11 Investigates: E-ZPass penalty fee notification bill passes Pennsylvania House unanimously

PENNSYLVANIA — Turnpike E-ZPass customers are on the road to getting more consumer protection following a Channel 11 News investigation.

Legislation introduced in response to our reports about E-ZPass penalty fees passed unanimously in the state House of Representatives Tuesday, with a vote of 203-0.

“I have to thank you for bringing this issue to light. Without it, I don’t know we would have had this legislation and had it pass today,” State Rep. Ryan Warner told 11 Investigates’ Angie Moreschi after the bill passed the House.

Warner, of Fayette and Westmoreland counties, introduced the legislation after seeing our investigation.

As 11 Investigates exposed last fall, the Turnpike was not notifying customers about $10 penalty fees they charge when a customer’s E-ZPass transponder fails to register going through a toll plaza. More than 250,000 customers were hit with the charges last year alone.

Customers blindsided

Customers were getting the $10 fees, called “V-tolls,” with no explanation on their bills. E-ZPass customer Tony Carlisano of Plum Borough discovered he had been getting a lot of them, when he realized his prepaid account was draining faster than expected and checked his statement. He ended up with more than $200 of the so-called V-tolls, but initially had no idea why.

He contacted 11 Investigates for help last summer.

The $10 flat fee caused a $1.60, one-exit toll to jump all the way up to $10, more than six times as much — a far cry from the discount E-ZPass customers expect to get.

“Ten dollars a clip to go from here to Irwin. That’s one exit!” Carlisano told 11 Investigates Angie Moreschi at the time, throwing up his hands in disgust. “Being ripped off! What else do you call it?”

Legislation introduced

When the Turnpike refused to change its policy of not notifying customers after our reports, Warner decided to introduce this bill to force them to do it by law.

“I thought it was unfair not to notify a customer getting this toll, especially when it’s so easy to notify a customer,” Warner said. “It was frustrating because people were unaware they were being charged these tolls.”

Warner was especially frustrated that the Turnpike at first claimed to Channel 11 that they do notify customers. It was only after we continued to press for specifics on how many notifications were sent, that the Turnpike finally acknowledged they did not notify any customers at all for at least the past five years.

The V-toll notification bill would require the Turnpike to notify a customer the first time they get a $10 toll in a calendar year, in a manner of their choice, either by email or regular mail. It also would require an explanation to be provided for what caused the fine, like improper placement or an old transponder. In addition, the Turnpike would have to tell customers they must fix the problem and how to do that, and if they don’t, they could get more charges.

“The bill will go a long way to help consumers, as a matter of good customer service,” Warner said on the House floor when the bill came up for final vote.

“I do have to thank you and WPXI for running this series of stories and pushing this issue,” Warner told 11 Investigates’ Angie Moreschi after the vote.

He says he hopes the bill will ultimately increase transparency for E-ZPass customers and “right a wrong with the Turnpike Commission.”

“Seeing in your stories how many people were unaware they were being charged $10 at a time, now people are going to be aware of what a V-toll is,” Warner said. “I think that’s very important because, myself included, didn’t even know they existed.”

HB 2139 now moves on to the Pennsylvania State Senate, where Warner says he hopes it will have a good chance of passing because it’s had so much bipartisan support.

The Turnpike says it is now not opposing this bill.