A trip from New Jersey to Ohio? $28.
A trip from Ohio to New Jersey? $32.30.
A trip on your Pennsylvania Turnpike ticket? Priceless.
That's the future for motorists on the turnpike, come Jan. 2.
Tolls are going up again. You already knew that. The difference this time is that cash tolls will increase three times as much as electronic tolls - and the price won't appear on your ticket.
The Turnpike Commission is printing tickets without prices to save money, as it won't have to print new ones every year when tolls rise, says spokesman Carl DeFebo.
Imagine if this catches on. Supermarkets could let shoppers discover the price of milk at the checkout counter. Gas stations could avoid the hassle of posting new prices every day or two. And the price of a Big Mac could be as secret as the recipe for its sauce.
The turnpike's hidden-price plan has critics leaning on their horns. The motorists' organization AAA "is concerned that this could prove confusing to motorists, especially cash-paying motorists," said Rick Remington, spokesman for AAA Mid-Atlantic. "They wouldn't know what they owe when they pull up to a toll booth."
State Auditor General Jack Wagner said he was "appalled" by the move and will ask the Turnpike Commission to reverse the policy.
But DeFebo said, "I don't believe it can be reversed," because new tickets have been printed and distributed. He said it costs about $280,000 to print a year's worth - 75 million - of the magnetic-stripe tickets, and the production process takes about six months because of bidding and security issues. Also, the turnpike threw away $50,000 worth of unused tickets last year, he said.
Annual toll increases were mandated by a 2007 law that required the turnpike to help pay for repairs on other state highways. That law envisioned tolls on I-80 as well to help defray those costs, but the federal Department of Transportation rejected the state's bid to toll that road.
On Jan. 2, for the first time, the turnpike's cash tolls will increase more than E-ZPass tolls. Cash tolls will go up by 10 percent, while E-ZPass tolls will increase by 3 percent.
That means an eastward trip the length of the turnpike would cost $32.30 in cash and $30.17 with E-ZPass, compared with the current price of $29.35 for cash and $29.29 for E-ZPass.
But motorists won't get that information on their tickets. They can ask the toll collector at the end of their journey for a toll sheet, or, they can call 866-976-TRIP (-8747). A toll calculator is also available online at www.paturnpike.com.
About 65 percent of the 190 million travelers on the turnpike each year use E-ZPass.
Still, AAA's Remington is not wild about encouraging drivers to surf the Internet while at the wheel. "The turnpike has been pretty good about making this information available on its website," he said, "but we don't want motorists browsing on their BlackBerries to see how much they owe."
Toll roads in New Jersey and other neighboring states have not taken similar action, and still print toll schedules on their tickets.
DeFebo acknowledged that "some people are upset with this, and that makes us redouble our efforts to make sure people know about this. We understand there will be a reeducation of our customers, and that's what we're doing now."