Pennsylvania Turnpike considering all-electronic tolls

If approved, conversion would eliminate toll booths and toll collectors

News The Morning Call October 06, 2010
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The Pennsylvania Turnpike is considering switching to an all-electronic toll system. If approved, it would completely eliminate the need for toll booths, toll collectors and change, according to The Morning Call.

The turnpike is looking for a consultant to study all-electronic collection, which is already used in several other states. The study will take a year and could result in a potential timetable for the conversion.

“In our industry, it’s pretty much accepted that this is the wave of the future,” said Turnpike spokesman Carl DeFebo.

"We'll be there someday. There's no doubt in my mind," Turnpike CEO Joe Brimmeier said.

With all-electronic systems, drivers do not need to slow down as they pass a toll location. As a car passes through, a gantry detects a transponder, such as an E-ZPass, and automatically deducts a toll. If the car does not have a transponder, cameras photograph the license plate and a bill is mailed to the registered owner.

The 545-mile Turnpike system is already moving in that direction. Five locations currently have E-ZPass express lanes, where drivers do not need to slow down. Several interchanges are E-ZPass only, and three exits east of Exit 161 will go cashless next year.

Going all-electronic would improve traffic flow, eliminate safety hazards and save money. The Pennsylvania Turnpike has about 600 toll collectors who make $37,000 to $46,000 per year.

Even if the Turnpike decides to convert to all-electronic tolling, doing so would not be an easy task. The road has 70 toll plazas, and some legislators might be wary of cutting the toll collector jobs. Joseph Schwieterman, a DePaul University professor who studies transportation issues, also said mailing the bills can raise privacy concerns.

"It's one thing to get that when you commit a violation. It's another thing when that's the only way of doing business," he said. "There's also a Big Brother quality that will rear its ugly head."

Currently, 62% of users have E-ZPass transponders, and that figure is expected to grow as the Turnpike starts charging higher tolls to cash customers next year.

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