Pennsylvania bill introduced to protect Turnpike E-ZPass customers from surprise charges

HARRISBURG, Pa. — A Channel 11 News investigation could lead to a change in state law to help protect Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission E-ZPASS customers from surprise charges.

Our investigation in September showed many drivers were being blindsided with $10 penalty fees when their E-ZPASS failed to read properly while going through a toll plaza.

“I felt bad for the people who were charged, which prompted this legislation,” said State Representative Ryan Warner, who represents Fayette and Westmoreland counties.

The Turnpike, at first, claimed they did notify customers of the charges, but after 11 Investigates’ Angie Moreschi pushed for details, they admitted not one customer had been notified in the past five years.

Warner introduced House Bill 2139 to require the Turnpike, by law, to notify customers within 24 hours of receiving the charges.

“Simply, this legislation just requires the Turnpike notify customers by email electronically that they are being issued these V-tolls,” Warner said.

Blindsided by charges

This year alone through mid-October, nearly 250,000 customers were hit with these penalty charges, bringing in more than $5 million for the Turnpike.

The Turnpike charges the fees, which it calls V-tolls, when a customer’s E-ZPass doesn’t register properly while going through a toll plaza. The Turnpike says the failure to read can be caused by a customer improperly mounting the transponder, but also, at times, due to equipment failure. The head of toll collections acknowledged old transponders are part of the problem in an interview with 11 investigates in September.

“When we looked at why those V-tolls were being generated, the majority of the customers had a transponder between eight and 10 years old. That was showing the age of the transponder could be impacting the number of V-tolls,” Stacia Ritter, the Turnpike’s assistant chief operating officer and head of toll collections, said.

As our investigation discovered, many E-ZPass customers had no idea they were getting hit with the charges, sometimes racking up hundreds of dollars in additional fees, wiping out the savings E-Z-Pass is supposed to deliver.

“I think it’s theft!” Tony Carlisano, an exasperated E-ZPass customer, told Moreschi in her first report.

“Unfair” to customers

Warner says he introduced this legislation after asking the Turnpike to start notifying the customers about the charges, but the Turnpike failed to act.

“It is concerning just because of customers not being treated fairly,” Warner said.

The Turnpike told Warner in a letter that it would begin notifying customers who have excessive V-tolls by spring of next year, but he says that response was not enough.

“My initial reaction is just extreme disappointment and frustration with the Turnpike Commission,” Warner said. “I don’t understand why they wouldn’t do it. To me, it just seems very simple, just to notify somebody that your transponder may need (to be) replaced or is not mounted properly.”

If you’ve got a consumer issue that you’d like Angie to investigate, contact her at amoreschi@wpxi.com.

New legislation

Since the Turnpike wouldn’t fix this on its own, Warner says he was forced to introduce this legislation. The bill would require the Turnpike, by law, to notify all customers electronically by email within 24 hours of receiving a V-toll.

He says it’s an especially easy solution because the Turnpike already has a system in place that notifies customers when there’s an issue collecting payment.

“It happened to me personally. I was notified by email that my credit card on file with E-ZPass no longer worked,” he said. “If you already have the ability to notify them, just notify them!”

Warner is optimistic the bill will pass. He says he already has at least 13 co-sponsors.

“That’s pretty big support for it,” he said. “We had people from across the state and both sides of the aisle who have signed on to be co-sponsors.”

Warner sits on the House Transportation Committee and says he is hopeful the bill will come before them early next year.

11 Investigates did contact the Turnpike to get reaction to the new bill. So far, no response.