Editorial: The toll of a cashless turnpike
Some things in life are inevitable. There’s death, obviously. Taxes, of course.
And apparently there is also cashless tolling.
The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission says that the state is just two years away from complete conversion to a system that demands you use an E-ZPass transponder or receive a bill via mail generated by a license plate search.
Fourteen other states have adopted similar systems.
Does that mean it’s the way to go?
“This schedule is possible due to the success of our all-electronic tolling (AET) pilot locations, two in eastern PA and two on the western side of our system,” said commission CEO Mark Compton. “Data from these pilots is clear: Performance is on par with projections after 58 million AET transactions have been processed to date at four cashless-tolling locations. We expect the same of our newest AET conversions at the Gateway Toll Point near Ohio in Lawrence County and the (Amos K. Hutchinson Bypass on PA Turnpike 66) in Westmoreland County.”
If the road to hell is paved with good intentions, expectations are the asphalt of toll roads.
Yes, many drivers who regularly travel the turnpike use E-ZPass and its zippy, no-stop lanes. It is convenient to not have to dig through your purse or root around your seats to scrounge up the money to lift up the gate.
But that convenience comes with a price that’s higher than the toll. Cashless also means fewer jobs. It means more automation — which went so well earlier this year when drivers found they were being overcharged. It means bureaucracy and the possibility of errors. It also means higher fees if you don’t have an E-ZPass but end up needing to head to Harrisburg.
The turnpike commission is struggling with an obligation to transfer $450 million a year — although that will drop to a mere $50 million in 2022 — to the state Department of Transportation and a 27-year plan for escalating costs annually.
And as increasing tolls are as inevitable as death and taxes, too, does cutting out one way to collect them really make sense?