Gov. Patrick plans to eliminate toll collectors, switch to electronic system

The state is advancing a plan to eliminate toll collectors and move to an entirely electronic system of tolling on the Massachusetts Turnpike and other toll roads, Governor Deval Patrick said today.

The all-electronic system, which could begin as early as 2015, would cost roughly $100 million to construct but would pay for itself within three years, while the state’s 410 full- and part-time toll collectors would need to retire or find other work.

“This isn’t about the toll takers. It’s about having as modern and efficient a transportation system as possible, and we will make as dignified and soft a landing for those people as possible,” Patrick told reporters this afternoon. “This is a direction we ought to move in. It’s a smart one, and I think that those who use the Pike are going to agree.”

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Patrick and Secretary of Transportation Richard A. Davey, speaking after a ribbon-cutting ceremony at Logan Airport for a refurbished JetBlue hangar, said they would have more details on the tolling plan in a few weeks. The Patrick administration has been considering all-electronic tolling for more than a year, Davey said.

The acknowledgment comes as the administration is refining a plan for addressing the state’s transportation finance crisis. That plan, due to the Legislature next month, could include new or higher taxes and tolls as well as efficiency measures such as all-electronic tolling. It also comes with the state in the midst of contract negotiations with the toll collectors.

“No timetable [for this],” Davey said. “We’ve been negotiating and talking to our counterparts in labor.”

Cyndi Roy, a spokeswoman for the transportation department, said the state is considering 2015 a target for eliminating manual toll collection. The state may avoid laying off toll collectors, reassigning some while relying largely on attrition through retirement, with potential buy-out incentives to encourage retirement, she said.

The plans were first reported today in the Boston Herald.