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Friday Is Last Shift For New York Thruway Toll Workers

Toll collector Stephanie Kwarta at NYS Thruway Exit 23 on Friday
Lucas Willard
Toll collector Stephanie Kwarta at NYS Thruway Exit 23 on Friday

Overnight, the New York State Thruway will transition to a cashless tolling system. Friday was the last day of person-to-person toll collections. 

Today is the last day you’ll hear this on the New York State Thruway…

“You have a good day! Thank you.”

Credit Lucas Willard / WAMC
Exit 23 Plaza Manager Al Youngstein wears his old uniform on the last day of cash tolling on the New York State Thruway

As toll collectors spent their last day in the booth at Exit 23 in Albany, Plaza Manager Al Youngstein stood in his office looking at the memorabilia he’s collected over the last 40 years working for the Thruway. 

"It's a little messy right now..."

There are newspaper articles, maps, and letters dating back to when the New York State Thruway opened in 1954.

There’s also a collection of toll agency patches in a glass case, trades from workers across the country.

“My favorite, the Golden Gate Bridge. The guy delivered it…he delivered it personally!”

Youngstein even dressed the part today – wearing a black tie, badge, jacket with a fur collar, and cap – his old uniform from decades ago.

“I said I wonder if it still fits, it fit. So I said, you know what, I’m wearing it today.”

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced in his State of the State address in January 2018 that this day would come – a transition to cashless tolling, something many states have already done, including neighboring Massachusetts.

Youngstein knows that replacing the old toll plazas with modern license-plate reading technology is the way of the future.

“It’s time. I had a good run. A good agency…”

But hours away from the start of his retirement at age 65, he’s feeling nostalgic today.

“It’s going to be strange, but I’ve done this for 40 years. It’s a part of my life. It’s an emotional thing. It really is.”

There are 1,100 toll collectors within the New York State Thruway Authority. Of that number, about 200 are full-time. Authority Director of Media Relations Jennifer Givner says the state has offered assistance to all workers.

“We have offered in the last three years tuition reimbursement, so that they can get advanced degrees, different training, and different certifications. We’ve also offered CDL training – that’s commercial drivers’ license training – so that they can go over and work as a maintenance employee. We’ve also offered a variety of reimbursements for civil service exams. That way they can take other tests within the state and find other positions to move on to,” said Givner.

With the transition to cashless tolling promised before the end of 2020, the shift is a few weeks ahead of schedule. Though signs along the Thruway have announced a change would come in November, it wasn’t until this week that Friday night was confirmed as the start-date.

Givner says the new overhead tolling gantries will switch on around midnight.

“The whole system, all 58 tolling points, needs to switch over at the same exact time. It’s quite a complicated process but we’re ready. We’ve been training, we’ve been working towards this for a long time, so we’re ready to go tonight,” said Givner.

Toll workers across the state Thruway system plan to have a final radio call at the time of the change.

But there’s still a few hours left for Al Youngstein to jump back in the booth one last time.

“I’m not really allowed to collect, but I’m going to hand out some tickets later on just to get the feeling in,” said Youngstein.

Lucas Willard is a reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011.
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