EZ Pass was invented to avoid toll collectors like this. One collector told a woman who entered the wrong lane that she would have to go inside for a search. Another, incensed at having to make change for $20 on a $1.75 toll, allegedly threw the change and told the driver to get on the road and die. Still another, apparently angry over a dog sniffing out the window, reportedly asked where the driver was going to be at 7 a.m. “so I can beat you up.” Those are just three examples taken from more than 550 complaint letters filed by drivers against toll collectors on the New Jersey Turnpike and Garden State Parkway in 2008 and 2009.
The letters, with redacted names, were released by the New Jersey Turnpike Authority, which oversees the two highways, after a U.S. Freedom of Information Act request was filed.
Some of the letters are more jolting than a Turnpike pothole.
When a woman gave $5.25 for a $4.25 toll the afternoon of March 14, 2009, one complaint says, the collector at Exit 9 in East Brunswick mistakenly gave her 75 cents change — then got rude and nasty when she asked for the correct change “because he was busy on his cell ordering a pizza with extra pepperoni.”
Apparently, paying a toll with pennies or a $100 bill is a collector’s version of fingernails on a chalkboard.
“What kind of (expletive) comes in with a $100 bill?” a collector asked a driver at Exit 12 in Carteret on Aug. 26, 2009, according to one complaint.
Several complaints said collectors became belligerent after receiving pennies, including one who allegedly hurled a racial epithet along with coins at a patron at Exit 11 in Woodbridge on Oct. 16, 2009.
“Obviously, those kinds of things make you cringe,” said Franceline Ehret, a toll collector for 25 years and president of the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers Local No. 194, which represents Turnpike toll collectors
“But it’s a very difficult job, and I would say that nine times out of 10, the complaints are unfounded,” she said. “There’s a lot of road rage out there. People hate to wait in line for traffic.”
Ehret said some toll collectors have had guns pointed at them.
“I’ve had people spit on money before handing it to me and making the roll (of coins) hot before they hand it to me, putting it on the heater,” she said.
Still, Ehret said, the conduct alleged on the complaints is “not acceptable behavior at all.”
“We don’t want anybody that’s going to make the rest of us look bad. Obviously, we want the Turnpike to have a good image — it’s good for all of us,” she said. “And customer service is very important.”
Turnpike spokesman Joe Orlando said some of the complaints have led to unpaid suspensions. No toll collectors have been fired, Orlando said.
Orlando said in nearly every case where the complainant followed through in the investigation, there were suspensions, but only about one of every 10 complainants followed through. Star Ledger