I spent just short of five years as a toll collector on the western end of New York State. Ask me anything, but please don't pay me in pennies.
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Sure! I actually was offered snacks from cars with some frequency. Don't get me wrong, there are a ton of very decent people out there and as long as it was sealed up or I felt okay about how it looked, I usually took it. Probably the best random act of kindness I encountered was from an older lady who gave me a twenty for her toll. She told me that she didn't want any of her change back, and to let the next people go on her. The look on the next few drivers' faces was priceless. I enjoyed it too, because toll collectors rarely get to give good news! One guy missed out though because he was in a big rush and just dropped his money into my hands and sped off without a word. Never hurts to say hello...
It's been a blast. Everyone has had much more thoughtful and in-depth questions than I expected and it's been a pleasure answering them. I was hoping someone would mention license plates because I had a funny story to share. I was working at the smallest station in my section one day. There wasn't much surrounding the station but it had a knack of attracting some of the weirdest people you can imagine. I was working the exit side one day when a large white SUV pulled in carrying the largest four black women I've ever seen. Customized licensed plate read PUDDIN. I did the best I could to hold it together during the transaction. Also the guy with the GETATAN plate turned out to be a jerk. Shocking.
I'm sure we all picked up our fair share of germs from the job but nothing too severe. Some collectors even claimed that they healthier, or at least a little more resistant due to all the germs they were exposed to. I think the science on that one is a little shaky. Though, if we were ever exposed to anything questionable, we were required to deposit all the materials in a biohazard bag and get ourselves checked out at the hospital. Thankfully, this is a very rare occurrence and something I never had to go through.
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I actually can't speak to collectors here in New York City as I worked in the Western part of the state and they are part of a different agency. I took a look at the civil service listing in 2010, which I believe was the last time the test was offered, and the salary grade is listed as 'Equated to G-9.' I'm not too versed in that part of the job though, as I was a part-timer for the five years that I was there.
This might be my favorite question. I would absolutely count out every single penny. I always advised anyone paying with a substantial amount of change that I would need to count it all before they left. I would then proceed to make little penny stacks, ten at a time. When I reached 130 identical penny stacks, I would let you go. The thing about being in a box with people moving all around you is that motivation to move fast can be hard to find. The only reward for moving cars is more cars and cars are basically the bane of your existence. I never liked having a long line but it was often unavoidable and as long as there are other lanes available I never felt too bad. Except for the few poor souls directly behind the troublemaker. Now, I'm not sure what collectors on the Bridge have been advised to do in that kind of situation, but from my perspective I am responsible for all of the money that I (don't) take in and I have to answer for any discrepancy in my deposit. That being said, I had a lot of people drop a lot of change on me and drive off. In that situation, I would always try to grab a plate number and a vehicle description if they were short. But again, all of this might and probably diverges from what collectors on the Bridge do. Also, I'm slowly dying on the inside while all of this is happening.
We actually don't employ gates in our system so that wasn't a possibility but people did speed through our lanes with some regularity. Sometimes we got them to stop, sometimes we didn't. Nothing too exciting though, sorry to disappoint! I did once witness a (most likely) drunk driver stop, open her car door, and promptly drop from the seat to the pavement. Drunk drivers are scary.
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