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NJ Turnpike Authority again considering privatizing toll collections

November 19, 2013

WOODBRIDGE — Privatizing cash toll collections is officially back on the table, after New Jersey Turnpike Authority officials said they plan to put out requests for proposals this week to take over the E-ZPass and cash toll collections in 2016.

The return of privatization comes as the authority is back at the negotiating table with the union representing toll collectors, seeking more contract concessions. Meanwhile, the authority’s board passed a $1.63 billion 2014 budget which will not hike tolls for the users of the Turnpike and the Garden State Parkway.

“We will hold the line on our toll rates,” said Veronique Hakim, executive director. “We will have a toll services RFP hitting the streets for electronic and cash toll collections. The (union) negotiations are separate issues.”

The current contract with Xerox, which runs the authority’s E-ZPass operations, expires on July 31, 2016, and putting out an RFP starts the procurement process, Hakim said. That proposal doesn’t include going to all electronic, cashless tolls on the Parkway, she said, which had been discussed as a future possibility when the last toll collectors contract was approved two years ago.

On April 29, 2011 the authority accepted a two-year contract with two toll collector unions, saving about $17.5 million a year over the life of the contract, which put off the prospect of privatizing toll collections.

Franceline Ehret, outgoing president of Local 194 of the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers, representing Turnpike toll collectors, said the authority has presented two deadlines this year for the union to reach a new contract, which they met, only to be presented with requests for more contract givebacks.

“It’s very extreme, it guts the entire contract,’ she said, of the offers. “There isn’t any serious intent to negotiate. The intent is to privatize.”

Hakim said the intent is to get the authority out of the manual toll collection and administration business. About 80 percent of drivers on the Turnpike and 77 percent using the Parkway pay with E-ZPass, she said.

“The bulk (of our business) is electronic tolls,” Hakim said. “At some point we knew we would need to phase in a private contractor and we had this hard date of July 31, 2016.”

While figures won’t be know until the authority receives privatization proposals, she said savings could be in the millions of dollars.

Union officials were skeptical, citing cost, performance and transparency issues with privatization of the state’s halfway houses and with the state hiring AshBritt to remove debris from areas devastated by superstorm Sandy.

“Privatization isn’t the great salvation...everyone reads about the insider deals,” said Kevin McCarthy, incoming Local 194 president. “Ultimately, it will cost the public money.”

This is a developing story; visit APP.com for updates.

http://www.mycentraljersey.com/article/20131119/NJNEWS/311190017/