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Turnpike seeks drivers to serve on advisory board, provide feedback

| Thursday, Jan. 23, 2014, 11:06 a.m.

The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission announced on Thursday that it will recruit 4,000 drivers to serve as volunteers for an advisory panel — a move some transit watchers say is part of the turnpike's push to rebrand itself with the public.

The Turnpike Traveler Advisory Panel aims to provide direct feedback on issues ranging from road quality to overall satisfaction and future projects. The panel will be made up of both commercial and passenger customers, E-ZPass users and people who prefer cash, and frequent and occasional users.

“It's not a bad idea. I think they're trying to rebrand themselves. Tolls have been going up and up, and you have to give people something for their money,” said former state Rep. Rick Geist, R-Altoona, who headed the House Transportation Committee. “They've had some problems in their past that have haunted them.”

Namely, six people with ties to the turnpike are awaiting trial for an alleged bid-rigging and influence-peddling scheme, including the former CEO and agency chairman. The Attorney General's Office filed the charges in March.

Turnpike spokeswoman Renee Vid Colborn said people interested in serving on the advisory panel will first take a survey and officials will select the panelists from there. The panelists will be asked to complete several online surveys over the next six months to a year.

“We want to get a better understanding of what our customers want,” Vid Colborn said.

The turnpike has been criticized for toll increases over the past several years. Vid Colborn acknowledged much of the feedback could relate to tolls.

“We're going to take all of that into consideration,” she said.

The turnpike did a one-time survey in 2011 when it polled about 10,000 cash-paying drivers about E-ZPass.

“That survey asked cash customers why they weren't getting E-ZPass, and what we found was it wasn't convenient, so we started putting E-ZPass in more retail locations like Giant Eagle where it was easier for people to purchase,” Vid Colborn said. “We also found that a discount incentive would encourage people to get E-ZPass. Last year there was a 25 percent discount compared to cash-paying customers, and now in 2014 it has reached 35 percent compared to cash-paying customers.”

Participants will earn rewards for their time, although the prizes have not yet been determined. The panelists will be asked how they would like to be rewarded, Vid Colborn said.

Those interested should visit www.paturnpike.com/TurnpikeTAP.

Bobby Kerlik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7886.

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