The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission has reversed its decision to issue toll tickets without the rates being printed on them, following an outcry from customers, state lawmakers, and the state auditor general.
But the change won't be undone overnight. Tickets without fares have already been printed and will be issued to turnpike drivers for two to three months until new ones arrive, said Carl DeFebo, spokesman for the Turnpike Commission.
At its regularly scheduled meeting Tuesday, commission members pressed for the change and agreed that the initial plan was, "in retrospect, a bad idea," according to a statement issued Wednesday.
"Our staff made the decision not to print fares on tickets to cut costs, in particular as more people sign up for E-ZPass and fewer people take tickets," Joe Brimmeier, chief executive officer of the commission, said in a statement. "However, we heard loud and clear from our customers that we got ahead of ourselves on the decision, so the commissioners directed us to order a new batch of toll tickets with fares shown."
AAA Mid-Atlantic applauded the commission's reversal.
"This is a consumer-friendly move by the turnpike," said spokesman Rick Remington. "We were very concerned that this not only would be confusing for motorists, but could have created some real backups in the cash-paying lanes, because no one's going to know what they owe."
It costs about $280,000 to print a year's worth of turnpike tickets, and production can take as long as six months, DeFebo said. The commission is working with the printers to expedite production of the tickets with fares, he said.
Until then, drivers can call 866-976-TRIP (-8747) or visit www.paturnpike.com to determine the cost of their trip. Drivers can also ask toll collectors.
The plan to remove the fares from toll tickets drew complaints from turnpike users and state lawmakers. The commission was also scolded in a letter by State Auditor General Jack Wagner for what he called a "lack of transparency."
The new tickets coincide with a 10 percent toll increase for cash customers. E-ZPass users will pay 3 percent more beginning Jan. 2.
"I am left to question if the elimination of toll prices on the tickets is meant to hide the 10 percent increase in cash tolls," Wagner wrote in a letter to the commission dated Tuesday.
This is the first year that cash tolls will increase more than E-ZPass tolls. That means an eastward drive 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.
In his letter, Wagner also worried that the no-fare tickets could cause delays at toll booths and even accidents if motorists try to figure out what they owe while they're driving.
The commission estimated it could save as much as $100,000 annually by switching to tickets without fares, because new ones must be printed whenever toll rates change. A 2007 law granted the commission authority to raise tolls each year to help pay for repairs to state roads, bridges, and mass transit. Tolls have increased, DeFebo said, in 2009, 2010, and now 2011.