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CEO: Turnpike editorial wrong on transparency

The Sentinel’s April 2 editorial regarding Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission efforts to operate transparently was just plain wrong (Pennsylvania Turnpike needs more transparency from its officials). To insinuate that PA Turnpike leaders chose to be less than transparent is inaccurate as well as unfair.

In fact, the Turnpike willingly complied with a 2021 request to provide revenue data — data which wasn’t previously available because the commission only just converted to All Electronic Tolling (AET) a year earlier.

The decision to convert to AET was a measured one that began a decade ago. In 2020, this preparation allowed us to convert to AET ahead of schedule to safeguard operations and ensure customer and employee safety during COVID. The system, and our rate of collections, is performing as expected based on a series of pilot projects implemented well before this change.

The Pennsylvania Turnpike has a proven record of accountability to the commonwealth. We provided detailed public information regarding our transition to AET; our workforce, customers and elected officials had ample notice.

Moreover, we provide access to myriad financial reports, budgets and planning documents online. This wealth of data includes the Annual Financial Report, our Capital Plan, detailed reports on our bonds, and toll revenue and volume.

We also provide access to our Act 44 Financial Plans online; since 2007, our agency has transferred almost $8 billion to PennDOT for transit systems — requiring the commission to raise tolls annually. We have testified before the state legislature on collections and will be providing more regular updates. Pennsylvania’s Auditor General routinely reviews and reports on the Turnpike’s finances and operations along with numerous internal audits we conduct.

Leakage is mainly a customer-behavior issue — not a system issue. We are taking every measure possible to combat leakage. We have hired debt-collection firms. State law allows our agency to work with PennDOT to suspend vehicle registrations for customers who reach a certain level of unpaid tolls. Our agency also works with local district attorneys to bring criminal suits against egregious violators.

Since the implementation of AET in mid-2020, leakage has steadily remained around the 6% mark; while we are working to improve that, it is in line with what we’d planned for.

Leakage has always been a challenge for the tolling industry — even when we collected cash — just as it is in every retail business. In addition to existing payment and enforcement tools, we continue to work with the legislature, PennDOT, district attorneys and other states to develop more.

We recently implemented a smartphone app that allows customers to receive a discount on tolls via the PA Toll Pay App, and we partnered with a nationwide cash-payment network to allow customers to pay invoices or fund E-ZPass accounts at more than 70,000 retail locations nationwide.

Finally, I urge readers to review our detailed Revenue Assurance Plan and decide for themselves how transparent we are.

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Mark Compton is Chief Executive Officer of the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission.

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