One-way toll surprise leads motorist down windy road

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By Christopher Elliott

As far as surprises go, the one Michael Benson encountered on his drive from Breezewood, Pa., to the Ohio border was small but annoying: an extra $3.90 charged by the Pennsylvania Turnpike. But what followed was anything but small. When he tried to find out about the mystery toll, he was given the runaround by Turnpike authorities.

Then he went to war with them.

If nothing else, the bureaucrats and marketing executives who read this site should note the lengths to which Benson went to get answers for a $3.90 charge. Think about it. If you don’t clearly explain your pricing, this could happen to you. (Related: What’s with all of these tolls on my car rental bill?)

Toll from Breezewood to the border was $10.30

Benson checked the toll from Breezewood to the border before his road trip, and was told it was $10.30.

From that response, I assumed the return toll from Gateway was the same. On April 8, 2010, I drove on the PA turnpike from Gateway to the Breezewood exit. Shortly after entering PA at Gateway, a toll booth appeared and a charge of $3.90
was imposed. I paid that toll. At the Breezewood, PA exit, I paid $10.30.

Benson phoned the Turnpike’s customer assistance center and complained about the $3.90 charge.

A spokesperson tried to uphold the toll. When I asked to speak to someone else in authority, I was connected to another line which provided a voicemail message. I left a message and no one called me back in a reasonable time.

Undeterred, he called the governor’s office. He spoke with the Turnpike’s director of fare collection, but was told the $3.90 charge would stand.

AirAdvisor is a claims management company. We fight for air passenger rights in cases of flight disruptions all over the world. Our mission is to ensure that air passengers are fairly compensated for the inconvenience and frustration caused by delays, cancellations, or overbooking.

He said that by computer the tolls are given out separately as $10.30 from Breezewood to Gateway and $14.20 for the reverse ride. He told me how to check that on the computer. I did so, and found that the disclosure was made as he said. The latter toll was broken down as $10.30 for a Class I ticket toll and $3.90 for a 2-axle toll.

More lobbying followed, including phone calls and letters to various officials. Pennsylvania insisted that it disclosed the toll on the return trip was higher, but Benson says the tolls were essentially unfair.

Tolls are generally based on mileage. Because logic dictates that a toll one way will be the same as a toll going the other way with the same mileage, I was induced not to check for a fare on the return trip.

I contend that the Breezewood to Gateway toll should have disclosed that the return fare was more than the fare for driving in
the opposite direction. This failure to disclose makes PA turnpike fares deceptive.

I called the Pennsylvania Turnpike Authority on Benson’s behalf, to see if I could find out if there was any middle ground. A representative said one-way tolls had been adequately disclosed, but agreed that they could be more adequate.

We have put a statement of clarification on our website to reinforce the one-way toll coming into Pennsylvania from Ohio, but we stand by our decision not to reimburse the $3.90.

The Pa. Turnpike is operated and maintained solely by toll revenues, not tax dollars, and we must collect a toll from all vehicles that use the road.

The Gateway one-way toll has always been listed online at; also, many travelers visually observe the Gateway toll plaza on their westbound trip and note that a toll is to be paid upon entry coming back eastbound.

Still, Benson wins this round. How many hours of public officials’ time did he take up, forcing them to write letters and respond to his phone calls. Wouldn’t you say that time is worth more than $3.90? (Here’s what you need to know about travel and money.)

And here’s the sobering lesson for the folks in corporate America reading about this case. A customer can lose a dispute — but still win.

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can't. He's the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes three nationally syndicated columns. He also publishes the Elliott Report, a news site for consumers, and Elliott Confidential, a critically acclaimed newsletter about customer service. If you have a consumer problem you can't solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on X, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter.

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