Bring change; booths will be empty

Expecting to save $500,000, the Florida Turnpike Authority will no longer staff some tollbooths.

Published August 30, 2006

TAMPA — Beginning Friday , drivers on Tampa-area toll roads may find their commutes a bit less convenient.

The Florida Turnpike Authority will remove toll collectors from seven ramps on the Veterans Expressway, the Lee Roy Selmon Crosstown Expressway and the Polk Parkway, meaning motorists must have exact change or a SunPass transponder.

Gates will be open, but drivers without coins will be asked to mail payment to the Turnpike Authority, according to Joanne Hurley, spokeswoman for the authority.

Using license plate cameras in the toll lanes, authorities identify nonpaying vehicles and send letters to the owners, who then have 30 days to pay the toll or face a $100 penalty.

Additionally, the authority plans to reduce, but not eliminate, staff at many toll plazas along those highways.

The changes will eventually save the Turnpike Authority about $500,000 a year, Hurley said.

“This is just good business practice, and we do it throughout Florida’s turnpikes,” she said.

Still, the plan has left some toll collectors feeling uncertain about their futures and anxious about possible cutbacks in their hours.

“My life is changing right now,” said Olga Garcia, a Willow Avenue toll worker who has staffed tollbooths for almost four years. “My hours are changing.”

Hurley said workers had been notified that they would be offered alternative assignments to make up for lost hours.

She said the authority wouldn’t cut hours or lay off toll collectors.

“We wouldn’t do that to our employees,” she said.

The projected savings will occur through attrition, she said, as toll collectors resign or retire. Closing booths also eliminates the need to pay overtime to staff them, which often occurs because of personnel shortages, she said.

Hurley predicted motorists would adapt easily to the changes because many are commuters, who tend to be prepared for the tolls.

Still, not all drivers are convinced.

“I’m sure that if I didn’t have the change, I’d use surface roads,” said Nick Whittle of Seminole Heights, stopped at the Willow Avenue entrance to the Crosstown Expressway.

He handed Garcia a dollar bill.

She gave him a quarter back.

Staff writer Michael A. Mohammed can be reached at mmohammed@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3404.