Massachusetts lags in automatic turnpike toll collection
Despite discounted prices and faster service in electronic tolling lanes, Massachusetts Turnpike users are still clogging up cash lanes.
The Turnpike Authority is hoping to put an end to that by making the FastLane faster and more attractive, which could mean longer lines for cash users and lost jobs for toll workers.
At a Turnpike Authority Board meeting Monday, newly appointed Executive Director Alan LeBovidge said the state is far behind when it comes FastLane use, prompting discussion of new incentives.
Board member Mary Connaughton believes the only way to significantly impact the authority’s coffers and FastLane usage is by converting more cash lanes to FastLane and getting rid of some of the 468 toll workers.
The 311 full-time and 157 part-time collectors make up half of the authority’s staff and get paid $24 million in salaries and overtime each year.
In November, collectors brought in $9 million from turnpike tolls, nearly a quarter of which paid their wages, while FastLane electronic booths brought in more than $12 million.
“That’s a big chunk of our cost, so it makes good sense to (have fewer cash lanes),” said Connaughton, of Framingham, who estimated that less than 60 percent of Pike drivers use the FastLane system.
At Monday’s meeting LeBovidge said usage should be more than 90 percent.
Board chairman and Transportation Secretary Bernard Cohen said the authority must determine “why we have a smaller market share of electronic toll users than our neighboring states and what are we doing or not doing for … our, quote, preferred customers.”
Teamsters Local 127, the toll workers union, could not be reached for comment.
If watching FastLane drivers speed by while sitting at a standstill does not convince cash users, the board is also contemplating increasing cash tolls and offering cheaper electronic transponders.
Tolls are already set to go up in January, 25 cents at the Weston and Allston tolls and 50 cents at the Ted Williams and Sumner tunnels, for both cash and FastLane users.
After negotiating a new deal with providers, the authority is selling the transponders for $20 instead of $25. But, worried that the one-time payment is still a barrier to some, the board is considering setting up a monthly payment system.
MetroWest Daily News staff writer Lindsey Parietti can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org