I   t's been a few years since I last used the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Just no need to, I guess.

But there was a time when I used the turnpike a couple of times each year, at least.

And I don't remember ever thinking the turnpike fees were too high, even when I was a college kid and didn't have two nickels to rub together.

Does that mean I looked forward to paying the fee each time I passed through a toll booth? Hardly.

But my father set me straight on that back in the   '60s, when I first became aware there was such a thing as a turnpike from one end of the state to the other. The turnpike, he said, was there for one reason and one reason only -- convenience.

After all, there were other roads -- free roads, in the sense no one was required to pay a toll to use them -- travelers could use to get from here to there.

But they tended to go through every little burg and village along the way, meaning traffic was heavier and the trip was going to take somewhat longer.

If you didn't want to use the "free" highways and byways, if you wanted to save some time, if you didn't want to bother with stop-and-go traffic, then you could use the turnpike.

No doubt about it, it was more convenient.

And you should be willing to pay a little more, Dad said, for that convenience. Hence, the turnpike toll. In other words, shut up and pay the toll, and consider yourself lucky the road is there for you to use.

That was the theory, of course, 73 years ago, when the Pennsylvania Turnpike was constructed. Here it is: Use it or don't use it, it's up to you. But if you're going to use it, it's going to cost you something. Not an arm and a leg, but a little something.

In 1939, the cost of using the turnpike was $1.50 for a one-way ticket from one end to the other, or $2.25 for a round-trip ticket. Today, a round-trip toll would be about $33.

That's inflation for you.

Given that an ice cream cone today can easily cost $5, a gallon of bottled water is about $12 (if purchased by the 16-fluid-ounce bottle) and it costs almost $10 for a ticket to attend a movie here in York County, the toll to use the turnpike might even be considered a steal.

And given the amount of teeth-grinding I do every time I have to fill my car with gas to the tune of $55, I'm thinking $33 to travel the length of the turnpike both ways is not so bad.

And I'm thinking my dad, if still living, would be first up to remind me today that the Pa. Turnpike is still one of the best bargains around, even as the turnpike commission announced plans to increase the turnpike tolls beginning Jan. 5, 2014.

Starting next year, turnpike tolls for cash customers will increase by 12 percent. That means a ticket from the New Jersey border to the Ohio border and back will cost a little less than $37 per trip rather than $33.

Really, is that going to bankrupt anyone? I don't think so. Consider it a user fee for the convenience offered.

But if that's too much for someone to bear, there is an option that wasn't available to anyone 30, 40 or 50 years ago -- the E-ZPass.

The toll increase for E-ZPass users, is going to be just 2 percent. That will make the same border-to-border trip and back cost only an extra 66 cents.

And if you're a regular user of the turnpike, keep in mind that part of the additional revenue will be used to rebuild parts of the pike, including widening it from four to six lanes.

If you still think that's not a good deal, I'd like you to make one border-to-border round trip using only Route 30, the original Lincoln Highway, and see how that floats your boat.

But if you can't be convinced, and you insist on objecting to the increase in turnpike tolls, it'd be best to direct your complaints to the state General Assembly because it's responsible (along with the governor's office in 2007) for Act 44, which mandates a payment of $450 million of turnpike funds (a total of $3.9 billion through 2012) be sent to PennDOT each year to be used for non-turnpike road and bridge maintenance.

If that doesn't work, however, be reminded there have been only 11 turnpike toll increases -- including the last five years in a row -- since it was built in 1939.

All things considered, that's not bad.

Now if only we can figure out a way to keep the turnpike out of the hands of greedy politicians, who can't resist seeing it as a solution to all of the state's financial problems, it might continue to be the bargain some of us have always thought it to be.

Columns by Larry A. Hicks, Dispatch columnist, run Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. E-mail: lhicks@yorkdispatch.com.