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Cash-Free Toll Roads Will Cost Jobs, Save Money

Toll booth operators and machine maintenance workers will lose jobs while the toll booth agency saves $13 million over five years.

The 54 machines used to assist drivers in cash toll road purchases are being removed. In May, Orange County toll roads will be cash-free. Credit Peter Schelden
The 54 machines used to assist drivers in cash toll road purchases are being removed. In May, Orange County toll roads will be cash-free. Credit Peter Schelden
Orange County's toll road agency expects to save $13.3 million in five years by cutting cash out of the tolling process. It will achieve those savings partly by eliminating 89 toll booth operator jobs and an unknown number of machine maintenance jobs.

The 54 machines used to accept cash are being removed in favor of a new electronic system with the brand name "Express Accounts." Read more about Express Accounts here.

The switch from cash tolls will affect the estimated 40,000 riders using cash rather than transponders daily on Orange County toll roads. That's about 16 percent of the roads' users, according to TCA estimates.

TCA CEO Neil Peterson says he expects drivers will like the change.

"We think this is going to be extremely popular," he said.

Some Patch readers expressed concern that going cash-free would discourage cash customers, particularly the elderly. That concerned TCA representatives, too, TCA spokeswoman Gwen Hennessey said. Outreach efforts to Orange County seniors over the last three or four months seem to suggest that's not the case, she said.

"We're not seeing it," she said. Hennessey said seniors were largely assuaged by the 48-hour grace period that allows toll customers to pay online without facing fines.

When riders are fined for failing to pay, the $50 violation can go toward a new FasTrak membership, Hennessey said.

TCA Director Todd Spitzer said it's all part of a societal shift away from cash.

"We are all going away from cash," he said. "We are really moving to a cashless society."

Cash toll vending machines have been a maintenance headache, Maffei said.

Toll road customers have tossed everything from cups of fingernail clippings to screws, nuts and Las Vegas gambling tokens into the cash machines.

Maffei said the machines frustrated customers.

"We had people crying," he said. "Others wanted to fight me."

Maffei's company will remain under contract with TCA by providing new electronic license plate scanning equipment and services. The 10-year, approximately $36.4 million contract includes system operation and maintenance, according to a previous TCA statement.

He said the change will not create any new jobs. The 54 machines once used to collect cash will be removed, along with the jobs of those paid to maintain each machine once every 10 days. As for jobs lost at TransCore due to the switch, "staffing level is still undetermined now," Maffei said.

While he hopes to preserve as many jobs as possible, "I'm not spending any more money than I have to," the manager said.

TCA Chairwoman Lisa Bartlett said the toll road authority has given advance notice to its contracted employees about the changes. She said the contractor is working with current employees to find new positions for them.

As for riders scared off by the change, Bartlett predicted a visit to the TCA website will bring them back to the toll roads.

"I think it will actually increase ridership," she said.

Orange County's toll roads will be completely cash-free this May.

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