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Thruway cashless tolling set to begin this weekend

Jon Campbell
New York State Team
Traffic passes under a new toll gantry located at the Herkimer exit of the NYS Thruway. A new cashless tolling system will be in place by the End of 2020.

Update: The Thruway will switch over to its cashless tolling system overnight Friday into Saturday morning, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Thursday.

ALBANY – The days of human-staffed toll booths are about to come to an end on the Thruway, New York's 570-mile superhighway system.

The state Thruway Authority appears poised to switch over to its new cashless-tolling system as soon as this weekend, with toll collectors and toll plaza managers informed they will be laid off in the coming days. 

Toll collectors employed by the authority have been told their final day on the job will be Sunday, while toll managers will remain working through Wednesday.

The timing of the layoffs — which include about 200 full-time toll workers and 900 part-timers — suggest the Thruway is set to switch over to its new cashless-tolling system over the weekend, when ridership is lowest in the overnight hours. Things could change, however, with inclement weather or other unforeseen circumstances. 

The Thruway Authority, which oversees the state's toll highway system, has said the changeover to cashless tolling will happen this month but has not yet given an exact date.

Jennifer Givner, a spokesperson for the Thruway Authority, declined comment Wednesday.

No more staffed toll booths

Under the new tolling system, motorists will no longer have to stop at human-staffed tolling booths. Instead, they will pass under overhead gantries equipped with cameras and sensors that snap a photo of their license plate.

If the driver has E-ZPass, their toll is automatically deducted from their account. If they don't, the registered owner of the vehicle will receive a bill in the mail. 

Eventually, the toll booths will be ripped out. Until then, motorists will pass through them without stopping after the state switches over to cashless. 

The Thruway Authority had previously installed a cashless system at the Gov. Mario M. Cuomo Bridge in the Hudson Valley and the Grand Island bridges near Buffalo. Now, it will expand to the entire superhighway system. 

Motorists drive through the Newburgh toll plaza in Newburgh, NY on November 11, 2020.

In a letter to union members, CSEA Local 058 President Michael Osborne said the Thruway Authority had notified the union the final day for toll plaza managers would be this coming Wednesday.

The letter was originally sent in late September, but the final employment date has not changed since. The union represents managers in the toll division, while the Teamsters represent toll collectors whose final day is currently set for Sunday.

While workers have known the layoffs were coming for some time, "it has not made it any easier for our members in Tolls," Osborne wrote to his members.

"Each and every day our managers came to work and did their very best to 'keep the wheels on the bus,'" he wrote. "In great adversity during these trying times they stayed professional and did everything they could to keep the toll booths working and the money coming in."

Of the 200 full-time workers facing layoffs, about a third are eligible for retirement, according to the Thruway Authority.

" Also since (the cashless tolling project was announced in 2018), the Thruway Authority has offered impacted toll collection staff numerous career development and training opportunities, including tuition assistance, CDL certification and Civil Service Exams for placement in other positions within the Thruway and the state," Givner said in a prior statement.

More:E-ZPass will become more vital in New York: Here are helpful tips to know

More:Cashless tolling remains on track for Thruway despite pandemic

More:Cashless tolling construction begins on the state Thruway: How it will impact drivers

Jon Campbell is a New York state government reporter for the USA TODAY Network. He can be reached at JCAMPBELL1@Gannett.com or on Twitter at @JonCampbellGAN.

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