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Turnpike defends toll-by-plate collection method that lost over $100 million

The Pennsylvania Turnpike is willing to crack down on drivers who don't pay their tolls but is defending its method for collecting those tolls.

HARRISBURG, Pa. — The Pennsylvania Turnpike is standing by its switch to toll-by-plate collection despite missing out on more than $100 million in tolls last year.

Leaders of the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission reported to state lawmakers in September, saying that the Turnpike missed out on $104 million in tolls in 2020.

That's a big number that shocked many of the turnpike drivers we talked to.

RELATED: Bill aims to fix Turnpike toll troubles

But Turnpike officials say they planned for that loss in tolls when the commission switched to all-electronic tolling in 2020.

In a Zoom interview from Harrisburg, Turnpike Commission spokesperson Carl DeFebo told us that the switchover still collects tolls from more than 90 percent of drivers. The missing $104 million is compared to $1.2 billion in tolls collected last year.

"We had planned for it, as a matter of fact. The Turnpike Commission recoups those losses in the fees that we charge to our drivers. And so, it's literally not lost. We are making up for it through the rates that we charge to our travelers today," DeFebo said.

Toll rates have been climbing in recent years and are set to go up another five percent after the new year, but that hike is not being passed on to drivers who pay tolls by E-ZPass.

DeFebo says using E-ZPass instead of relying on toll by plate can save you about 60 percent in tolls.

The Turnpike is committed to its new collection method, but we asked DeFebo about a proposed bill in the state legislature that would require the commission to report its finances to lawmakers and would allow the commission and police to better crack down on drivers who do not pay their tolls.

"There's no doubt that we are doing everything in our power today to go after scofflaws," DeFebo said. "I think we will continue to work with lawmakers to try to improve those measures and try to bolster our ability to go after people who are purposefully evading tolls."

That bill still needs to pass in both the state senate and assembly.

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