What to Know
Hundreds of complaints filed against toll collectors show NJ motorists grousing about bizarre customer service encounters
The I-Team obtained the narratives of driver grievances as part of a public records request for the last three years of complaints
The complaints cover grievances against toll operators working on the New Jersey Turnpike and Garden State Parkway
Hundreds of complaints filed against toll collectors show New Jersey motorists grousing about some of the most bizarre customer service encounters imaginable.
In one complaint, a driver accuses the toll collector of handing back change stained with blood. In another, a driver claims her toll collector was smoking a cigarette and ashes fell on the driver's arm as money was exchanged.
The I-Team obtained the narratives of driver grievances as part of a public records request for the last three years of complaints against toll operators working on the New Jersey Turnpike and the Garden State Parkway.
In all, the records show drivers filed more than 780 complaints against toll collectors between Jan. 1, 2015 and Sept. 30, 2017. The top complaint category was, by far, motorists accusing toll collectors of shortchanging them. The second most common complaint came from drivers who believed toll collectors were rude or used foul language.
The third most common compliant came from drivers frustrated their toll collector was on the phone or wearing headphones and appearing not to pay attention. Toll collectors are not supposed to smoke, wear headphones or talk and text on their phones. They are allowed to listen to music at a low level.
Despite the egregious nature of some of the toll booth horror stories, Tom Feeney, a spokesman for the NJ Turnpike Authority, said complaints against toll collectors are way down, even after you factor in the increased use of E-ZPass, which tends to reduce the total number of interactions drivers have with human collectors.
According to data provided by the NJ Turnpike Authority, there was one complaint against a toll collector for every 456,000 cash transactions. That is down about 16 percent from 2015.
"The number of allegations of bad behavior by toll collectors is decreasing by a much higher rate than the number of cash transactions," Feeney said in a statement to the I-Team. "In other words, the growth in the popularity of E-ZPass does not account for the steep drop in the number of allegations of toll collector bad behavior."
Feeney also said many of the drivers who say they were shortchanged are not actually complaining but simply requesting to be reimbursed after their own error, driving away before collecting their change.
Lisa Daeschler, a toll operator who works on the Garden State Parkway, said she rarely loses her temper with a driver, but it’s important for the public to understand it is often the person behind the wheel who escalates tensions at the toll booth.
“They’ll come through and throw change at you and go, ‘I shouldn’t have to pay for this because it’s snowing out,’ and I’m like, 'I’m just doing my job,'” Daeschler said.
Laurie Ralph, a New Jersey driver, said she believes toll booth confrontations often begin with a rude driver, not a rude toll collector.
“My husband was a toll collector for a short time,” Ralph said. “What the people did to the toll collectors was just as nasty.”
The I-Team has reached out to the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers (IFPTE), the union that represents New Jersey toll booth operators.
Some of the complaints against toll collectors involve allegations of racial discrimination, sexual harassment and mocking drivers with disabilities.
In one case, a black Muslim driver complained about a toll collector who referred to her religious clothing as a "monkey suit."
Another driver complained a toll collector grabbed her arm and suggested she should try having sex with a Puerto Rican man.
In yet another case, a disabled driver claimed a toll collector dropped change on the ground and then mocked the motorist's arm movements when the driver could not pick up the money.
Feeney said every complaint is investigated by a supervisor and responses can range from a verbal warning to counseling to termination.
For example, a collector was recommended for termination in one case after he was accused of repeated racist remarks and making fun of a patron’s accent.
A warning was put in the file of the toll collector accused of mocking a disabled driver. The collector accused of getting cigarette ashes on a patron’s arm was also issued a warning The allegation of sexual harassment was determined to be unfounded after the driver declined to pursue the complaint. A supervisor issued a verbal warning to the toll collector accused of mocking a driver’s disability.
The NJ Turnpike Authority has yet to tell the I-Team whatever became of complaints about the collector making fun of Muslim religious clothing or the collector handing back blood-stained money.