History of Toll Collector Career
Toll collectors receive payments from private motorists and commercial drivers for the use of highways, tunnels, bridges, or ferries. Throughout history, the upkeep and maintenance of roads around the world usually fell to the reigning powers. However, in 1663, three counties in England obtained authority to levy tolls on users to pay for the improvement of a major road linking York and London. By the 18th century, all major roads in Great Britain incorporated tolls, or turnpike trusts, to pay for maintenance.
In 1785, Virginia built a turnpike and other states quickly followed suit. The very first hard-surfaced road of any great length in the United States was the Lancaster Turnpike, completed in 1794. Almost 150 years later, the first successful U.S. toll road for all types of motor vehicles was built in that same state.
The United States contains more than 3.9 million miles of paved and unpaved streets, roads, and highways. With the wear and tear brought on by harsh weather conditions and constant use, these road surfaces need to be repaired frequently. The construction and repair of streets and highways are funded primarily by state gasoline taxes, vehicle registrations, and other operating fees. However, some highway, bridge, and other transportation improvements are paid for by individual user fees known as tolls. The fees for using turnpikes and toll roads usually depend on the distance a motorist travels. Because their extra weight puts more strain on pavements and necessitates more frequent road repair, trucks, trailers, and other heavy vehicles pay more for using these roads than passenger cars.
The Job of Toll Collectors
Toll collectors have two main job responsibilities: accepting and dispensing money and providing personal service and information to motorists. Primarily, toll collectors act as cashiers, collecting revenue from motorists and truck drivers who use certain roads, tunnels, bridges, or auto ferries. They accept toll and fare tickets that drivers may have previously purchased or received. They check that the drivers have given them the proper amount and return correct change when necessary.
When handling money, toll collectors begin with a change bank containing bills and coins so they can make change for motorists who lack the exact change. Toll collectors organize this money by denomination, so they are able to make change quickly and accurately, especially during rush-hour traffic. At the end of their shift, they calculate the amount of revenue received for the day by subtracting the original amount in the change bank from the total amount of money now in the till. Toll collectors also prepare cash reports, commuter ticket reports, and deposit slips that report the day’s tallies. Many toll collectors become skilled at spotting counterfeit currency immediately.
In addition to their cash-handling duties, toll collectors have a wide range of administrative duties that provide service to motorists and keep the toll plaza operating at peak efficiency. Drivers may ask for directions, maps, or an estimate of the distance to the nearest rest stop or service station. Toll collectors are sometimes the only human link on a particularly long stretch of highway, so they may need to lend assistance in certain emergencies or contact police or ambulance support. They may also notify their supervisors or the highway commission concerning hazardous roads, weather conditions, or vehicles in distress.
Toll collectors also may be responsible for filling out traffic reports and inspecting the toll plaza facility to make sure that the area is free of litter and that toll gates and automatic lanes are working properly. Sometimes toll collectors handle supervisory tasks such as monitoring automatic and nonrevenue lanes, relieving fellow employees for lunch or coffee breaks, or completing violation reports. They are often in contact with state police patrols to watch for drivers who have sped through the toll gate without paying.
In many situations, commercial trucks have to pay more when they are hauling larger loads. Toll collectors are able to classify these vehicles according to their size and calculate the proper toll rates. These workers also have to be aware of and enforce the safety regulations governing their area. Tanker trucks carrying flammable cargoes, for example, are usually barred from publicly used tunnels. Toll operators are responsible for the safety of everyone on the road and must enforce all regulations impartially. Toll collectors who operate ferries may direct the vehicles that are boarding and monitor the capacity of the ferry, as well as collect fares.
Toll Collector Career Requirements
A high school diploma is required before you can work as a toll collector. Recommended high school courses include mathematics, speech, and English classes. These will help develop the communication skills—listening as well as speaking—that are important in the job of toll collecting.
Toll collectors may have to pass a civil service exam to test their skills and aptitude for the job. When hired, they receive on-the-job training; no formal postsecondary education is required.
