A toll worker gives a motorist a thumbs-up after waving their vehicle past a ticket booth in Carlisle, Pa. The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission announced Tuesday it would lay off more than 500 workers, mostly toll booth operators, as is transitions to electronic fares.

(The Center Square) – The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission said Tuesday it will permanently lay off about 500 employees and maintain cashless fare collection amid deep revenue losses. 

Commission CEO Mark Compton said fare revenues plummeted $100 million after toll booth operators were furloughed March 16 as part of the state’s mitigation efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19. The commission also cut capital spending 25 percent, instituted a hiring freeze, offered voluntary retirement, and delayed tax payments to help cover mounting losses.

“Today we cannot risk returning to cash collections.” Compton said. “Reverting to a hybrid system could put customers and employees at a higher risk of accident or infection.” 

The news accelerates the commission’s two-year plan to transfer to cashless tolling as a way to streamline expenses. When Gov. Tom Wolf implemented statewide restrictions on movement and economic activity in mid-March, turnpike traffic decreased by half. 

"I deeply regret that we have reached this point, but the world has been irrevocably changed by the global pandemic," Compton said. "This pandemic had a much greater impact than anyone could have foreseen. The PA Turnpike has not been spared from COVID-19." 

The last of Pennsylvania's stay-at-home orders will lift in the Philadelphia region on Friday, though Wolf encouraged residents to continue telecommuting and avoid traveling as much as possible. Nearly 73,000 cases of coronavirus have been detected in the state since March 6, according to the Department of Health. About two-thirds of identified cases have since recovered, while nearly 5,700 have died.

Compton said drivers without EZ passes will receive an invoice in the mail. 

Staff Reporter

Christen Smith follows Pennsylvania's General Assembly for The Center Square. She is an award-winning reporter with more than a decade of experience covering state and national policy issues for niche publications and local newsrooms alike.