Pennsylvania's top fiscal watchdog is calling for an end to free turnpike rides for 7,000 employees and vendors.
Pennsylvania Auditor General Jack Wagner said yesterday the free rides for Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission employees and vendors totaled at least $7.7 million in lost toll revenue for the financially-strapped agency between January 2007 and August 2011.
The toll-free giveaways come at a time when the Commission's debt has risen to $7.8 billion and tolls are again rising for motorists next month.
"With tolls set to rise again for turnpike customers on January 6, turnpike executives should stop granting toll-free personal travel to its employees and assure the public that they are doing everything within their power to hold down future fare increases," Wagner said in a press release. "This type of waste is disturbing and exhibits a careless disregard for those who foot the turnpike's bills – taxpayers and motorists."
According to Wagner, the giveaways come in the form of photo identification cards for employees, non-photo cards for contractors and others, and E-Z Pass transponders for employees and others. He said the number of people given free rides had increased by 60 percent from 1997.
Wagner sent a letter calling for greater oversight to Turnpike
Chairman William K. Lieberman and Acting Chief Executive Officer Craig
R. Shuey, along with a draft of the report. Wagner said he plans to
issue the final report before he leaves office next month.
A turnpike spokesman said the agency had just received the report and was reviewing it, but was already considering what it could do differently, according to the Inquirer. He said the free rides have existed for decades with the stipulation that employees must assist motorists and call in debris on the roadway.
"For that reason, the more eyes and ears out there, it ultimately benefits our customers," Bill Capone told the paper.