By on July 21, 2011

Public employees can take rides on toll roads at taxpayer expense, but these trips are not subject to disclosure according to a ruling Tuesday by the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court. A three-judge panel denied the freedom of information request of the Harrisburg Patriot-News for E-ZPass transponder usage information data by for employees of the Pennsylvania Turnpike. On October 21 the paper sought details on the 2000 toll collectors who do not pay for use of the road, regardless of whether the travel was job related.

“I am requesting information in Excel format that details employee usage of Pennsylvania Turnpike since Jan. 3, 2010,” bureau chief Jan Murphy wrote to the commission. “I would like to know how many employees there are and how many have E-ZPass transponders assigned to them. Of those employees with commission-approved transponders, I am requesting their names, their positions with the commission, and a record of their usage of the turnpike including identifying the interchanges where they enter and exit the turnpike and the times and dates of travel. If this would cost more than $100, please notify me in advance.”

The commission immediately denied the request, citing Pennsylvania’s motorist privacy statute which offers substantially more protection than other states for tolling information. The data is specifically exempt from the right-to-know law and is not even “discoverable by court order.” States like California allow lawyers to obtain toll road usage records for use in divorce proceedings.

The Patriot-News appealed the commission’s refusal to the state Office of Open Records, arguing the privacy law was meant to protect the general public, not to shield government employees from disclosure of their employment benefits. The Office of Open Records on December 1 decided that the turnpike must turn over the job titles of those with free transponders and toll road usage records by those transponders so long as the names of the employees involved were redacted. The commission appealed the decision and the Commonwealth Court sided with the toll road.

“All of the information specified in section 8117(d) of the Transportation Act is exempt from disclosure, and the exemption includes vehicle movement records,” Judge Patricia A. McCullough ruled. “While requester did not use the term ‘vehicle movement records’ in her request, she did seek a record of the employees’ usage of the turnpike, including identifying the interchanges where they enter and exit the turnpike and the times and dates of travel. The term ‘vehicle movement records’ is not defined by the Transportation Act. Nevertheless, we can perceive of no other types of records which would fit within a definition of this term other than the type sought by requester herein.”

The request for the job titles of free account holders was denied because the commission insisted it maintained no documents containing that information. A copy of the ruling is available in a PDF file at the source link below.

Source: PDF File Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission v. Murphy (Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court, 7/19/2011)

[Courtesy: Thenewspaper.com]

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19 Comments on “Pennsylvania Court Hides Free Rides for Toll Collectors...”


  • avatar
    Contrarian

    “Just shut up and pay your taxes, fools. We will rule you as we see fit.”

    We get what we deserve when these things aren’t fixed by elections.

    • 0 avatar
      wsn

      +1

      In other news, the whistle blower that disclosed the phone jacking by News of The World was just found dead. His cause of death was not released but ruled to be non-suspicious by the very police force that received bribery from News of The World.

      I mean, what can and should an ordinary citizen do? Will another election solve the problem? Seriously, should Brits start sniping police officers and public officials until the wrong is corrected?

      • 0 avatar

        Watch this story die in the MSM as other than Murdoch owned papers and news agencies get investigated. Already the investigation in the UK has reached the Mirror and other papers. As long as the story could be used to attack Murdoch, Fox News and conservatives, the story had legs. Now that it appears to be a more endemic problem across the British newspaper industry (Fleet Street never had the same ethical standards as US papers have had) with police bribery and other crimes extending beyond the News Of The World, watch for the story to go away.

        I’m on the MoveOn.org mailing list and they are frothing at the mouth, salivating at the prospect of taking down Fox News over the News Of The Wold scandal. Somehow to me the notion of trying to destroy a news media outlet seems, well, y’know, illiberal. I don’t want the NYTimes to go away, I just want them to admit that they’re liberals instead of pretending that they are impartial.

      • 0 avatar
        golden2husky

        The NYT news portion of the paper is far more balanced than the news portion of say, the NY Post. The Times’ editorial page is certainly left of center, but that fine as it is in the OPED section. However, the statement that one should look to multiple news outlets is spot-on. B*** is impossible to avoid; by seeking a multitude of sources, you can make a far more informed opinion. My biggest beef with FNC is that they pretend to be balanced when the evening portion of the station is all opinion programming cloaked as unb***ed reporting. MSNBC is just as guilty except they are pretty open about admitting that they want to be as far to the left as FNC is to the right. Which is why I consider those two news sources the least accurate. Hell, I found Aljazeera to be more relevant, as scary as that sounds…though the anti-Western slant is quite clear.

    • 0 avatar
      beefmalone

      Being elected doesn’t seem to make a whole lot of difference as long as the right wheels get greased.

  • avatar
    jpolicke

    I would rather the state forego some income by not collecting on their employees than for them to have the record keeping ability of California as referred to in the link. In this case the PA state gov’t chose to maintain privacy at all costs, rather than CA’s wide-open-door policy.

  • avatar
    92golf

    I hope the IRS is aware of this perk, that all the employees are showing it on their tax returns, and that they are paying income tax on it.

    Yes, I know, some days I DO live in a fools paradise……

  • avatar
    aristurtle

    The commission immediately denied the request, citing Pennsylvania’s motorist privacy statute which offers substantially more protection than other states for tolling information. The data is specifically exempt from the right-to-know law and is not even “discoverable by court order.” States like California allow lawyers to obtain toll road usage records for use in divorce proceedings.

    Good.

    Yeah, yeah, a toll collector might be able to skip out on paying two bucks once in a while. BFD. I’d much rather put up with that than have any jackass be able to look up every EZPass toll for any arbitrary person with nothing more than a subpoena.

