Pa. Turnpike: all-electronic tolling is feasible

No decision yet; commission will hire a program manager to continue considering cashless tolling

Editorial/Commentary News Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission March 07, 2012
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The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission (PTC) announced March 6 that it will continue pursuing a potential conversion to a cashless, all-electronic toll (AET) collection system due to the numerous advantages the system could offer motorists and the agency, including enhanced safety, a cleaner environment, improved customer convenience and operational efficiencies.

 

The PTC issued an AET Feasibility Report that is available for review at www.paturnpike.com/aet. The report includes the results of a year-long effort to outline the potential effects conversion to AET would have on Pa. Turnpike customers, operations and stakeholders.

 

The PTC determined, based on assumptions contained in the report, that conversion to AET is feasible from both a financial and physical perspective under certain conditions. The report also outlines a series of benchmarks that would have to be met before the PTC can make a final decision on conversion to AET. Under any set of circumstances, a conversion would take at least five years, according to the report.

 

“As the report makes clear, we have a lot of work to do before a final decision can be made, but this is an important step forward—one we’re excited to announce and share with our customers,” said Turnpike CEO Roger Nutt. “All-electronic tolling is a significant trend in our industry that a number of other agencies have implemented or are considering, and it is important that we thoroughly study such a possible conversion.”

 

The PTC also announced that it will soon begin the process of hiring a program-management firm to oversee the next phase of the study and potentially assist the PTC in a future conversion of the Pennsylvania Turnpike to an AET system. Under an all-electronic system, all customers would pay without slowing down or stopping at tollbooths. Motorists would no longer pay cash at tollbooths; tolls would be collected electronically.

 

If the Turnpike ultimately decides to convert to AET, motorists would still be able to use the system without registering for E-ZPass (nearly two-thirds of Pa. Turnpike travelers currently pay with E-ZPass). The ongoing study will identify optional payment methods for customers. Under any AET system, E-ZPass would continue to be the least expensive option for motorists. Currently, E-ZPass customers pay about 17% less, on average, than those who pay with cash.

 

AET enhances safety because traffic flows freely across a barrier-free system. Travel time for motorists is reduced. Air pollution is reduced because cars and trucks spend less time idling. And the efficiency of tolling agencies is increased. Because of these benefits, AET has been or is being implemented in several countries and in Texas, Florida, California, Colorado, Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota, New York and North Carolina. These facilities are all at different stages of electronic-toll implementation.

 

Several tasks contained in the next phase of the Pa. Turnpike’s study will include:

 

 

* PTC work force consulting, outreach and engagement;

 

* Financial analysis;

 

* Public and legislative outreach efforts;

 

* Traffic and revenue studies;

 

* Engineering analysis and design;

 

* Environmental studies;

 

* Development of license-plate-based tolling methods (i.e., “video tolling”), fare collection business rules for the AET system and customer service center plans and requirements; and

 

* All-electronic toll system design.

 

 

Some in the state’s trucking industry have endorsed the idea of a cashless toll system because of the benefits it could bring to commercial operators of all sizes.

 

“Keeping traffic moving at interchanges is important to us in the time-sensitive trucking business, because it helps get that cargo delivered on time,” said Jim Germak, owner of Jagtrux Inc., Marietta, Pa., and incoming chairman of the Pennsylvania Motor Truck Association (PMTA). “Beyond the time savings, shippers could also save on fuel costs with electronic tolling because of reduced idling at the toll plaza, and trucks with E-ZPass would still pay lower rates under any such system, so company owners and accountants should appreciate that.”

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