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Truckers hit harder by Turnpike tolls but we all pay for the ride

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By Nafari Vanaski
Thursday, Sept. 12, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
 

Dave, a reader from Pittsburgh, saw my column last week about the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission taking us for a ride by raising its fares — substantially for cash-paying drivers — and basically told me to quit whining.

OK, he was a little nicer than that. But his point is the effect on cars and SUVs is nothing compared to truck drivers like him.

“I know when you see just how much more a trucker pays, you'll be astounded,” he told me. “We are talking hundreds of dollars for a border-to-border run.”

If Dave took the Pittsburgh-to-Carlisle route I did on the turnpike — at a cost of $17.25 one-way — it would cost him between $41 and $73, depending on the class (axles and weight) of truck he is driving. That's using the discounted EZ-Pass.

But a trucker's not likely to take that short a route. Usually, they travel across the state, which costs $80 to $145.

“So what?” some of you are probably saying. Trucks carry heavier loads that are harder on the road. All trucks do is pull alongside each other and create rolling roadblocks, etc.

Commission spokesman Carl DeFebo explained that commercial drivers have always paid more to ride the turnpike. The more common types of trucks on the turnpike have five axles and are class 5 and 7 vehicles. Class 5 vehicles weigh between 30,000 and 45,000 pounds; class 7 trucks are 62,000 to 80,000 pounds.

“The heavier the vehicle, the more damage to the road it causes,” he said.

Yet DeFebo said the commission recognizes how important the vehicles are to interstate and intrastate commerce. They're also important to the commission's bottom line: Commercial vehicles account for just under half the turnpike's $800 million in annual revenue even though those vehicles account for only 15 percent of turnpike traffic.

For independent truckers, the cost of toll roads often becomes part of the negotiation process. How much it affects the driver will depend on a contract, said Jim Runk, CEO and president of the Pennsylvania Motor Truck Association.

“Independents have to decide if a trip is worth it,” he said. Sometimes, a company will opt to pay only a portion of tolls because in most cases, a trucker doesn't have to take the turnpike. They can take free interstates, even if it's a longer distance and costs more in gas.

Trucking companies don't generally absorb the cost of turnpike toll increases, Runk said. In the end, he said, the cost eventually is passed on to consumers.

And you know what that means: $4 for cereal.

Maybe there's some real treasure in that Lucky Charms box to help pay for the ride.

Nafari Vanaski is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 8669, nvanaski@tribweb.com.

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