    (and seriously, if the court went the other way, you can bet your ass that The Newspaper would be whining about the government tracking people via their toll transponders)

  • avatar
    lmike51b

    This is another example of the foxes guarding the hen house. I fail to see how this is a privacy issue “so long as the names of the employees involved were redacted”. The employees are gifted with free of charge access to taxpayer funded roads, but the taxpayers are told it’s none of their business when they’d like some idea of how their tolls are being spent.

    • 0 avatar
      aristurtle

      Here, I’ll tell you how it’s a privacy issue.

      First, the Harrisburg Patriot-News (HPN) does a FOIA to get the names of every tollbooth employee. Okay, I still find it a little creepy that you can do this but whatever, it’s all legal, no big deal.

      Then, the HPN takes this list of names and does a FOIA saying “hey, we want all the date and time and location for every toll paid from every EZ-Pass transponder owned by everyone on this list of names.” The PA court system was absolutely correct to respond with the legal equivalent of “lol no”.

  • avatar
    HerrKaLeun

    it sounds to me the 2000 people are working for the toll collection. Is the toll collection owned by the state and not private? that actually would be a good thing, because the profit of the toll-fascists would at least go to government and not some off-shore tax evading company (like red light cameras).

    It would be reasonable to give them free toll road use to come to work at the booth. If I work a that county fair I get free admission to just get to to my workplace. the band playing in the bar doesn’t pay cover charge to get in. It might be an accounting nightmare to separate charges for work-usage and private usage. Obviously there is danger of abuse when an employee let’s his cousins and all his brothers in law use the EZ-Pass.

    But charging the employees for their private miles might be more costly. I work for local government (a free bus pass is all my traffic perk, mind that, the city would even charge me for parking just so that i pay my employer for the benefit to work) and when I use a city cell phone for a private call I need to pay that. So for 20 ct. I spend some minutes filling out the charge form, an accountant and comptroller spends time with it. Maybe a total of an hour of staff time to get my 20 ct?? BTW: I use my personal cell phone for work because I don’t want that hassle and want to use a good phone, not the crap they give us that can’t even sync with outlook.

    So withhold judgment before you actually have more information on how beneficial this benefit actually is. It really may be cheaper to just let them use it free of charge. But I totally agree with the fact that all kind of perks should be public record.

    • 0 avatar

      Dangers of abuse? Not from one of our selfless, dedicated, compassionate and caring public employees.
      /sarc

      Forget public record, public employees shouldn’t get perks, period. And don’t whine about how there are perks on every job. Working for us members of the public isn’t every job. It comes with certain responsibilities and one of them is not getting special treatment.

      Don’t let the tax feeders use it for free, let them pay like everyone else. How are they any different? They have to drive on a toll road to get to work, just like millions of other commuters. The idea that public employees should get any “perks” is absurd. Public employees should barely be allowed to vote, certainly not be allowed to form unions, and never given special privileges.

  • avatar
    JuniperBug

    I don’t see the huge problem. I work for an airline and fly for next to nothing, given that there are open seats on the flight I want to fly on. Cops don’t get traffic tickets, Blockbuster employees presumably can take home movies for free, restaurant workers get cheap food, theatre employees get into movies for free, etc. If one of the perks of being a toll collector is that they save a few bucks on the very tolls they collect, what’s the big deal? This isn’t exactly a case of fat cats doling out to themselves, now is it?

    • 0 avatar
      golden2husky

      Not to mention the collectors are not getting something that has to be restocked with public funds. The traffic from the collectors pretty much has no effect on the road, so there is no added cost. Some jobs just have added perks. My friend is a Florida cop and he often eats at fast food joints for free. Such behavior is illegal in my state but in Florida the owners have the option as to give free food or not. To the owners, the random appearance of police is good for security. So, I don’t think allowing toll collectors to drive on toll roads without paying is a big deal at all.

    • 0 avatar

      You don’t get it, do you? Cops not getting traffic tickets is corrupt. Public employees should not get any kind of perks or special treatment.

      There’s a difference between public and private sector jobs.

      The reality is that insurance companies and a lot of financial regulations have made the kind of perks and professional courtesies more of a thing of the past, except in government jobs. Doctors can’t freebie clergy without fear of being charged with insurance fraud or charging Medicaid more than they charge those clergy.

      I’m sorry but lately I’ve been at the receiving end of a lot of rude behavior, entitled attitudes and treatment that you’d never see in the private sector. A consumer affairs rep at the Post Office hung up on me because I was not thrilled that I had to call up consumer affairs to try and get a refund for a non delivered express mail package and make two trips to my local PO. My ex is a customer service rep for Blue Cross, and someone better be screaming or swearing at her before she hangs up or she’s likely to get fired.

      There’s absolutely no accountability in the public sector. Look at Rupert Murdoch in contrast. He flipping closed down a business because of a scandal. When was the last time a government agency closed down period, let alone for bad employee behavior?

      • 0 avatar
        golden2husky

        If you check out a Consumer Reports survey, satisfaction in customer service is at an all time low. Public or private, people are giving lousy service. Why? Well, on the private side, many full time people were let go and replaced with part timers to “save” on paying benefits. Anybody who thinks this business model is the recipe for success is smoking something. Public service? Some have a bad attitude because they feel they can get away with it. Others are tired of defending their performance because of being lumped in with the worst performers, or they are disgusted with being blamed for the recession. Either way, its time for a radical change. I have just been stonewalled on a @200 return for a heater bought online. The person is not rude to me; they just stopped replying, hoping i lose resolve. Not gonna happen…I let AMEX pull the charge and let them deal with it…


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