Massachusetts Tolls: New Transponder Program – Congestion Solved?
Boston – Responding on Saturday to Gov/ Deval Patrick’s directive, the Executive Office of Transportation and the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority announced a series of initiatives to mitigate congestion at tollbooths during high-traffic periods and improve overall customer service and public safety on the Turnpike.
Transportation officials also pledged to put in place staffing plans for holiday and other high-traffic weekends that will reduce congestion and minimize lengthy delays.??
“I, like every member of my management team, regret the delays that were experienced by so many drivers last weekend. None of us ever want unnecessary delays and my team is working to ensure that we have plans in place that will allow us to reduce congestion at toll plazas during high-traffic periods,” said Turnpike Executive Director Alan LeBovidge.
A preliminary report from the Executive Office of Transportation did not reveal a coordinated job action by Turnpike employees, LeBovidge said, adding that the report did point to a number of cost-cutting moves, in particular a policy of eliminating overtime for toll takers that contributed to a reduced number of collectors and the subsequent traffic back-up last weekend.??
Transportation Secretary James A. Aloisi Jr. said, “Our job is to keep faith with taxpayers while also keeping faith with drivers who use our roads and bridges. The Turnpike faces unprecedented fiscal challenges that have put it on the brink of insolvency so we must continue the difficult task of cutting costs while keeping customer service and public safety our No. 1 priority.”
In order to avoid lengthy delays at toll plazas on holiday weekends and days in which a high volume of traffic is expected to use cash lanes, LeBovidge and Aloisi announced the Turnpike will implement the following initiatives:??
REDUCING CONGESTION AT TOLL PLAZAS
• The Turnpike will put in place a staffing plan for holiday weekends that will reduce congestion and minimize lengthy delays. Aloisi has already directed the Turnpike to end the practice of not using overtime to fill shifts that become vacant when toll collectors called in sick. In addition, managers will continue to fill in for toll takers when they call in sick or are on break.
• Expand the “wave through” policy to include situations that involve unusual and/or lengthy delays. Decisions to “wave through” will be made by the Turnpike State Police in consultation with the Turnpike’s executive director. As of the fall of 2008, the “wave through” policy was to be used solely in response to public safety situations and the decision was made by the executive director.??
• At the April 22 meeting of the Turnpike board, Aloisi will ask board members to make Fast Lane transponders free for all drivers. He will ask to eliminate the proposed 50-cent per month service charge for Fast Lane transponders, making them completely free for customers. The 50-cent fee was scheduled to become effective July 1. This action will cost the Turnpike an estimated $6 million in the short term but is expected to lead to long term savings and improved traffic flow on the Turnpike, Aloisi said.
• Expand availability of transponders through a pilot program with five Herb Chambers auto dealerships and by making them available at seven additional Registry of Motor Vehicles locations. Details of the Herb Chambers pilot program will be announced soon.
Currently, the Turnpike has 756,366 Fast Lane accounts using more than 1.1 million transponders. Increased use of the transponders will help reduce congestion at manned tollbooths and save the commonwealth money over the long term. Fast Lane transponders can be ordered at www.masspike.com, by calling 1-877-MASSPIKE, or at eight RMV locations (Eastfield, Watertown, Worcester, Framingham, Chinatown, Beverly, Pittsfield and North Adams).??
ACHIEVING REAL REFORMS AND EFFICIENCIES
• The Turnpike Authority will implement a furlough program for managers similar to the initiative announced last week by Gov/ Patrick for executive branch employees to achieve additional cost savings.
• In order to build a long-term solution to the fiscal problems facing the Turnpike Authority, Aloisi and LeBovidge said they are committed to working in collaboration with the Legislature to pass a reform bill that establishes greater efficiencies through a simple, accountable governance structure that is equipped to generate real cost savings. Comprehensive, meaningful reform must be coupled with new revenue from an increase in the gas tax to pay down Big Dig debt and avoid toll increases, they said.
• The Massachusetts Turnpike Authority will turn the Zakim Bridge decorative lights back on tonight (Saturday, April 18) thanks to private donations. LeBovidge is working to finalize a longer-term public-private partnership plan that will keep the lights on permanently, with the potential of more energy efficient lighting sources.