SPRINGFIELD, Mass (WGGB) — New numbers indicate free toll rides for former MassPike employees are costing the state tens of thousands of dollars. The free rides are part policies left over from before the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority became MassDOT in 2009.
Previously, any Massachusetts Turnpike Authority employee was given a free Fast Lane pass to use at their will, and keep when they retired.
“It’s an anomaly,” MassDOT spokesman Michael Verseckes said. “It’s not a practice that we engage in any more.”
However, those who had the perk are grandfathered in. There’s over 400 current MassDOT workers who transferred from the defunct Turnpike Authority that enjoy free transponders they wouldn’t normally be given. 263 more retired employees enjoy the same.
“If that was part of the job, then that’s what they get,” James Holmes of Orange said. “That’s what they offered, you can’t take it back now.”
But they are being used. State records show MTA employees who transferred from MassDOT and the retirees tallied a combined 43,000 transactions between May 1st and October 31st of this year. That’s good for more than $69,000 in savings.
MassDOT says they have to enforce the laws that are on the books, but they still understand why some drivers might be frustrated.
“They are not huge a group but we certainly recognize the significance or the symbolism of it, and that being unfair to folks that everybody, if they go through a toll they have to pay a toll,” Verseckes said.
The Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation said in a statement “It is a clear abuse of the public trust, especially when the gas tax has just been raised.”
Locally, western Massachusetts tolls were hiked too.
“Everybody has to sacrifice a little bit and chip in and giving up a free toll is a small price to pay compared to someone who may really be struggling to pay that toll,” Michael Zdyrko of Orange said.
“For $70,000 it’s not a big part of our overall Massachusetts state government budget, but on a kind of micro level if we are looking at government spending and trying to cut waste $70,000 is wasteful in this situation,” Chris Sorenson of West Chesterfield said.
MassDOT says transponders are now only given out to employees who need them for work purposes. That includes, emergency vehicles, repair crews, and toll takers that need to cross busy toll plazas to reach appropriate parking spaces provided by MassDOT.