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Not so E-Z money? Mass. loses nearly $1 million in toll revenue

The state lost nearly $1 million by allowing employees, retirees and others to pass through tolls without paying, a report said.
The state lost nearly $1 million by allowing employees, retirees and others to pass through tolls without paying, a report said. Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff/File

The state has given up more than $985,000 in toll revenue from 2009 to 2015 because of perks that allowed state transportation department workers, retirees, and even employees from outside companies to drive toll-free on the state’s highways, according to a new report from the Office of the Inspector General.

For years, workers from the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority had been allowed to keep transponders and passes that allowed them to drive through toll plazas for free after retirement — a practice that some saw as controversial.

After the Massachusetts Department of Transportation was created by merging the Authority and other agencies in 2009, it allowed many employees and retirees to use the EZ-Pass transponders and cards.

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But the Inspector General found there was sometimes little oversight of the transponders: MassDOT couldn’t find or identify who owned about 85 of the transponders, according to the report. The report also discovered 117 toll transactions were made after the intended users had died.

The Globe first reported on the retirees’ perks in September. In response to the inquiries, officials said they would deactive hundreds of transponders and passes that were given to workers who had retired after the authority was merged with the department.

But the Inspector General’s report said the state transportation department should consider eliminating the nonrevenue transponders and cards for employees and retirees altogether.

“Nonrevenue transponders and MTA cards cost the state transportation revenue,” the report read. “The [Internal Special Audit Unit] found no business need for the devices or any collective bargaining agreement requiring the agency to provide these benefits.”

Jacquelyn Goddard, a spokeswoman for MassDOT, said in a statement Wednesday night, “Based on preliminary discussions with the Inspector General’s office last year, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation took action to quickly deactivate nearly 600 transponders or toll passes effective mid September, and established additional procedures and policies to ensure transparency going forward.”

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According to the report, 393 MassDOT employees have “nonrevenue transponders” on their personal cars, which cost the state $548,166 in lost toll revenue from November 1, 2009 to August 31, 2015. The report noted that those employees already have free access to toll roads with their state vehicles.

An additional 275 state transportation department retirees have the transponders, which cost the state $137,047.

Another $94,728 was forfeited because of transponders that went to workers for agencies or outside companies separate from the transportation department, including Bunker Hill Community College, Chelsea Soldier’s Home, and Gulf Oil Limited Partnership. When the inspector general started asking about those transponders, they were deactivated.

Another 774 employees and retirees had cards that allowed them to drive toll-free, which cost about $120,509 in foregone revenue. The report found that MassDOT had deactivated the cards that were distributed to about 600 of its retired employees, as well as 76 unaccounted for transponders.


Nicole Dungca can be reached at nicole.dungca@globe.com.