Pennsylvania Turnpike Raising Rates to Bolster Transit Payments

The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission (PTC) approved a 6 percent toll increase on July 21 for E-ZPass rates as well as a 45 percent increase in TOLL BY PLATE rates as compared to its previous cash rates – both of which go into effect on January 3, 2021.

[Above photo by the Pennsylvania Turnpike.]

“The primary driver of the annual toll-rate increases continues to be our quarterly transit payments to PennDOT [the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation] and the resulting debt service that comes along with the legislatively mandated funding obligation,” explained Mark Compton, CEO of the Pennsylvania Turnpike, in a statement.

Mark Compton

He added that debt-service costs on outstanding Act-44 bonds are $440 million annually and growing; an amount that must be paid each year even if the PTC seeks, and is granted, deferment of a quarterly Act-44 payment — as it recently did to partially offset revenue impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Toll roads across the country have been deploying a mix of strategies to deal with the fiscal fallout from the COVID-19 outbreak, including the issuance of new bonds, reduction of capital outlays, and trimming operating budgets to cope with lower revenues.

As part of its response to COVID-19, PTC made the cashless all-electronic tolling or AET system it put in place in March 16 to minimize the spread of the virus permanent — a move that resulted in the layoff of approximately 500 employees, primarily toll collectors and fare-collection personnel, in mid-June.

Photo by the Pennsylvania Turnpike

“The new TOLL BY PLATE rate reflects the higher costs the commission incurs to process the toll and collect payment — a pricing approach used by tolling agencies across the nation to cover the costs of administering AET systems,” Compton noted. “This balanced approach allows us to maintain a lower rate for those choosing a payment method that is less costly to manage, while those who choose a pricier payment option absorb those costs.”

He pointed out that TOLL BY PLATE uses high-speed cameras capture license-plate images, with the vehicle’s register owner receiving an invoice for trips made through the tolling point. Compton also said the PTC is exploring ways to offer TOLL BY PLATE discounts to motorists through pre-registration options, with details to be announced later this year.

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