The Last Toll Collectors


By 2017, all nine tolled bridges and tunnels under the Metropolitan Transportation Authority had switched to cashless tolling. The bridge and tunnel officers who used to collect the tolls as part of their duties now focus on other things, including ensuring safety and security, responding to emergencies and managing traffic.

There are still toll collectors on some of the region’s busiest crossings — the George Washington Bridge and the Lincoln and Holland tunnels — but the agency that oversees them, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, has also been moving to cashless tolling. It has already switched over two of its Staten Island bridges and plans to shift the third later this year.

There are 158 toll collectors working for the Port Authority, down from 450 in 1997. For many, toll collecting was a steppingstone to other opportunities. They moved up to become security guards, operations supervisors and managers.

The New Jersey Turnpike Authority has not announced plans to phase out toll collectors, but the numbers are shrinking. There are 884 toll collectors on the New Jersey Turnpike and the Garden State Parkway, down from 1,680 in the 1990s.

Facing an uncertain future, some have already left the booth. Kevin Epps, 55, started as a toll collector on the Garden State Parkway in 1993, but moved to a highway maintenance job in 2002, as he saw more and more E-ZPass lanes. “I saw the change,” he said. “The security blanket was leaving. They — like everyone else — were going for the technology.”

Tolls, like taxes, were once thought to be constant, and the job of collecting them guaranteed for life. Though not physically demanding, the job can be hard mentally, toll workers say. They have to make change quickly while other drivers are waiting and honking. They memorize directions and exits to local airports and attractions. They learn to defuse confrontations with drivers who curse, yell and throw money at them.

Ms. Henderson said a man once got out of his car and stuck his head into her booth to complain that his E-ZPass was not working. “I jumped out of my seat,” she said. “Anybody can come up to you.”