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Think before trading jobs for efficiency

March 13, 2019 12:51 am

For years, “cashless” has been a byword for retailers, banks, credit card companies and supermarkets, just to name a few. Soon, we might add the New York State Thruway to that list.

So as Greene County lawmakers review Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s plans to convert the Thruway to cashless tolling, they, along with other lawmakers in the state, would be well-advised that they are ultimately weighing speed against jobs.

Cuomo announced the project in his 2018 State of the State address. Under the proposal, in place of tollbooths, drivers will pass under gantries equipped with special sensors. Vehicles equipped with EZ-Pass will be automatically charged. Vehicles without EZ-pass will have images of their licenses plates taken and a bill will be mailed to the registered owner of the vehicle.

New Baltimore has already begun to prepare for the transition, Town Supervisor Jeff Russo said this week.

“We have been gearing up for that event since the first of the year,” he said. Town Clerk Barbara Finke made arrangements for New Baltimore to sell EZ-passes.”

But this issue is about more than convenience.

Coxsackie Town Supervisor Richard Hanse said he hopes the new system will not result in the loss of jobs. He called on the New York State Thruway Authority to develop a retraining program to help toll collectors who would lose their jobs train for new ones.

“I hope the authority will retrain those who would otherwise lose their jobs,” he said. “I would hate to see a loss of jobs, even in the name of efficiency.”

And if jobs are lost, will the cost of the tolls go down to reflect the authority’s considerable salary and benefit savings? In that case, the toll costs should certainly decrease.

State Thruway Authority Deputy Director of Communications Jonathan Dougherty sees many advantages to cashless tolls.

“The No. 1 benefit is no stopping,” he said. “It’s free-flowing traffic. Cashless tolling will be beneficial to the entire state.”

Approximately 265 million motorists travel the 570-mile highway each year.

The governor sees the transition in terms of an economic boost.

“Cashless tolling is helping transform our state’s transportation infrastructure and creating a state-of-the-art, reliable highway system that meets the needs of 21st-century commuters,” Cuomo said in December. “These new cashless barriers will ease congestion for millions of motorists each year and help strengthen the region’s economy by increasing access to local communities.”

State Thruway Authority Executive Director Matthew J. Driscoll voiced his support in February, adding an environmental angle.

“Under the leadership of Governor Cuomo, the Thruway Authority continues its historic and monumental transition to cashless tolling systemwide by the end of 2020,” Driscoll said. “At the completion of this project, the more than 268 million motorists that rely on the Thruway each year will never again have to stop and wait to pay at a tollbooth, making our interchanges and former toll barriers safer by easing congestion and greener by lowering emissions.”

The seven converted barriers — Gov. Mario M. Cuomo Bridge, North and South Grand Isle Bridges, Harriman Toll Barrier, Yonkers Toll Barrier, Spring Valley Toll Barrier and New Rochelle — are projected to save drivers 200 minutes annually, according to the Authority.

Two-hundred minutes — 3 hours and 20 minutes — annually translates to about four minutes a day. To their credit, Greene County lawmakers are taking this decision seriously. They should understand the human impact of such a transition and emphasize their goal of job creation. We live in an age when speed and efficiency are valued over skill and patience, but we hope our local lawmakers think hard before they trade jobs for speed.