Last updated: February 20. 2013 12:30AM - 716 Views

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The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission reminds motorists that toll rates will increase on Jan. 6 by 10 percent for cash customers and two percent for E-ZPass customers.

With the increase, E-ZPass customers who now see about a 17 percent savings on tolls will save about 25 percent, on average, compared to cash. The new rates, which take effect at 12:01 a.m. this Sunday, are expected to generate approximately $25 million in new revenue in 2013.

Because tolls have never been increased on the Southern Beltway (Pa. Turnpike 576) since its 2006 opening (while tolls on other Turnpike sections have gone up 48 percent), cash customers on this section of road near the Pittsburgh International Airport will see a 50 percent increase on Jan. 6. E-ZPass customers using the Southern Beltway will see no toll rate increase.

The toll increase is needed, in part, to satisfy the Turnpike's obligation to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to help address a transportation-funding shortfall. Under Act 44 of 2007, the Turnpike continues to make annual contributions of $450 million to PennDOT; of that, $250 million is used for public-transit agencies and $200 million is used for off-Turnpike road and bridge projects. To date, the Turnpike has provided more than $3.6 billion in funding which has been invested all across the state.

The toll increase is also essential to fund the Turnpike‚??s own capital plan, focused largely on total reconstruction and widening projects in which the highway is completely rebuilt from the ground up and expanded from four to six lanes. So far the commission has rebuilt more than 100 miles of its system ‚?? parts of which are more than 72 years old ‚?? at an average cost of $20 million per mile.

The Turnpike Commission has set E-ZPass rates lower than cash rates since 2011. It aims to increase E-ZPass enrollment because it‚??s less costly to process an electronic transaction compared to a cash transaction. Today, about 68 percent of all Pennsylvania Turnpike travelers already have E-ZPass, and the commission wants to grow that number as it develops a completely cashless system, called All-Electronic Tolling, in the coming years.

‚??Since the Turnpike launched E-ZPass more than a dozen years ago, customers have valued the benefits they get from going cashless, including safety, convenience and environmental advantages,‚?Ě said Acting Turnpike CEO Craig R. Shuey. ‚??Now, by setting up a toll schedule that helps E-ZPass users save about 25 percent compared to cash, we‚??ve provided a more appealing incentive for those who‚??ve been meaning to sign up.‚?Ě

In addition to saving more on tolls, E-ZPass users are now paying less to open and maintain an account. The Turnpike recently lowered several E-ZPass account fees. On Dec. 1, 2012, the annual service fee for a personal account dropped from $6 per transponder to $3 per transponder. The transponder deposit for manual-replenishment customers dropped from $25 per transponder to $10 per transponder (the $10 fee is waived for an auto-replenishment account, which gets replenished with $35 from the customer‚??s debit/credit card when the toll balance drops below $10). The damaged and lost/stolen fee was also reduced, from $25 to $10 per transponder for all customers. These price cuts were made possible because the Turnpike Commission is paying less for transponders as a result of a recent procurement process.

Many customers get E-ZPass online at www.paturnpike.com or by calling 1-877-Penn-Pass (1-877-736-6727). Customers can also buy an E-ZPass GoPak at more than 300 retailers across the state, including most AAA offices and at certain stores in these chains: Acme, Giant Eagle and GetGo, Karns, Walmart and Wegmans. The E-ZPass GoPak allows travelers to obtain a transponder that is already activated and can be used immediately. Customers who purchase a GoPak must register the E-ZPass within 72 hours online or by calling the toll-free number.

It costs $38 to purchase an E-ZPass if using a credit or debit card to set up an auto-replenishment account; the cost includes a $35 toll balance plus the $3 annual fee. In addition, E-ZPass retailers charge a one-time convenience fee (there is no convenience fee for those who join online or by phone).

Turnpike travelers can also get an E-ZPass at vending machines called Tag Tellers inside certain Pennsylvania Turnpike travel plazas. For a comprehensive list of E-ZPass retail locations, visit www.paturnpike.com/ezpass/sales.aspx.

One E-ZPass transponder can be moved from vehicle to vehicle using the provided mounting strips. Just remember to call or go online to register the license plate number and other information for the vehicles to be used under the E-ZPass account.

A Pennsylvania Turnpike E-ZPass can be used on any toll facility where the purple-and-white logo is shown. Presently, there are 25 E-ZPass agencies in 15 states, largely in the Northeastern U.S., and more than 20 million E-ZPass transponders in use on toll roads, bridges and tunnels nationwide.
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