By adamg on Mon, 04/13/2009 - 3:20pm Herald: Pike plagued by weekend traffic jams. Seems lots of tolltakers reported in sick and the turnpike no longer calls in replacement workers. So, do you think all those tolltakers were sick? Neighborhoods: Topics: DrivingFree tagging: Massachusetts Turnpike Tweet WidgetFacebook Like Comments So that's what it was! I was in a small group bike ride yesterday morning. Since it was Easter Sunday, we didn't encounter much traffic anywhere. But as we rode along the Charles River bike path in Cambridge towards the BU Bridge, we saw a huge westbound backup on the elevated Turnpike. We wondered what kind of special event could be going on to cause it, especially with the Red Sox out of town. That would have been me! Made a last minute call to visit relatives in NY for the day - as we drove through the Fastlane my wife turned and said there was only one cash booth open. Fine by me - but I paid my $25 for my transponder (and now $0.50 per month) so I'd appreciate it if all the cheapskates paying cash would stay to one side :-)! Er, FastLane?? Seriously, I have no sympathy. There shouldn't be more than one cash lane period. Get over your tinfoil hat idiocy and get a FastLane pass. Oh really You mean, if you live in Maine or some other far-from-here place and are driving into the city, you should sign up for a pass for that ONE TIME you will be going through a toll booth. Hint: this is why holidays have these problems - people take INTERSTATE highways to and from places they normally don't drive. On holidays they should either throw open the tolls or have more cash lanes to accomodate the traffic on INTERSTATES that comes from other states. isn't EZ-Pass (Fast Lane) good in Maine too? Almlost the entire Northeast, in fact http://www.ritba.org/images/ezpass_map.jpg (Replaced a link to a map that was a year older) But, But, But All those people coming through from Vermont to Connecticut get totally inconvenienced... when they get lost somehow and miss the big toll-free highway that goes straight from one to the other... So people who use the Pike So people who use the Pike twice a year should get a pass? Good thinking. thank you Not Whitey that is EXACTLY the point - people who DO NOT use these roads but for holidays should not be expected to get a fastlane pass. What ever happened to "legal tender for all debts public and private"? I remember one year where the backup at the I-84 and Pike interchange was beyond epic. We anticipated it and escaped by taking Rt. 20, but my MIL was not brave and was stuck in it. The next year they simply did the math and ... and ... opened the tolls and forgot about them! Yes ... but this was the Weld administration, which believed in actual assessment that the cost of the troopers and emergency services and the toll takers on double overtime exceeded the money they collected! Just imagine! FastLane/EZPass doesn't always help The Turnpike Authority needs to do a better job making the FastLane lanes accessible. I can't tell you how many times I've had to wait at the tolls because the paths to the FastLanes were blocked either because of simple congestion or because of the Massholes (and New Hampshireholes) who try to cut into the cash lanes at the last moment blocking the Fastlanes for the rest of us. The easy solution is to raise cash tolls by $0.25-0.50 as a penalty to those who won't get a transponder. This will make most people get transponders, which will mean more lanes, which will mean quicker tolls which benefits everyone. I don't see this happening anytime soon. Except that the backups caused by the lack of cash/ticket lanes slow down ALL drivers, even those with transponders. This is a basic point of traffic flow that the Pike Chairman STILL can't seem to grasp. Yet again tonight on Channel 5, he was still stating the party line that "well, the drivers have only themselves to blame when these things occur for not getting transponders" . What was truly apalling about this fiasco was the fact that highways other than the Turnpike were seriously affected as well. Personal case in point. Last night, I was returning from a family gathering outside of Providence. Coming up I-95 (or, for those who insist, Route 128) past Route 9 in Wellesley (this was about 7:45 pm), four lanes of traffic suddenly slow down to a 15 to 20 mph crawl. Why? Because of the mess at the Weston Tolls caused by both the "sick out" and the lack of multiple cash (eastbound) or ticket (westbound) lanes, traffic couldn't get off I-95, even though they were two abreast on the Exit 25 off-ramp (it's supposed to be a single lane ramp folks). From the northbound Exit 25 ramp back to before Route 16, that's over one mile of backup on the I-95 mainline. And the southbound backup was even worse, stretching from the southbound Exit 25 off-ramp all the way past the Route 117 overpass in Waltham, or just over two and a half miles. Back in the days when Jim Kerasiotes was Pike chairman, he instituted a policy authorizing the State Police to order the suspension of toll collection if traffic backed up beyond a certain point. Judging by the condition of I-95 in the Newton, Weston, Waltham area last evening, it's obvious that policy has been recinded. So, not only were people who had transponders delayed