The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission said that the cashless all-electronic tolling or AET system it instituted March 16 to minimize the spread of the COVID-19 virus will become permanent — a decision that will result in the layoff of approximately 500 employees, primarily toll collectors and fare-collection personnel. The layoff process is already underway and the first employee separations are expected to occur on or after June 18.
The commission stressed that “there will be no return to cash collections” on the Turnpike system, with tolls assessed only by E-ZPass or via a TOLL BY PLATE invoice that will be sent in the mail.
“I deeply regret that we have reached this point, but the world has been irrevocably changed by the global pandemic,” said Mark Compton, the Turnpike’s CEO, in a statement. “This pandemic had a much greater impact than anyone could have foreseen. The Turnpike has not been spared from COVID-19.”
He noted that traffic on turnpike plummeted by almost 50 percent since March compared to 2019 due to the COVID-19 outbreak, with toll revenues dropping by more than $100 million for the fiscal year ended May 31.
“From the start, we have taken a phased, deliberate approach to offset revenue loss that offers a degree of flexibility to adapt depending on the crisis’ duration,” Compton added, with those steps including: cutting capital spending by 25 percent; reducing operating expenses; instituting a hiring freeze; offering a voluntary-retirement program; and delaying its July transit-funding payment of $112.5 million to the state.
“However, it has become clear these steps are not enough,” Compton said. “Ceasing cash collections in March to protect employees and customers was the right decision. But we did not know then how severe the impact would be and, with the associated dangers, we cannot risk returning to cash collections. AET continues to be the best choice for our customers and this organization’s future.”