The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission is losing at least $700,000 a year because of motorists who blow through automated toll booths in western Pennsylvania, according to a published report.
Some motorists are deliberately not paying and others don't have enough _ or the correct _ change, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported in Monday editions. The paper's review projected fare evasions and lost revenue for a year based only on April statistics.
The paper also reported that the turnpike doesn't use video surveillance on the Beaver Valley Expressway, the Greensburg Bypass and the Mon-Fayette Expressway, despite signs warning motorists of their use in recording license plates or snapping pictures of fare dodgers.
Turnpike spokesman Bill Capone said the toll agency wasn't anxious to disclose some aspects of toll collection, such as no cameras or license detection equipment. "We don't want to advertise that fact," he said.
Except for two barriers on the Beaver Valley Expressway and one on Greensburg Bypass that are equipped with gate arms and staffed by a toll collector, those two limited access highways, and the entire stretch of the Mon-Fayette Expressway, are operated on the honor system.
The Beaver Valley Expressway has the highest fare evasion of any of the three toll roads, with about 13 percent of motorists dodging tolls. That road and the Greensburg Bypass are either old-fashioned, or at least limited inasmuch as if drivers aren't carrying the exact change, they have no recourse but to illegally pass through toll lanes and trigger the alarm.
The more modern Mon-Fayette Expressway accepts $1 bills, $5 bills and major credit cards. Turnpike officials said that road has the lowest evasion rate, which they attribute to payment flexibility.
State police do little enforcement of fare evasions for several reasons: Speeding and safety get top priority, fare evasions are difficult to prove and district justices don't like to focus on such small cases. Fare evaders face fines and costs totaling $180.
Staffing some ramps with collectors wouldn't be cost effective, Capone said. Staffing even one busy intersection would cost more money than the turnpike is losing systemwide with automated toll collection, he said.
Consultants told the turnpike to expect evasions ranging from 5 to 30 percent, according to turnpike officials.
However, officials said that they are planning to prevent the spread of toll dodging _ though they're not saying how.
Capone didn't rule out the occasional sting, as the New Hampshire Department of Transportation has done. In two hours, a New Hampshire sting caught 10 violators who were fined a total of $1,170.
The April information contained suspected glitches, the paper reported, such as an initial turnpike report showing more revenue collected than due at one plaza and an inconsistently low evasion rate for all 35 miles of the Mon-Fayette Expressway.
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