HARRISBURG, Pa. (WKBN) – The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission announced it will be laying off about 500 employees, including mostly toll collectors and fare-collection personnel.
On March 16, the turnpike implemented a cashless, all-electronic system to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
The commission said Tuesday the new system will be permanent, resulting in the layoffs.
“I deeply regret that we have reached this point, but the world has been irrevocably changed by the global pandemic,” said Mark Compton, CEO of the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission. “This pandemic had a much greater impact than anyone could have foreseen. The PA Turnpike has not been spared from COVID-19.”
There will be no return to cash collections on the turnpike. Drivers will move through the lanes at posted speeds without stopping, and their tolls will be assessed through E-ZPass or a toll-by-plate invoice will sent in the mail.
The layoff process should start this week, with the first employee separations on or after June 18.
“This is a painful day for all of us at the commission,” Compton said. “I want to thank these men and women for their dedication and hard work over the years. I assure them we will continue to assist them during this transition.”
Due to the pandemic, Compton said traffic dropped by almost 50% since March compared to 2019. Toll revenues also dropped by more than $100 million for the fiscal year, which ended May 31.
“From the start, we have taken a phased, deliberate approach to offset revenue loss that offers a degree of flexibility to adapt depending on the crisis’ duration,” Compton said. “To date, the commission has taken several steps to cut costs. However, it has become clear these steps are not enough.”
Some of those steps include cutting capital spending by 25%, putting a hiring freeze in place and delaying its July transit-funding payment of $112.5 million to Pennsylvania.
Aside from cutting costs, the permanent move to the new system was driven by health and safety concerns.
“Ceasing cash collections in March to protect employees and customers was the right decision,” he explained. “But we did not know then how severe the impact would be. With the associated dangers, we cannot risk returning to cash collections. AET continues to be the best choice for our customers and this organization’s future.”
Compton said they are working to help affected employees through their transition, including retaining certain health benefits for up to two years.
The turnpike started looking into an all-electronic system in 2011 and planned to implement one in the future. Layoffs were originally anticipated for early 2022.