funding obligation.

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