11 Investigates learns details on which customers Turnpike will notify about E-ZPass penalties

The Pennsylvania Turnpike is taking a small step toward more transparency in notifying E-ZPass customers about $10 penalty charges called v-tolls, but 11 Investigates learned it’s a pretty small step.

A customer would have to get nine v-tolls in a seven-day period to quality to be notified.

“The threshold for ‘excessive’ v-tolls was initially 10 v-tolls within a seven-day period. It has since been reduced to nine v-tolls within a seven-day period and will continue to be refined as we develop this process further,” Turnpike Communications Director Carl DeFebo told 11 Investigates in an email.

The action comes after a Channel 11 News investigation last September showed many customers being blindsided by the penalty fees when their transponders failed to register properly going through a toll plaza.

Why not notify ALL customers?

After our reports exposed the issue, State Rep. Ryan Warner, (R) Westmoreland and Fayette counties, introduced new legislation to require the Turnpike, by law, to notify all customers about the charges.

Warner told 11 Investigates he’s glad to see some action by the Turnpike but is underwhelmed. He says waiting until a customer gets nine v-tolls in just seven days defies “logic and reasoning.”

“I don’t know why? Why the point of waiting until someone has that excessive of an amount before you notify them,” Warner said. “It gives the appearance that the Turnpike is doing something, but I don’t know if they really are in this case.”

11 Investigates got new numbers showing the Turnpike issued nearly 745,346 $10 v-tolls in 2021, impacting 294,349 customers and bringing in almost $7.5 million in Turnpike revenue.

“Those numbers indicate there is a problem, and there is a very simple and easy way to rectify this problem, and that is to send their customers an email (when they get a v-toll),” Warner said.

The nine in seven days threshold amounted to 214 people being notified in about two weeks since Jan. 19, when the Turnpike began this new process.

“Would the Turnpike be willing to wait until someone’s credit card didn’t work 10 times in a 7-day period to send an email notification? We all know the answer to that. No! They get an email the first time your credit card doesn’t work. And you should also get a notification the first time you receive a v-toll,” he said.

Customers who meet the threshold to be notified about the $10 v-tolls will receive the notice based on their choice for E-ZPass notifications.

“If they signed up and completed the verification process for email notification, then they receive account notifications via email. If they have not selected email notifications, then they receive paper notifications via USPS. Customers do not need to sign on to their account to receive notifications, however, we still encourage customers to monitor their accounts,” DeFebo said.

Penalties can wipe out savings

As Channel 11 showed, many customers had no idea they were getting the $10 fees until seeing our reports. Some customers we talked with received hundreds of dollars worth of penalties, virtually wiping out the savings customers expect to receive from buying an E-ZPass.

Warner is adamant that all customers should be notified, especially after the Turnpike acknowledged in our investigation that old transponders are part of the problem, in addition to customers not mounting them properly.

“One of the top reasons people are charged with v-tolls is due to old transponders. I’ve just seen it happen to me personally. That’s on the Turnpike!” Warner said.

Warner recently got hit with his very first v-toll, as we revealed in our report last week. Just this past weekend, he received a brand-new E-ZPass transponder in the mail from the Turnpike, sent by first class mail.

“The timing was curious. It was definitely, the timing was very curious,” Warner said, about getting the transponder just three days after publicly revealing he received a v-toll.

The Turnpike has told 11 Investigates it was focusing on replacing old transponders instead of notifying customers about the penalty fees, but Warner says that’s not enough.

“They have a duty to notify customers that they’re being charged these v-tolls, because their equipment is faulty,” Warner said.

Warner says he would rather see the Turnpike fix this problem by notifying all customers when they get a v-toll, rather than dragging their feet. If they don’t, he says he will continue to push his legislation which has more than a dozen bipartisan co-sponsors.

“I think we’re seeing some movement again, not enough in my opinion, but I do think that’s why we’re seeing the ball move forward a little bit,” he said.

The Turnpike Commission is in talks with the House Transportation Committee about Warner’s bill and other toll collection issues.