Pennsylvania Court Hides Free Rides for Toll Collectors

The Newspaper
by The Newspaper
pennsylvania court hides free rides for toll collectors

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.

Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission v. Murphy (Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court, 7/19/2011)


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  • HerrKaLeun HerrKaLeun on Jul 21, 2011

    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.

    • See 1 previous
    • Mazder3 Mazder3 on Jul 22, 2011

      @Ronnie Schreiber I agree that they should be paying tolls and not getting any other perks but barely being allowed to vote?

  • JuniperBug JuniperBug on Jul 21, 2011

    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?

    • See 2 previous
    • Golden2husky Golden2husky on Jul 22, 2011

      @Ronnie Schreiber 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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