MTA Expands Crackdown on Turnpike Toll Cheaters

Fri May 23, 2008 - Northeast Edition
Glen Johnson - ASSOCIATED PRESS



BOSTON (AP) The Massachusetts Turnpike Authority is stepping up the pressure on toll cheats.

Executive Director Alan LeBovidge said police have already gone after 700 people who no longer live in the North End and East Boston but continued to receive discounts reserved for residents of those neighborhoods.

They’ve also locked the gates on drivers who used to come on and off the Turnpike through entrances for police and maintenance vehicles. And they’re cracking down on limo drivers who use personal FastLane passes when they’re supposed to be using more costly commercial transponders.

“I don’t mind talking about it because we have enforcement on the way,’’ LeBovidge said during a news conference in the Statehouse.

LeBovidge couldn’t provide an overall estimate of lost revenues, but the system takes in about $300 million worth of toll annually.

The director said some toll cheating has been facilitated by shoddy management practices.

For example, North End and East Boston residents, who pay 40 cents instead of the $3 electronic toll collection fee to use the Sumner and Callahan tunnels, had to show proof of residency only once before receiving a permanent discount FastLane transponder. Now they have to provide proof annually.

While 11,200 people have done so successfully, the state has not only gotten rid of the initial 700 it targeted, but another 1,700 who could no longer prove residency.

LeBovidge said police also were targeting drivers who blow through FastLane collection points with expired license plates, in an effort to prevent officers from tracking them down for toll evasion.

Gov. Deval Patrick summoned the media May 9 to highlight what he said were positive developments in Turnpike operations since he became governor, Bernard Cohen became transportation secretary and LeBovidge took over the Turnpike.

Under prior administrations, the agency had become a patronage haven, continually raising tolls for a 138-mi. road that was supposed to have been paid off at various points between the 1950s and 1980s.

A shift began during the administration of Republican Mitt Romney. He tried to impose normal business practices before a July 2006 collapse of a Big Dig tunnel created the political opportunity for him to oust then-Chairman Matthew Amorello and wrest control of the agency.

The Democratic Patrick administration, in turn, gained control of the board in July 2007, when Cohen introduced his so-called Blueprint for Change to address leadership and management issues.

Since then, Patrick said, the Turnpike has cut its senior administrative staff by 25 percent, or six positions, saving $1 million annually. The independent agency also has for the first time cooperated with the state on bulk electricity purchases, saving $1.4 million for the Pike and up to $5 million for the state.

Meanwhile, worker and State Police overtime costs have been trimmed by $1.4 million compared with the same period last year.

“This is all good news and a good start,’’ the governor said.

Cohen said he would continue to review Turnpike staffing levels, while also completing an inventory of Turnpike real estate holdings with an eye toward making sales to generate revenues. In addition, the governor asked both Cohen and LeBovidge to work on expanding electronic toll collection.

“I’m sure these hallowed halls haven’t heard any positive statements about the Turnpike Authority in a long, long time,’’ LeBovidge said.