Port Authority workers, retirees get free E-ZPass

August 11, 2008 3:47:36 PM PDT
Gov. Jon S. Corzine's office on Monday repeated calls for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to discontinue giving free E-ZPass tags to employees and retirees. "The governor thinks this is an inappropriate practice, that E-ZPass should be used for business purposes. This is something that should be corrected," said Corzine spokesman Jim Gardner.

Nearly 7,600 Port Authority employees and retirees have free E-ZPass tags for all trips across Hudson River and Staten Island crossings operated by the agency.

The perk was disclosed in The Sunday Star-Ledger of Newark, which reported that the benefit cost the Port Authority roughly $1 million over the last year.

"Use of a company's products for its employees is very standard. And the trips represent only a fraction of a percent of toll revenues," Port Authority spokesman Marc La Vorgna said in defending the practice, which he said has been negotiated into union contracts.

New York Gov. David Paterson, who along with Corzine appoints the Port Authority's board, said through a spokeswoman that the perks were a contractual issue.

"Gov. Paterson has every confidence the Port Authority will address this in a way that is fair to its employees and the taxpayers of New York and New Jersey," said Erin Duggan, a spokeswoman for the governor.

News of the practice comes at the same time the Metropolitan Transportation Authority is taking criticism for offering a similar benefit to nearly 3,000 employees and retirees, who have free use of E-ZPass tags on the MTA's seven bridges and two tunnels around New York City.

In addition, many New York State Thruway Authority employees and retirees are able to ride the Thruway for free under union contract provisions, said authority spokeswoman Sarah Kampf.

The Port Authority has been offering the free tags since it instituted E-ZPass in 1997. The Port Authority also allows 1,100 PATH employees to ride the rails for free.

New Jersey Turnpike Authority spokesman Joe Orlando couldn't understand the rationale for offering such a benefit. He noted that Turnpike Authority employees only get free use of their tags when they're on the job on the Turnpike, or the Garden State Parkway. They have to pay the authority back for any off-the-clock use of the tags.

"It's not our policy to allow it for personal use," Orlando said.

Other E-ZPass collecting agencies - including the South Jersey Transportation Authority, the Pennsylvania Turnpike Authority, and Illinois Tollway - have similar policies.

The Massachusetts Turnpike Authority doesn't give employees free rides when they aren't working, but less than 100 retirees get discounted rides on the turnpike, said authority spokesman Mac Daniel.

The E-ZPass network involves multiple toll-collecting agencies, and covers about half of the East Coast and part of the Midwest.

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