Editorial: Tollway's refusal to offer change at ramps is more than pocket change to some

  • Drivers use one of the new automatic toll collection machines at an on-ramp to the Jane Addams Tollway.

      Drivers use one of the new automatic toll collection machines at an on-ramp to the Jane Addams Tollway. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

 
The Daily Herald Editorial Board
Posted1/7/2020 5:51 PM

Two months ago, transportation writer Marni Pyke wrote about how 80 of the Illinois Tollway's new touch screen toll machines do not give change.

These machines are just like all of the others that were purchased for about $76,000 each to allow non-I-Pass users to use cash or credit cards, but these 80 machines were not programmed to give users change for bills or coins.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Why?

The tollway's official line is that these machines are at locations that once had the old-fashioned toll baskets and no one ever had an expectation that change for their dollar would spew forth from the maw of one of those toll baskets.

That's a weak rationalization.

As we said then, not giving change when technology allows you to do so might not be a huge deal to many of us, but it's still plain wrong.

Pyke provided an update on the situation in her column Monday.

She requested through the Freedom of Information Act the amount of money collected by the tollway in 2019 as a result of overpayments at those no-change-given automated machines.

The answer: $152,000.

To be sure, that's a darn sight better than it has been in recent years. In 2017, before the new machines were installed, a spokesman said, the tollway raked in at least $400,000 more than expected in cash transactions involving drivers who used the coin baskets.

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Part of the progress stems from the addition of credit card swipes at these toll gates. That this is progress is undeniable. But the continued adherence to a policy of dispensing change at 30 mainline machines, while not doing so at ramp machines -- just because people are used to it -- clearly points to a money grab.

Asked directly about this inconsistency in policy, tollway spokesman Dan Rozek did not answer the question directly.

"With nearly a billion transactions a year, our customers now have more ways than ever to pay their exact toll amount, and they're taking advantage, as seen by the continual decline in cash revenue," he said.

Those options include credit, online and, as of recently, Google, Android and Apple Pay.

With nearly a billion tolls being paid each year in the tollway system, $152,000 in overpayments might seem like pocket change to those in charge.

But think for a moment about whom this likely affects the most: those who don't have a credit card, who then can't subscribe to I-PASS or use the credit card function on the machines, people who by virtue of not using I-PASS already are paying double what I-PASS users are.

Hint: They're not all out-of-staters. Some are people who can least afford to overpay for anything.

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