New Jersey - Complaints against toll collectors on the decline

New Jersey - Motorists on the New Jersey Turnpike and Garden State Parkway are getting less sass when they pay with cash.

Complaints about rude toll collectors are down 28 percent this year, after revelations at the beginning of 2010 that motorists were encountering toll takers who made drivers wish they had E-ZPass.

Among the 550 complaints culled from a U.S. Freedom of Information Act request for the 21-month period ending Jan. 31 were reports of collectors throwing pennies back in the faces of drivers and one collector who told a woman who entered the wrong lane to pull over so he could conduct a strip search.

Motorists also complained of one toll collector who offered to flash them to help them stay awake and another who threatened to beat up a driver because a dog was sniffing out the window. Irate over having to make change for a $20 bill on a $1.75 toll, another collector allegedly threw the change and told the driver to get on the road and die.

But now, along with usual quarters and dimes, motorists are seeing another kind of change at the toll booth. Customer complaints about rude toll collectors for the first six months of the year have dropped, from 100 at this point last year to 72.

"I have a 28-percent drop, but it’s still too much," said Bob Quirk, director of tolls for the New Jersey Turnpike Authority, which oversees the Turnpike and Parkway. "One is too much."

Three of the complaints — which could have been for profanity or inappropriate comments — resulted in suspensions, Quirk said. The outcomes of 20 other complaints are pending.

Still, Quirk said, only an average of one in 565,000 transactions resulted in a complaint — a rate any service industry would crave.

The authority last month began a customer service presentation for Turnpike toll collectors, and this month brought the PowerPoint program to Parkway workers. The authority also is studying the data to chart which toll booths are rude "hot spots."

"It’s moving in the right direction," state Department of Transportation Commissioner Jim Simpson said.

Quirk, who said he never had a customer complaint filed against him during his stint as a toll collector from 1978 to 1985, remains perplexed over why some toll takers are sent into a rage over pennies.

"I don’t get it," he said, adding that all currency — and traveler’s checks — are accepted on the Turnpike and Parkway.

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, said, "By and large we have a very professional group." 


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