HARRISBURG – Auditor General Jack Wagner has announced that a policy gave 7,000 Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission employees and vendors free rides on the turnpike between January 2007 and August 2011 that amounted to at least $7.7 million in lost toll revenue.
Wagner said the estimate was based on information provided to the Department of the Auditor General by the turnpike’s former chief executive, Roger Nutt. Wagner said the precise amount of lost revenue could not be calculated because turnpike officials could not or would not separate the requested data into personal or business travel.
Wagner highlighted the lax cost controls in a letter sent to two Pennsylvania Turnpike officials, Chairman William K. Lieberman and Acting Chief Executive Officer Craig R. Shuey. The letter accompanied the draft audit report that Wagner provided to the Turnpike Commission for review and comment. Wagner said he plans to release the final audit report to the public before his term expires next month.
“With tolls set to rise again for turnpike customers on Jan. 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. “This type of waste is disturbing and exhibits a careless disregard for those who foot the turnpike’s bills – taxpayers and motorists.”
Wagner’s letter is available to the public at www.auditorgen.state.pa.us.
Wagner said the turnpike’s toll-free travel giveaways comes at a time when it is in danger of collapsing under debt due to increased borrowing necessitated by Act 44 of 2007. That legislation, which required the turnpike to provide the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation with $450 million a year, has raised the Pennsylvania Turnpike’s debt by 200 percent, to $7.8 billion.
“It is unacceptable for turnpike executives to ask the motoring public to foot the bill for this increased borrowing in the form of annual toll increases while they shield themselves from the financial pain by giving themselves free travel,” Wagner said.
Wagner said that the toll-free travel was awarded in several ways, including photo identification cards for employees, non-photo cards for contractors and others, and special E-ZPass transponders for employees and others. Wagner’s auditors found that the 7,000 people who could ride the turnpike for free represented a 60-percent increase from 1997.
Wagner said that his auditors found the Turnpike Commission reported that it does not monitor its employees’ use of E-ZPass transponders and does not have a breakdown of the revenue lost to free personal travel, because it is not segregated from free business travel. In addition, Wagner’s auditors found that non-employees such as construction personnel and consultants can ride the roadway for free by showing their Turnpike-provided non-photo ID cards, and the Turnpike does not adequately monitor the use of these cards either.
Wagner recommended that the Turnpike Commission stop granting personal toll-free travel to its employees; that it aggressively monitor employees’ toll-free travel to verify that the toll-free travel is for official work duties only; that it improve its oversight of non-employee toll-free travel usage by, at a minimum, including a photo on its non-employee cards and by requiring commission staff to monitor non-employees’ free travel; and that it be transparent about the toll-free travel by posting monthly toll-free travel usage reports on its Web site.