If you don't have an E-ZPass, traveling on the Pennsylvania Turnpike is going to be more expensive beginning Jan. 1.
Effective Sunday, cash rates on the turnpike are increasing 10 percent.
There is no rate increase for people who have an E-ZPass transponder. E-ZPass users will pay about 17 percent less than cash customers.
From the Mahoning Valley exchange to the Lehigh Valley, the new rate will be $2.05 for a passenger car, up from the present rate of $1.85. The rate increases are rounded off to the nearest nickel.
The E-ZPass rate is $1.66.
If you enter the turnpike from Mahoning Valley and travel to the Ohio connection, the rate increases to $32.40, from the current rate of $29.45. The E-ZPass rate is $27.52.
When the Pennsylvania Turnpike first opened in 1940 (the Northeast Extension didn't open until 1955), the fee to use it was one-cent per mile.
On Sept. 1, 1969, that rate increased to two-cents per mile.
This Sunday, it will cost approximately 11.2 cents per mile to travel from Mahoning Valley to the Lehigh Valley if using cash, or 8.3 cents per mile to the Ohio connection.
Turnpike Chairman William K. Lieberman of Pittsburgh said by not raising E-ZPass rates, the agency is easing the economic impact of a toll increase.
"Since nearly two-thirds of travelers already use E-ZPass, only about a third of our customers will be affected," he explained. "For anyone without E-ZPass, I recommend you sign up soon if you want to have that transponder in hand before the end of the year."
Turnpike officials said the cost to process an E-ZPass transaction is about four times less than the cost of handling a cash transaction. Lieberman said it costs the commission about $1 per transaction to collect a cash toll, and less than 25 cents per transaction to collect tolls via E-ZPass.
The 2012 increase is needed, in part, to satisfy the turnpike's funding obligation to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. A 2007 statute expanded the turnpike's role by directing it to utilize tollbooth revenues to help underwrite a transportation-funding shortfall
Under Act 44 of 2007, the Turnpike Commission continues to make annual contributions of $450 million to PennDOT; of that amount, $250 million is used for transit agencies across the state and $200 million is used to help fund non-turnpike road and bridge projects.
To date, the commission has provided more than $3 billion to the state under this law. The 2012 toll increase will be the fourth rate hike needed to meet the debt-service costs associated with Act 44.
In addition to the 2012 toll increase, the Turnpike Commission has also approved overall toll-revenue increases of 3 percent for 2013 and 2014, though it did not specify precisely how much rates would increase for cash and E-ZPass customers in those years. The pricing differential between E-ZPass and cash will be determined approximately six months before the time of those rate increases.
In light of the steeper E-ZPass discounts, the commission also approved changes to its commercial volume-discount program starting next year.
Effective Jan. 1, the 15 percent volume discount will be eliminated since all commercial carriers with E-ZPass will automatically receive an approximate 17 percent discount.
As a result, post-paid commercial E-ZPass customers will need to incur $5,000 to $10,000 of monthly tolls to receive an additional 5 percent discount and $10,000.01 or more to receive an additional 10 percent discount.
Pennsylvania Turnpike customers can enroll for an E-ZPass online at www.paturnpike.com or by calling 1-877-736-6727. Customers can also open an E-ZPass account at many of the state's AAA offices, and at E-ZPass vending machines called Tag Tellers at select Pennsylvania Turnpike travel plazas.