Pa. Turnpike: How to get E-ZPass, use the new app and save money - even on toll-by-plate
Heading out on the road this summer for vacation?
If you plan to travel the Pennsylvania Turnpike, you might want to pick E-ZPass to electronically pay for tolls along the way, saving up to 60 percent.
Otherwise, be prepared for a camera to take a picture of your license plate and get a bill for a higher rate.
In Pennsylvania, the days of toll takers collecting money at the booths are long gone. However, some other states still take cash.
The Turnpike switched to all cashless collection — earlier than anticipated — when the COVID-19 pandemic hit last year.
Joe Schmidt of Lower Burrell, Pa., has used E-ZPass since its early days. His parents used to travel from Pittsburgh to New Jersey to see relatives, and his late-father, who had picked up E-ZPass, encouraged Schmidt to get one, too.
It was easy and convenient to use. At that time, it didn't require stopping for tickets and fumbling for cash to pay a toll.
"Once you have it, it's like 'don't leave home without it,' " Schmidt said.
Whether you're a regular user of E-ZPass or new to it, we'll answer some questions about how you can get and use it.
Here are some things you need to know:
How can I get an E-ZPass?
You can pick up an E-ZPass Go Pak at a variety of retail stores. It costs $38, which includes a $3 annual fee and $35 for pre-paid tolls. There is no charge for the transponder, which you will need to stick on the windshield inside. (If the transponder breaks or goes bad, a new one is sent at no cost.)
Supermarkets, including Giant, Weis and Wegmans; AAA, Turnpike Service Plazas or PennDOT agents, such as Runkle's Inc., carry them. To find a store near you, visit www.paturnpike.com.
Retailers keep the E-ZPass Go Pak at the customer service desk and charge a small convenience fee to buy it.
Customers also can obtain it at the E-ZPass Customer Service Center, 300 E. Park Drive, Harrisburg.
How do I set it up?
Customers will need to register their E-ZPass transponder and set up an account within 72 hours of buying it. It can be done online at paturnpike.com, with the new E-ZPass toll plate app (available through Apple or Google Play), or by calling a customer service center at 877-736-6727.
Customers will be asked for their driver's license, vehicle information and a credit card or other payment method. They can decide whether to manually or automatically have their account replenished with funds.
After registration, E-ZPass can be used 24 hours later on the Pennsylvania Turnpike or after 48 hours on an out-of-state toll road.
The customer's credit card will be charged when the balance drops below $10, if the person opted for automatic replenishment. The account will be replenished to $35.
"Customers love that because they don't ever have to worry about running low on money," Turnpike spokesman Carl DeFebo said.
An option exists to allow customers to replenish the account themselves.
If unused, the money will stay in the account for years.
Where do I put the transponder?
Customers need to mount the transponder properly behind the rearview mirror in the windshield, using adhesive strips provided.
Here's why: The transponder is a radio-frequency interface device. It sends out a unique radio signal. An antenna will read the signal from the transponder and identify it.
The transponder needs to have a clear shot to the overhead antenna, DeFebo said.
Don't make the mistake that some drivers do.
They'll wave the transponder or hold it up to the windshield as they pass through the toll booth. But that's too late.
"The equipment that picks up the antenna — it's 50 feet before you go through the toll booth," DeFebo said.
The Turnpike will know the driver has E-ZPass because of the license plate number. The agency will charge the driver $10 — called a V-toll — because it doesn't have enough information.
Customers should be reviewing their statements to see if there have been any problems.
Can I use E-ZPass when out-of-state?
Yes, E-ZPass is accepted on many toll roads throughout states in the eastern half of the United States.
In addition to Pennsylvania, it can be used in the following states:
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New York
- North Carolina
- Rhode Island
- West Virginia
Some states, such as Georgia and Minnesota, plan to offer E-ZPass later this year.
Can I switch my E-ZPass to another vehicle?
Yes, but customers need to make sure the vehicle is listed on their account.
Some commuters will use E-ZPass in their car to go to work every day and then switch it over to the family vehicle when heading to the beach.
What if I don't have E-ZPass?
Cameras will take a photo of the license plate, and a bill will be sent to the owner of the vehicle. It's called "toll-by-plate."
Can I save on tolls without E-ZPass?
Yes, you can save on tolls without E-ZPass. However, it will require you to set up a toll-by-plate account and prepay tolls.
It allows customers to save 15 percent on the bill. (E-ZPass allows customers to save up to 60 percent.)
Customers can create an account online or with the E-ZPass Toll Plate app.
"It's kind of like an E-ZPass without the E-ZPass," DeFebo said.
Is it really worth it to get E-ZPass?
Sometimes drivers will say they don't travel the Turnpike often, but DeFebo said it's worth it for traveling even a few exits.
It costs $3.90 for toll-by-plate to go from Harrisburg West to Harrisburg East. E-ZPass customers pay $1.60.
And a trip from Harrisburg West to Reading would cost $10 for toll-by-plate. For E-ZPass customers, it's $4.80. That's a savings of $5.20.
To calculate how much your trip would cost, visit paturnpike.com.
Can E-ZPass be used for parking fees
E-ZPass can be used for more than toll roads.
E-ZPass Plus — anyone who has E-ZPass is automatically enrolled in the "plus" program — can be used to pay for parking fees. It includes some airports in New York and New Jersey, such as JFK International and LaGuardia.
However, travelers cannot use E-ZPass at Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport and any airports in Pennsylvania, DeFebo said.
How many drivers use toll-by-plate?
Only 14 percent of drivers use toll-by-plate, DeFebo said.
E-ZPass has been growing, with 86 percent of Turnpike customers using it.
"For the most part, people have been paying up on their toll-by-plate bills," he said.
The Turnpike collects between 93 and 95 percent of all tolls — E-ZPass and toll-by-plate. It never has been at 100 percent.
A variety of reasons exist for the uncollected tolls. It doesn't mean that customers are refusing to pay.
For example, drivers might forget to update their address or their license plate was accidentally obstructed by a bicycle rack. (By the way, it is illegal to obstruct a license plate.)
Customer service agents try to piece together the information they have, such as the color, make, and model of the vehicle and bits of the license plate, find the owner and send an invoice to the person, DeFebo said.