Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Turnpike can target scofflaws under new law

The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission has a new set of teeth.

State legislation passed last month will allow the agency to seek vehicle-registration suspensions for serial toll scofflaws, starting next summer.

It’s an important new tool for an agency that had about $40 million in unpaid tolls outstanding last year, and that had to write off about $5.4 million of that amount.

Currently, the only option at the agency’s disposal is to pursue offenders through debt-collection agencies.

“This will take it a step further,” Turnpike spokesman Carl DeFebo said.

Motorists with six outstanding violations, or unpaid tickets worth $500, will be subject to having their registration suspended by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation until those violations are paid, DeFebo said.

How it works

Those fearing state officials will come swooping down on their vehicles should relax a bit, however.

“It’s not automatic,” DeFebo said.

Rather, the agency will have discretion over which cases get turned over to PennDOT, he explained, with a likely focus on “the most egregious.”

In many cases, it’s likely that the agency will continue to work with motorists through the existing debt-collection process, DeFebo added.

Some of the biggest offenders were highlighted recently, when Turnpike officials released a list of the top commercial violators, each of which owed more than $20,000 in unpaid tolls and violations.

Together, those violators owe the turnpike more than $1.5 million in unpaid tolls and fees, turnpike Chairman Sean Logan said, with a single New Jersey trucking firm responsible for nearly $700,000.

Overall, the largest number of violators come from Pennsylvania, DeFebo said, “but New Jersey runs a very close second.”

The law also gives the Turnpike Commission a critical tool to begin pursuing out-of-state violators: Power to negotiate “reciprocity” agreements with other states, so the Pennsylvania agency can seek similar penalties against their registrations.

“There has already been informal dialogue between us and New Jersey, Maryland and Delaware,” DeFebo said.

Most of the scofflaws are E-Z Pass subscribers, so implementing agreements should be made easier by the fact that Pennsylvania already collaborates with neighboring states in collecting and distributing tolls through the E-Z Pass system, he added.

The Turnpike Commission’s new powers won’t take effect for nine months. DeFebo said the agency plans to undertake a comprehensive public education plan, starting early next year, so drivers know what to expect.

Financial need

“We needed this legislation to provide the Commission with a better way to recoup the revenue loss from intentional scofflaws who abuse the fair-share payment method that supports the current and anticipated needs of the Turnpike system,” said State Sen. John C. Rafferty Jr. (R-Montgomery County), one of the bill’s co-sponsors.

That need was spotlighted in a state audit of Turnpike finances, released in September, which suggested the increase in toll violations may lead to additional financial problems for the agency.

Most of the drivers who use the Pennsylvania Turnpike — about 99 percent — pay their tolls, generating about $1 billion this year, according to a statistic recently cited by Turnpike CEO Mark Compton.

But the audit, which covered fiscal years 2014 to 2016, found that violations for failure to pay tolls have increased by 15 percent each year since 2011, except for 2013. More than 726,000 toll violation notices were sent in 2015.

“This legislation gives us the ability to collect funds from drivers who are not paying tolls as required so that we can reinvest those resources back into the Turnpike system,” co-sponsor state Sen. Jay Costa (D-Allegheny County) said.

Roger DuPuis
Roger DuPuis covers Cumberland County, health care, transportation, distribution, energy and environment. Have a tip or question for him? Email him at [email protected].

Business Events

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Summit

Wednesday, March 29, 2023
Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Summit

Health Care Heroes

Tuesday, April 04, 2023
Health Care Heroes

Nonprofit Innovation Awards

Thursday, May 18, 2023
Nonprofit Innovation Awards

Women of Influence

Tuesday, June 27, 2023
Women of Influence