Toll collectors are usually required to be at least 18 years of age, with generally good health and reasonable stamina and endurance. You must have good eyesight and hearing to determine a vehicle’s class (and applicable toll), as well as to hear motorists’ requests or supervisory instructions in the midst of heavy traffic noise. Manual dexterity in handling and organizing money and fare tickets, as well as giving change, is also important. Lost or confused motorists rely on the guidance of toll collectors, who should maintain a considerate and helpful attitude. You should also be perceptive and have professional work habits. As with all jobs, honesty is a requirement.
If you are interested in toll collecting, contact state and local departments of transportation as well as state highway departments. School counselors may have additional information on such careers or related agencies to contact about the nature of the work and the applicable job requirements. They may also be able to arrange a talk by an experienced toll collector or supervisor. Many such professionals will be more than happy to share their experiences and detail the everyday duties of those involved in the profession.
Virtually all toll collectors work for a government transport agency, be it local, state, or federal. State departments of transportation employ most toll collectors.
Write to your state and local departments of transportation, highway agencies, or civil service organizations for information on education requirements, job prerequisites, and application materials. In those states that require qualification testing, potential applicants should also request information on test dates and preparation materials.
Advancement for toll collectors may take the form of a promotion from part-time to full-time employment, or from the late evening shift to daytime work. Collectors may also be promoted to supervisory or operations positions, with a corresponding increase in salary and benefits. Most promotions carry additional responsibilities that require further training. While some training may take place on the job, certain management topics are best learned from an accredited college or training program. Workers who aspire to higher positions may wish to take courses in advance so they will be ready when openings occur. It is important to note that there are few managerial positions compared to the vast number of toll collectors employed—competition for advanced jobs is intense.
Wages for full-time toll collectors vary with the area and state where the collector is employed. Salaries begin at approximately $17,000 per year and can increase to as high as $40,000 with additional experience and a good employment record. Managerial responsibilities also increase compensation. Part-time employees are usually paid by the hour and may begin at the minimum wage ($5.15 an hour). Toll collectors who are members of a union generally earn more than those who are not. Collectors who work the later shifts may also earn more, and most employees earn time-and-a-half or double time for overtime or holiday work.
Toll collectors receive vacation time calculated on the number of hours worked in conjunction with their years of employment. Those workers with up to five years of service may receive 80 hours of vacation. This scale can increase to 136 hours of vacation for seasoned workers with nine to 14 years of employment. Benefit packages usually include health and dental insurance coverage for employees and their families, as well as pension and retirement plans. Toll workers often enjoy the generous employee benefits of working in government service.
Toll collectors may either stand or sit on stools in the booths they occupy. Toll collectors are exposed to all types of weather, including hail, sleet, snow, or extreme heat or cold, but booths usually are equipped with space heaters and sliding doors to keep out dampness and cold. Collectors are also exposed to exhaust and other potentially toxic fumes. (Those with respiratory difficulties need to be especially aware of this condition.) Toll collectors sometimes have to interact with stressed, impatient, or irate motorists and must be able to deflect potentially heated situations while maintaining a peak level of service and efficiency. While fulltime toll collectors usually work an eight-hour shift, they may have to work at different times of the day, since many tollbooths need to be staffed around the clock.
Most tollbooth complexes have restroom and shower facilities for their employees. Some may have kitchens and break rooms as well. Some workers have assigned lockers or share lockers with workers on different shifts. Usually the employee facilities are better when no oasis or service stations are adjacent to the toll plaza. Toll stations have communications equipment so that they can notify state police or the state department of transportation of any emergencies, hazardous conditions, or violations of the law.
Toll Collector Career Outlook
Employment opportunities for toll collectors are in decline. Electronic toll collection (ETC) is beginning to have an effect on the employment of toll collectors. The technology includes systems that identify and classify vehicles as well as capture video images of license plates that do not have a valid tag. Computerized toll-collecting benefits truck drivers and commuters who frequent the toll roads, but states that have implemented ETC have put a freeze on hiring additional toll collectors or replacing toll collectors who retire or move into other jobs. Still, a small number of toll collectors will be needed to collect tolls from drivers who do not participate in ETC. Toll collectors may be retrained to monitor and maintain this emerging technology.