Switch to All-Electronic Tolling on the Pennsylvania Turnpike Takes a Toll on the Agency’s Finances

King of Prussia Turnpike Exchange

The Pennsylvania Turnpike has lost more than $104 million in uncollected tolls in the past year. The losses can be traced directly to the agency’s conversion to all-electronic tolling. Mark Scolforo tallied the impact for The Philadelphia Inquirer.

Toll payments transitioned from cash to E-ZPass in the late 1980s. From there, the technology advanced to the “toll-by-plate” arrangement, which used high-speed cameras to photograph license plates as cars navigated through plazas. Billing would follow, using drivers’ home addresses culled from the plates.

Toll-by-plate increased in usage in the pandemic era of transportation; its contactless method was considered safe for both commuters and toll takers.

The breakdown, however, occurred when the linkages between plates and drivers became difficult to connect.

Owing to a variety of factors, millions of drivers using toll-by-plate stand a 50/50 chance of never being billed at all.

According to an internal turnpike report from July, nearly 11 million out of a total of around 170 million turnpike rides rode without paying for the year ending May 31.

“We take this issue very seriously,” said turnpike Chief Executive Mark Compton. “It is a big number, there’s no question. But we, as an organization, are leaving no stone unturned in the way in which we’re going after that leakage.”

Toll revenue leakage refers to uncollected tolls. Last year, the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission cited several causes:

  • Inability to identify license plate photos clearly enough to discern owners ($1.8 million)
  • Undeliverable bills ($1 million)
  • Lack of vehicle-owner addresses ($1.5 million)
  • Unpaid transactions ($6.7 million)

Read more about the Pennsylvania Turnpike’s all-electronic tolling in The Philadelphia Inquirer.