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Nov. 29—SCRANTON — Sen. Marty Flynn recently introduced a package of legislation to address the more than $104 million in uncollected Pennsylvania Turnpike tolls from the past year.
According to information provided by Flynn's office, the legislation will deal with the issue of the all-electronic method of toll collecting that the Turnpike Commission converted to in 2020.
Flynn, D-Scranton, is a member of the Pennsylvania Senate Transportation Committee. He said one of the most frequently asked questions he gets is — "What happened to the toll-booth collectors?"
Flynn said, "People seem to strongly dislike the new method, and it's proving to be ineffective from an economic standpoint, as well."
Flynn sent a memorandum to all members of the State Senate, which details the legislation and how he feels about the all-electronic method they've been using for the past year or so.
"In the near future, I will be introducing a package of bills in direct response to the disclosure that $104 million in Pennsylvania Turnpike tolls went uncollected from June 2020 through May 2021," Flynn said. "This number is unacceptable, and demands greater enforcement and penalties for those who intentionally consistently evade paying applicable tolls."
Flynn said while the attempt to streamline the toll-collecting process by converting to All-Electronic Tolling was made with good intentions, the Turnpike Commission failed to foresee their current predicament and has in turn failed to come up with a solution for it.
"We need to stop the bleeding before that staggering number balloons even higher," Flynn said. "Furthermore, we must be transparent, responsible stewards of our state's taxpayer dollars."
Flynn asked the senators to join him in sponsoring this legislation so that some of these losses can be recouped and "once again instill faith in the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission."
Flynn's legislation will lower the threshold needed to trigger a registration suspension from six unpaid tolls to four, or from $500 in total unpaid dues to $250. It will also raise the statute of limitations from three to five years, so Turnpike officials have a longer window to pursue offenders.
The legislation will also require the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission to submit an annual report to the General Assembly that outlines revenue from collected tolls, as well as missed revenue from uncollected tolls during the prior fiscal year.
"This amount of lost revenue is significant in any context, but especially when considered alongside tolls that continue to rise for those that pay them," Flynn said. "The Legislature has an obligation to conduct oversight, and I believe that there is a clear need reflected in the amount of toll revenue that went uncollected — whether lost, outstanding, or otherwise."
Flynn said an annual report would be similar to what the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission already develops internally, and it would be shared with majority and minority chairs of both the House and Senate Transportation Committees. He said the legislation will increase transparency and accountability of toll collections by the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission.
Reinstating staffing at interchanges
Flynn said his proposed legislation legislation would require the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission to reinstate a limited number of staffed lanes to allow for in-person payment of tolls — including via cash.
In 2020, Flynn said the Turnpike Commission converted to All-Electronic Tolling (AET) to safeguard operations and ensure customer and employee safety during COVID, However, he said the Commission's bad debt expense (i.e., unpaid tolls) surged from $88.8 million in FY 2019-20 to $104.9 million in FY 2020-21.
"The increase in unpaid tolls correlating to the transition to AET necessitates a re-calibration in approach in lieu of an immediate, permanent switch to this system," Flynn said.
Flynn said his legislation will establish a minimum staffing requirement for toll collectors at each interchange based on traffic volume data maintained by the Turnpike Commission.
"This methodology will help to restore payment options to Pennsylvania motorists, reestablish good-paying jobs to communities, and increase revenues from tolls," Flynn said. "More than anything, this legislation recognizes that AET is not a one-size-fits-all solution."
Reach Bill O'Boyle at 570-991-6118 or on Twitter @TLBillOBoyle.