by the backups, but people (like myself) who had no intention of even using the Turnpike were also delayed. Actually, dimwit, they were Actually, dimwit, they were also closing FastLane/Ticket combo lanes such as the one at the Natick exit. Which means instead of there being two fast lanes, there was only one. This was also true for last night's 5:15pm commute home. Sounds like a good idea. The Sounds like a good idea. The Pike saves money. People get sick of the cash traffic and get transponders. Pike then needs less toll collectors. These people are simply speeding up the process to eliminate their jobs. Considering their jobs are useless, this is good news for all of us. Why not just cut out the Why not just cut out the middle man and eliminate the tolls all together. How much do you think the Turnpike Athority actually takes in a year after paying all the toll workers salary + overtime and holiday pay + inflated pay of the usless do nothing uppermanagement there? Why don't we just tear down the tolls and raise the gas tax $.02. I'd bet this would cut back on a whole lot of government waste and solve a lot of the traffic problems we have on the pike. This is really frustrating This is really frustrating to me. I'm a Boston resident but don't own a car. I use rental cars and zipcars to run errands and visit my family who live in NY. I always get stuck in the toll mess, esp. at exit 15 (Weston). I would LOVE to have a fast lane account but you can't get a transponder without a car (it needs to be linked to a license plate, apparently). I cannot find a rental car agency that has fast lane for its cars and zip car does not have it as well. ezpass Ive gone through the ezpass lane a few times over the past 10 years without an ezpass and have been mailed small fines that have never been much more than the actual toll (usually about $2.50). It was worth it to me anyway... The fine was $50 when I got one In 2004ish when the gates were still up, I was driving through the Allston-Brighton tolls at about 3 or 4 am and found that the one open tollbooth didn't have a person in it. I waited a couple minutes and no person appeared. So I drove through the fastlane. Got mailed a $50 ticket with a crystal-clear photo of my car and license plate. http://1smootshort.blogspot.com Did you contest it? Seems like you'd have a reasonable chance of having this knocked down to just the toll that you owed. One day years ago, as I entered the Weston mainline booths westbound, the automatic "Cars Only" ticket lane wouldn't dispense a ticket for me (it was apparently empty). As the lane (at that time) was right next to the plaza manager's office, I took the car out of gear, put on my flashers, and honked my horn two or three times to try to get somebody's attention. When that failed to work, I called *SP and had them connect me to the Weston Barracks. Explained the situation to them, and within a minute a toll worker came running out with a toll ticket and a cone. He handed me the toll ticket and placed the cone behind my car to close the lane. From that point on, until I got my EZ-Pass transponder about four years ago, I would always go through a manned ticket lane. Companies are often responsive to suggestions I just mailed to a contact at ZipCar the suggestion of offering FastLane transponders. I don't know anyone at car rental companies, but you can probably contact your favorite one(s) through their Web site. Good idea I'd love to use the fastlane but don't own a car either. I'll contact Zipcar and my local rental place with the suggestion. If you rent Zipcars often enough would it make sense to own a transponder and just carry it on each Zipcar you rent? Individuals can't use them on cars with commercial plates According to the Fastlane people, and zipcars have commercial plates. Plus, the transponder form (at least the online one) requires at least one license plate to get a transponder. Since I have no car, I have no plates. This is Massachusetts We can innovate. And ZipCar innovates too. Here's hoping they get together and figure something out. Not sure why they need it I'm not sure what they use it for other than to somehow keep only one transponder per car or something. If you go through and the transponder doesn't work for any reason, then they mail you a "missed toll" picture based on the address of the license plate of the vehicle that you drove. If you drive through in any vehicle with a working transponder, it deducts from your bank account/cash balance and any problems with that go to the billing address that you used when you signed up for the transponder. Basically, other than for indexing purposes, I have no idea why they ask about a license plate. For example, my transponder (from Maryland) works perfectly fine and my EZPass account is alive and functioning...but I turned in my MA plates that were listed on the account over a year ago. For quite a few years, my original NJ EZPass account was *still* active...and slowly stealing dollars each month in "account fees" (even after the transponder had inexplicably stopped functioning) and that was based on my OLD original MD plates on the car which I haven't had since like 2000 or 2001. What I'm getting at is that I wonder if you could try lying and make up a plate number and