The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission reminds customers that fares are set to go up on most of the state's toll roads by 10 percent on Jan. 1, 2012 for cash-paying travelers only. Because electronic-toll rates will not go up, E-ZPass customers will pay about 17 percent less than cash customers, on average, starting next year. (E-ZPass users presently pay 7 percent less, on average, than cash customers on the Pa. Turnpike.)

With the new rates that will take effect at 12:01 a.m. the most-common cash toll for passenger vehicles will increase from $1.10 to $1.25 while the most-common cash toll for a standard commercial-truck classification (Class 5) will rise from $8.95 to $9.85. (The 2012 fares were determined by applying a 10 percent increase on top of the 2011 fare then rounding up to the nearest nickel.) The increase will be applied to all vehicle classes on all Turnpike sections except the Southern Beltway (Turnpike 576) in Allegheny and Washington counties, where rates will be unchanged.

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."

Getting E-ZPass is easy: Most customers enroll online at www.paturnpike.com [1] or by calling 1-877-Penn-Pass (1-877-736-6727). Customers can also open an E-ZPass account at many of the state's AAA offices and at certain regional grocery stores including Acme, Giant Eagle, Get-Go and Karns. For a complete list of retail locations, visit www.paturnpike.com/ezpass/sales [2].

Chairman Lieberman said there are several reasons to motivate people to get E-ZPass.

"We believe it's important to encourage more travelers to switch to E-ZPass because of the numerous benefits, including economic, environmental and customer-safety advantages," he explained. "Collecting tolls electronically is not only safer, faster and more convenient for customers, but it is better for the environment because it helps diminish idling at the toll plazas and also reduces the Turnpike's operating costs."

The cost to process an E-ZPass transaction is about four times less than the cost of handling a cash transaction; 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 lower E-ZPass rates apply to all individual and commercial E-ZPass customers regardless of issuing agency or state in which an account was established. Presently, there are 24 E-ZPass agencies in 14 states, largely in the Northeastern U.S., and more than 20 million E-ZPass transponders in use on toll roads, bridges and tunnels nationwide.

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 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.