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Roads to Riches Taking Its Toll

The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission opened "America's First Superhighway" October 1, 1940. It operates and maintains 537 miles of toll roads in the state. It oversees 60 fare-collection facilities, 20 service plazas and 26 maintenance facilities. With 2,300 employees, it generates $615 million in annual toll revenue from 185.4 million vehicles a year. "The more vehicles - the more wear and tear..." and an even bigger need to offer weary travelers something other than unwelcomed tolls. 



"We can't possibly start advertising to our traveling customers…it is against regulation…" was the response the Publicity Works agency received when a targeted marketing program was initially suggested. The agency persisted for quite some time and developed a proposal for a simple Turnpike ad vehicle: take one side of the toll ticket and turn it into a helpful message - such as a PR venue containing critical information on a missing child alternated with a promotional message offer, possibly cooperative with Staples® Office Products. This would be followed by missing child signage as well as ancillary messages to travelers. Persistence was rewarded through this successful launch.


Publicity Works generated an epidemic and acted as "The Tipping Point" by starting the launch of the PA Turnpike's total Advertising/Public Relations commuter program. The Pennsylvania Turnpike is among the first toll authorities in the United States to undertake such a unique program. Since then, their marketing efforts spiraled into effective supplementary communications. Thereafter, they proposed using 128 ticket dispensers to deliver safety related advertising messages to the 10 million motorists entering at Turnpike toll plazas every month. The ads were to be posted on the familiar yellow machines at 41 toll plazas, initially focusing on safety messages from Pennsylvania wireless service providers, with the premier ad urging travelers to dial *11 in case of emergency. Turnpike users would benefit from this effort alone because proceeds from the sale of the ads were funneled into general operating expenses to help maintain and improve the roadway. Turnpike officials hoped to generate $250,000 in additional annual revenue from the ticket-machine marketing in its inaugural year with the potential to earn upwards of $350,000 in future years, reaching over 325,000 customer travelers per day. Today, there is a heavily used Preferred Traveler E-ZPass program and advertising has moved to the toll booths. On March 16, 2020, the turnpike converted to All-Electronic Tolling.

"As a past frequent traveler of the Turnpike, the addition of safety advertising was invaluable to me when I had to use the *11 twice in my travels—once to report an apparent drunk driver, and once to report an accident, which had just occurred. If not for the advertising, the safety of the Turnpike would not have been as easily maintained or as quickly reported.

The persistence of Trish Doll in making advertising happen on the Turnpike when it was said it could not be done, shows the marketing maven influence, which she possesses. Countless Turnpike travelers have benefited from her tenacity…”

- A Thankful Commuter

An example of our original advertising campaign on the toll tickets. With the elimination of toll tickets, today's assertive advertising is now located on toll booths.

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