see if they'll hand you a transponder. It's just a thought (i.e. NOT LEGAL ADVICE)...but it just might work. I just know I tried doing it the correct way and it was a hassle I tried arguing with them to no avail. For the less than 10 times a year I may go through tolls, I rather the companies deal with it than me to be honest. Avis at the airport I know that Avis has some cars that are equipped with EZPass transponders. They are housed in a small blocking case on the windshield and if you slide the case open, the transponder will work. I believe that they later charge you for the use AND a fee for the convenience. Ever since I had a car, I have kept my transponder. I use it in my ZipCar rentals and longer term rentals from Thrifty/Avis/etc. Nobody at the toll plazas cares if you go through the FastLane lanes with commercial plates using an EZPass transponder. It is possible to get a transponder that knows you are a commercial vehicle and deducts from your account appropriately; basically, they figure you are doing just that. Therefore, while using a personal transponder in a commercially-plated vehicle is "wrong", it's not detectable by anyone who would care or do anything about it. (Commercial plates pay more..and some Zipsters have been known to be required to pay much more than the base toll when they use Zipcars to pickup friends from the airport and pay the toll by hand because the toll taker noticed the plate and doesn't care that you're just renting...a downside to Zipcar using commercial plates to reduce their RMV costs in some way). But if you do have an active transponder/EZPass account from an old car and now use Zipcar, I wouldn't hesitate to use it. for whom the transponder tolls It's fine to cut costs by not having a lot of toll collectors on shift and by making it painful for people who don't want to get transponders (which are now only 50 cents a month). It is, however, ridiculous to punish those who have already gotten (and paid $27.50 up front for) transponders, and that is what is going on. Because the line for cash payers is so long, transponder holders can't get to the FastLanes, resulting in a huge jam. It was brutal at every popular exit off the Pike for the whole weekend. Unfortunately, the savings does not even come close to offsetting the costs attributable to the amount of economic activity that is being lost by having people sit in traffic. NY/NJ and others Why don't I/we ever hear about these problems in other states? I find it hard to believe you can afford a $30,000 car and thousands of dollars in gas and insurance - but not the $6 a year (formerly one time $25 or so) for a transponder. Maybe going forward you pay an extra $6 a year for your inspection sticker - but you get a transponder if you don't have one? Treasurer Tim is outraged Cahill rages against the authority. Solution There's a very easy solution: unpaid sick leave. If you call out sick less than X hours before your shift, then you are unpaid. If you show up the next day without a medical note from your doctor, then you're fired. Combine this with a 5-10% pay increase for scheduling shifts on known "high traffic dates" if the union wants to boo-hoo over hearing they might get fired. Either that or let them strike and employee scabs who'd like a job in this economy. It's not like the toll takers I saw on Saturday were particularly highly-trained professionals. Note from doctor? Requiring a note from doctor sounds Draconian to me. Is that suggestion backlash from the suspicious holiday spike in sick days? Or would you advocate that in any case? Both Basically, their job is to sit in a booth and hand out paper tickets or take money. If they're too sick to do that and it onset so suddenly, then they should see a doctor. Also, the city should be able to pull from other departments to fill that job. It requires handing out paper or taking paper and handing out coins. It's not tough. I'm sure someone down at the MBTA could even handle it. When a hospital unit is short-staffed, they pull nurses in from elsewhere in the hospital. The transportation departments should be able to do the same, especially for something so menial. As I understand it, most collective bargaining agreements between state agencies/authorities and the public employee unions already give management the right to require a doctor's note for verification if sick leave abuse is suspected. Management also has the right to deny the employee's request to charge sick time for the day in question, again, if abuse is suspected. Enforcing contract provisions that the union has already agreed to hardly constitutes a Draconian measure, if you ask me. I think they should fill the empty spots with cops on overtime. Id like to see the union toll takers try to fight those scabs.... But seriously, you would have to negotiate any type of "call in sick within 2 hours of your shift and you get an unpaid day" kind of thing. But they can require some sort of doctors note. The bad part of that is some doctor might give out notes for sore feet, or a bad back from standing all day. How about we just let everyone through and send the toll fees right to the registered owner and if they don't pay, add another fee and just make more money? Or charge a little more to those without an ezpass?