Pa. Turnpike beginning to notify customers about excessive V-tolls

PITTSBURGH — The Pennsylvania Turnpike is beginning to notify E-ZPass customers who receive an excessive number of $10 V-tolls when their transponders fail to read properly.

The action comes after a Channel 11 News investigation exposed last September that customers were never notified about the charges, leaving many blindsided by big bills.

The turnpike announced the change with a notice posted on the Turnpike’s customer notification page for E-ZPass account holders. It said, “The PA Turnpike began sending notices to customers with excessive V-tolls in January 2022.”

State Representative Ryan Warner of Fayette and Westmoreland counties told 11 Investigates he doesn’t think that only notifying customers with “excessive” V-tolls goes far enough.

“I don’t know what their definition of excessive is — Is it $100 worth of these? $50? I don’t know,” Warner said. “I don’t know why, the point of waiting until someone has an excessive amount before you notify them,” Warner said.

In response to the problems exposed in Channel 11′s investigation, Warner introduced new legislation to make it law for the turnpike to notify all customers whenever they get a $10 V-toll.

“I just don’t think it’s fair that you wait for these to pile up,” he said.

Customers Blindsided

The turnpike charges the $10 penalty fee when a customer’s E-ZPass transponder fails to read properly going through a toll plaza. As 11 Investigates reported in Part 1 of “Not so E-ZPass,” that assesses a severe penalty to drivers going on short trips, cutting into the savings drivers expect to get by paying for an E-ZPass.

“It’s theft! Ten dollars a clip just to go, to go from here to Irwin,” E-ZPass customer Tony Carlisano told channel 11, referring to one exit toll that normally costs him just $1.60.

We learned more than 250,000 people were hit with the $10 V-toll charges last year alone.

Many customers contacted us, saying they didn’t realize they were hit with the penalties until seeing our stores.

“Kind of surprised I got so many,” customer Eric Wells told us. He closely checked his E-ZPass account after watching our investigation and discovered nine V-tolls.

“The main problem here is people don’t know that V-tolls exist at all,” Representative said. “Frankly, I didn’t know they existed until you first ran this story.”

As our investigation exposed, the turnpike was not notifying customers about excessive v-tolls, even though they first claimed they did.

“We absolutely do. Actually, we do,” Turnpike Communications Director Carl DeFebo told 11 Investigates in August when asked why customers were not being notified.

After multiple follow-up questions and emails, the Turnpike finally acknowledges that not a single customer had been notified for at least the past five years.

State Rep gets $10 V-toll charge

Warner himself recently got his first $10 V-toll, driving from his southwestern Pennsylvania district to Harrisburg.

“In one of my statements, I had that $10 V-toll charge, to my surprise,” he said.

The irony that he got a V-toll after introducing legislation for more transparency on these charges was not lost on him.

“I have to be honest with you, I laughed,” he said.

Warner also says he had his transponder correctly mounted when he received the charge. The Turnpike repeatedly points to improper mounting as one of the main reasons that customer transponders fail to read properly, although the head of toll collections for the Turnpike acknowledged in our report that old transponders are likely part of the problem, too.

“The only thing I can think of is my transponder is eight, nine years old, so I would guess it was the age of the transponder,” Warner said.

System in place

Warner says there’s no excuse for not notifying all customers about these $10 charges, because the Turnpike already has a system in place for customer notifications.

“E-ZPass customers are notified when their credit or banking information no longer works with the Turnpike. If a transaction doesn’t go through, they’re notified right away,” he said.

The Turnpike’s action now to at least notify customers of excessive V-tolls comes as the Turnpike Commission is in talks with the House Transportation committee about Warner’s bill and other toll collection issues.

“The Turnpike is interested in doing some fix to the tolling system in general, and this bill is now part of that discussion,” Warner said.

Warner’s legislation calling for more transparency and 24-hour notification for all $10 V-tolls has support from more than a dozen co-sponsors.