After years of trying, the Pennsylvania Turnpike appears to be making some progress in its efforts to collect money from drivers who deliberately try to avoid paying tolls.

The agency’s May report on “leakage,” the industry term for uncollected tolls, showed that number reached $180 million, an increase of $10 million over the previous year. But the trend is going in the right direction with the annual increase in uncollected tolls falling from $50 million two years ago to $15 million last year and $10 million in the most recent report.

Take into consideration that the turnpike raised rates by 5% in January and the amount of tolls that drivers are avoiding is pretty flat.

Turnpike CEO Mark Compton said he attributes that to better collection tools enacted by the state Legislature that began in January 2023. The change allows the turnpike to ask the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation to suspend vehicle registrations when the drivers reach $250 of unpaid tolls over five years instead of $500 over three years.

With strong support from PennDOT to suspend registrations and from State Police Troop T that patrols the turnpike to cite drivers of vehicles with suspended registrations, collection is moving in the right direction, Compton said. Under the previous standard, Compton believes drivers wouldn’t pay the overdue tolls because the amount was so high but now many will settle their debts at the lower threshold and the agency can take action sooner.

Compton said the new tools are making collections from scofflaws “like shooting fish in a barrel.”

“That is making a real difference for us,” Compton said. “PennDOT has been aggressive about processing the requests for suspension, and Troop T has been more aggressive about pulling over those suspended vehicles.”

Although the amount of unpaid tolls is a tiny percentage of the agency’s annual $1.68 billion in toll revenue, Compton said the turnpike owes it to its paying motorists to do all it can to collect from the scofflaws.

Right now, about 68,000 vehicles have active registration suspensions for not paying turnpike tolls and about 3,000 have been pulled over this year through March and cited by state police for driving with a suspended registration. Vehicles with suspended registrations also can’t be sold until the unpaid tolls and penalties are paid.

Since 2018, the agency has suspended 103,000 registrations and collected about $2.6 million from about 37,000 owners who paid their overdue tolls and penalties.

The amount of leakage spiked after the agency switched to all-electronic tolling and eliminated cash tool booths in June 2020 to avoid human contact near the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. The transition was easy for motorists with the EZ-Pass transponder because payments are charged directly to their credit cards but for those without a transponder, the agency takes a photo of their license plate and sends them a bill in the mail.

About 5.9% of all drivers use the Toll-By-Plate system, which includes a 45% processing fee, but the agency has a hard time collecting from them. Overall, 44.9% of those who receive a bill in the mail do not pay within 150 days.

The turnpike sends those who don’t pay their bills a series of notices, then turns the bills over to a collection agency. Those letters include options to become EZ-Pass customers and pay the overdue tolls without penalties.

If they still fail to pay and the amount reaches $250, the turnpike can ask PennDOT to suspend the vehicle registration. In the most egregious cases, the agency has taken repeat violators to civil or criminal court to try to make them pay.

Overall, the agency collected tolls from 93.5% of customers within 150 days for the year ending in March. The remainder were customers who failed to respond to bills or who couldn’t be billed because the vehicle registration address was incorrect or their plate was unreadable either by accident or due to deliberate action by the owner.

Of those who didn’t pay, 39.5% live outside Pennsylvania, with Ohio (8.5%) and New Jersey (6.7%) residents most likely to refuse to pay tolls. Collection is particularly difficult from out-of-state drivers because the state has no ability to suspend their registration and states won’t cross-prosecute drivers unless they have reciprocal agreements with the same penalties.

Compton said the state continues to work with New Jersey and New York and could have those agreements in place later this year, bur currently there are none with any other state.

But in the meantime, toll agencies themselves have started working together to collect from the most worst scofflaws.

For example, Compton said one Newark, New Jersey, trucking company racked up more than $1 million in unpaid tolls in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York. The turnpike worked together with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to track the agency’s trucks and have filed criminal charges against the firm.

“We’ve started to compare notes with other agencies to identify the ‘high flyers’ and track them down,” he said. “We’re not going to have that leakage paid by our good customers.

“You are carrying on a fool’s mission if you are turning your back on paying turnpike tolls. We will find you.”

Ed Blazina

Ed covers transportation at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Email him at

Ed Blazina

Ed covers transportation at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Email him at