1 WWYD: The Rude Toll Collector | The Billfold

WWYD: The Rude Toll Collector

In this installment of “WWYD,” an encounter with a rude toll booth worker:

Part of the drive to my parents’ house is a toll road. The toll is $1.60, and I almost never have coins, so I will typically hand the toll collector my toll ticket and two dollar bills, and get change. So, a few months ago when I made this drive, I pulled up to the toll collector’s booth. I handed over my ticket and $2 to the toll collector, who took it without looking at me or pausing in her conversation with a colleague. I had my hand out to receive the change, and waited while she continued talking and fiddled around with the cash register. After a while, she noticed that I hadn’t driven off, turned to me, and said “What,” in a way that made it clear that I was wasting her time.

I said, “I’d like my change.”

She rolled her eyes, and said, “It’s 40 cents.”

“I’d still like it.”

She huffed, then gave it to me.

I was kind of flummoxed. I’ve driven that route hundreds of times, and never had an exchange remotely similar. After I drove away, my first reaction (kind of a people pleaser) was apologetic: sorry, I shouldn’t have bothered her for just $0.40 – I don’t carry coins because I tend to lose them without even noticing, and $0.40 one way or the other has absolutely no impact on my life. But then I got pissed – yes, I want my change, dammit, and you don’t get to make me feel bad for asking for money that belongs to me! And, finally, I concluded that trying to shame someone for calling you out for short-changing her is not the reaction of someone who made an honest mistake. I suspect I am not the only person she short-changed, even if I am the only one who said anything about it.

So, should I have insisted on receiving my change? Should I have reported her to someone? — M.

That toll person you encountered was really rude to you, and you have every right to be angry about it.

“New Jersey Turnpike Authority officials today announced that toll plaza employees will
receive annual training in customer service, one of a series of steps being taken toward the elimination of public complaints about rude toll collectors.”

That’s from a press release published not too long ago from the New Jersey Turnpike Authority after news organizations began reporting an unusually high number of bad experiences between drivers and toll employees.

Should you have insisted on receiving your change? Yes, it’s your money. You paid $2 for something that costs $1.60, and you should receive 40 cents in change. That’s just an everyday transaction and you shouldn’t receive guff for it.

Should you have reported her to someone? Sure! If you felt that strongly about it (and it seemed like you felt pretty strongly about it), because as you can see from the press release, people do send in reports—enough to get the big wigs to do something about it.

Can I tell you about some of the other crazy things people have reported? See this lede from Gothamist in 2010:

Toll collectors on the New Jersey Turnpike were the subject of 550 letters of complaint in 2008 and 2009, including one from a woman who was told she’d have to be cuffed and strip searched after getting in the wrong lane and another driver who was told to “get on the road and die” by an attendant after attempting to pay his toll with a $20. Numerous collectors allegedly preferred a silent attack: spitting on their fingers before handing back change.

If you see something, say something, as they say.


Email me your WWYD experiences to me with “WWYD” in the subject line. See previous installments.



16 Comments / Post A Comment

It kinda makes me wonder if this particular toll booth operator had cooked up a plan to skim that 40 cents of change off of as many drivers as possible and pocket it. If 100 drivers pass through who don’t take their change, that’s 40 bucks; not too shabby!

Slutface (#53)

@werewolfbarmitzvah Exactly what I was coming here to say!

faustbanana (#2,376)

@werewolfbarmitzvah Totally! She had herself a nice Office Space-style racket going on. Even if she didn’t, she was majorly rude and you were right to ask for your change.

Rest assured if you handed her $1.20 and said you were “only” short 40 cents, you would not have been merrily on your way.

In general, I try not to complain about workers with crappy jobs because lots of people are rude to them and who knows what his or her previous customer was like. BUT! If you’re correct and her mistake wasn’t a mistake but intentional, and she does it once a day all year, that’s more than $200, assuming a five-day workweek. And if she really is intentionally short-changing drivers, I bet it’s not just once a day. I don’t think I believe that’s happening, it’s pretty conspiracy-theorish to me, but who knows!

selenana (#673)

@swampette@twitter I also try to cut people slack who have shitty jobs, but I draw the line at folks being outright rude with no cause. People don’t owe me a smile or to be especially nice when I go somewhere, but I don’t deserve outright hostility for simply patronizing a restaurant, shop, or tollbooth.

MuffyStJohn (#280)

@swampette@twitter Let’s also remember that toll booth operators are public employees who get better pay and benefits than they would receive in a comparable customer service position in the private sector. They are paid handsomely for being bored all day.

(Not that there’s anything wrong with being paid a living wage or receiving benefits, it’s just that if I know you have a pension plan and you’re earning roughly the same hourly wage as me, and you still try to steal my $.40, I am less likely to cut you slack.)

julnyes (#2,807)

Yes you were completely correct in asking for your change and I would not be surprised at all if the operator was regularly short-changing people.

josefinastrummer (#1,850)

You were totally in the right. Like Swampette above, I try to give toll booth collectors a break because it’s a shitty job and I’ve heard some awful stories of how they are treated by drivers, but that doesn’t matter here. That woman owed you money. I don’t care if it was 10 cents, it was yours! Unless the sign over the toll says “Exact Change” you can pay how you want and get your change.

EvanDeSimone (#2,101)

This whole situation is very bizarre. Do people ever actually just say “Keep the change” when paying a toll? She was definitely trying to short change you and relying on your hurry or politeness to get away with it.

On a side-note, someone mentioned before they give people slack for bad behavior when they’re working in crappy jobs. That’s completely fair, however while toll collecting is not my idea of a super fun job it’s actually pretty well compensated. There was a big furor in New Jersey a few years ago after the media published information on the salaries and pensions of NJ Transit toll workers. I don’t have the article on hand but some of them were earning upwards of 100k. I’m making any judgements about that but I think it bears mentioning that this isn’t the public equivalent of a fast-food gig.

josefinastrummer (#1,850)

@EvanDeSimone I agree toll booth workers, like garbage collectors, get paid well, but I wonder if it’s worth it. It’s dangerous, it’s dirty, and it’s not for the faint at heart. The article I read a few years ago mentioned that sometimes people pay their toll by putting the money in their mouth and spitting it at the toll booth worker. Would you take that money? They said a lot of other things that I can’t remember and don’t want to imagine but you are essentially risking your life over someone paying you a dollar. So I agree that this is not a fast food gig; I think it’s worse.

lizard (#2,615)

what a bitch! I would definitely report her!

That’s a pretty ballsy reaction on her part if she is intentionally trying to shaft people out of their change because it would make me want to report her.

Think about it this way: if you get the $0.40 and throw it in a cup holder (like pretty much people do) and take that route 4x, then the 5th ride through is basically just scooping out the change and handing it over. Practically free!

Megano! (#124)

I would have made her give it back AND report it. WTF?

Cup of T (#2,533)

I have more than once made the drive out of Chicago, through Indiana and on to Wisconsin on a road that has approx. 1000 tolls. No joke, the toll booth operators get friendlier and friendlier the farther you get from the city- from grunting and almost *throwing* your change at you to–I kid you not–taking the time to have a conversation about where to get the best cheese curds (guess which state this was in?)

selyse (#497)

I once saw one of the hottest dudes I’ve ever seen in real life working in a toll booth on the NJ Turnpike. He was also really nice! It was a pretty shocking experience, overall.

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