Proposed law to create more transparency for E-ZPass penalty charges moves forward

PENNSYLVANIA — Legislation that would give Turnpike E-ZPass customers more transparency about penalty charges took a big step forward today. The bill, introduced in response to a Channel 11 News investigation, passed unanimously out of the Pennsylvania House Transportation Committee and moves on to the full House for consideration.

“I think this legislation is good for the consumer, and I think it’s good for the turnpike,” said State Representative Ryan Warner, a Republican representing Fayette and Westmoreland counties.

Channel 11 investigation cited

Warner introduced the HB 2139 in December after seeing our investigation into E-ZPass penalty charges.

11 Investigates discovered E-ZPass customers were being blindsided by $10 fees called V-tolls when their transponders failed to work when going through toll plazas. Customers were not being notified about the charges, even though the turnpike first claimed they were.

“It was brought to light back home through investigative reporting at one of our local news stations about this issue that many people were being charged this toll without notification,” Warner told the committee before the vote, citing Channel 11′s investigation.

This bill would require the turnpike, by law, to notify customers, something Warner calls an issue of fairness for consumers.

“There has to be a level of fairness for customers in anything you do, any product, and there’s an even higher expectation for fairness when the provider of the service is the government,” Warner said.

Bill passes committee unanimously

The new legislation passed by unanimous vote out of the transportation committee and was introduced on the House floor. The bill calls for the turnpike to send notice to any E-ZPass account holder the first time they get a V-toll in the calendar year, either by email or regular mail, the customer’s choice.

The notice would have to explain typical causes for V-tolls, like improper placement and faulty equipment, and tell customers how to address those problems.

The bill would also require the turnpike to put a clear description on a customer’s account each month that they receive a V-toll and establish an appeals process for customers to challenge V-tolls.

In addition, it would make clear that if the customer fails to fix the problem, it could result in more V-tolls and administrative fees.

Turnpike now supports the bill

After first being slow to act to address the issue of notifying customers, the turnpike is now on board with the legislation.

“The Pennsylvania Turnpike welcomes the General Assembly’s consideration and guidance on how we can better serve customers and continue to operate transparently. We thank Rep. Ryan Warner and House Transportation Committee leaders for their collaboration during the creation of this legislation, and we look forward to working together to implement measures outlined in the bill,” Turnpike Communications Director Carl DeFebo said in a statement to 11 Investigates.

Tougher penalties for unpaid tolls

Part of the reason for the Turnpike Commission’s support is they negotiated with the committee to get something they wanted, tougher penalties for unpaid tolls. An amendment was added to the bill to make it easier for the turnpike to go after drivers who owe significant amounts of unpaid tolls.

The amended bill would lower the threshold from $500 to $250 for the turnpike to take action to suspend a driver’s registration for unpaid tolls. It would also extend the statute of limitations to pursue unpaid tolls from three to five years and reduce the number of unpaid tolls required to seek registration suspension from six to four.

In addition, the bill would create tougher criminal penalties for individuals trying to “knowingly and intentionally” evade paying a toll, by “altering, obstructing or covering, distorting or manipulating, or removing a license plate from a vehicle to impede electronic tolling collection.”

This became an issue in 2021 when an audit showed the turnpike failed to collect $104 million in tolls, after all cashless tolling was implemented using Toll-by-Plate.

“The language… amended into the bill is a step in the right direction with respect to trying to ensure that $100 million is a lesser number moving forward,” said Democratic Transportation Committee Chairman Mike Carroll, who advocated for the addition.

Warner says the bill, however, would protect people who accidentally obscure their license plate. He cited the example of a family going on a camping trip with a canoe strapped to their vehicle, which covered part of the license plate.

“They didn’t do it on purpose,” he said. “This would protect them from being charged with a criminal penalty.”

Next step for HB 2139

The bill, which has nearly two dozen co-sponsors, is now up for consideration before the full House.

“We have a lot of bipartisan support for the legislation, support across the state. I would hope that would help get this across the finish line in the House as a whole,” Warner said.