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Pennsylvania Turnpike looks to address unpaid tolls

Carolyn Kaster
AP Photo

On today’s episode of The Confluence: How the Pennsylvania Turnpike plans to reduce unpaid tolls from motorists, some of whom could face penalties; a behavioral economist tells us how we can develop and maintain good habits and stick with resolutions in 2022; and, for our Good Question, Kid! series we look into condensation. 

Unpaid tolls on Pennsylvania Turnpike increase in last fiscal year

The Pennsylvania Turnpike announced it was unable to collect just under $105 million in unpaid tolls for the fiscal year that ended in May 2021.

Ed Blazina of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports that the turnpike collected about $1.2 billion from drivers last year.

Blazina says several factors contribute to the loss of toll revenue, including the decision to remove toll collectors from booths during the COVID-19 pandemic and people without the E-Z Pass not paying their bills online. Currently, Pennsylvania law allows the suspension of vehicle registrations for residents who do not pay their toll bills.

"Right now, the way the state law is written, you have to accumulate more than $500 of unpaid tolls over a three-year period," Blazina says. "There's legislation pending in Harrisburg now that would change that. So that it would be $250 over five years. There would be a larger pool of people that you could go after for not paying their tolls."

Blazina says one additional challenge for the state is collecting money when out-of-state motorists ignore their toll bills.

"Five years ago, [the state] told me they were close to an agreement with Maryland for setting up a reciprocal agreement where 'We'll discipline our people this way you discipline them in the same way. And when our scofflaw doesn't pay in your state, we'll suspend their registration'," he says. "It still hasn't happened."

The new year brings a ‘fresh start’ for people looking to create good habits

With the new year, many people are setting goals for 2022. According to the data group YouGov, they estimate some 25% of Americans will move to make positive changes this year. The most popular resolutions included living a healthier lifestyle and personal improvement.

Katy Milkman is a behavioral economist and professor at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. She’s co-founder and co-director at the Behavior Change for Good Initiative.

Milkman, who authored the book, “How to Change: The Science of Getting from Where You Are to Where You Want to Be,” says the new year is the most famous date for people to make resolutions because of what she and her colleagues call the "fresh start effect."

"We think about time in a way that's not linear. It gives us the sense that at moments that feel like chapter breaks, we are further removed from our past failures," she says, adding that more people are optimistic as a result. "You can say, 'I meant to quit smoking last year, I meant to get in shape last year, but that was the old me that failed, the new me is going to be different.' because you have this sense of a discontinuity."

When it comes to achieving your goals for the new year, Milkman says research shows that people who make ambitious goals but build in some padding are typically more successful.

"Ideally, you want to set a tough goal for yourself, something that's a stretch, that's going to push you forward," she says. "But come up with a way to give yourself [an emergency reserve] whether it's 'cheat meals' that you won't declare failure at the first sign of a misstep."

When it comes to the number of days it takes to solidify a good habit, Milkman says there is no "magic number." For example, changing small habits compared to big habits--such as getting regular exercise--can differ tremendously.

"The research shows that it depends on how frequently you engage in the behavior depends on what the behavior is. Something like gym-going going...often takes months to form a habit around that. And it depends on the person," she said. "Something that's much simpler--like an activity like sanitizing your hands, if you're a caregiver that takes an order of magnitude weeks to form a habit around because you're doing that repeatedly throughout the day. Absolutely, there's no magic number, and you should expect it to take a good amount of time. "

In all, she says, it's important for people who are looking to change their habits should treat it like a process, not a one-time fix.

"What I think we need to do is spend more time looking for tools we can use that change the way we pursue our goals and make it — for instance — more enjoyable when things are more fun to do, we're much more likely to persist," she said

Why is the grass wet when I wake up? 

The Confluence has been asking families for questions, those very good questions that a kid in your life might have that leaves you scratching your head.

As part of 90.5 WESA’s Good Question, Kid! Series, Brad Peroney, the team and program development manager at the Carnegie Science Center, answers this inquiry: Why is the grass wet in the morning, even though it didn't rain the night before?

In short, what we're seeing is the formation of dew. Peroney says dew forms for a couple of reasons: First, when water is in the air as a gas, also known as water vapor. The second is that dew forms when the temperature is cool. Peroney says you've likely seen this effect in your own home.

"If you've ever had a cold glass of water or lemonade on a hot summer's day, you might have seen drops of water form on the outside of the glass. That's called condensation, with that water vapor in the air cools down and forms a liquid on that cold surface," he says. "The same thing happens on the grass when dew forms. So there's a lot of moisture in the air. We call that humid air where there's a lot of water vapor in the air, and when the temperature drops at night, the grass gets colder. And, if it gets cold enough on the grass, those water droplets will form just like on that glass of lemonade on a hot summer day."

The Confluence, where the news comes together, is 90.5 WESA’s daily news program. Tune in Monday to Thursday at 9 a.m. and 7:30 p.m. to hear newsmakers and innovators take an in-depth look at stories important to the Pittsburgh region. Find more episodes of The Confluence here or wherever you get your podcasts. 

JC Larsen contributed to today’s Confluence episode 

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