WWYD: The Rude Toll Collector

In this installment of “WWYD,” an encounter with a rude toll booth worker:

Part of the drive to my parents’ house is a toll road. The toll is $1.60, and I almost never have coins, so I will typically hand the toll collector my toll ticket and two dollar bills, and get change. So, a few months ago when I made this drive, I pulled up to the toll collector’s booth. I handed over my ticket and $2 to the toll collector, who took it without looking at me or pausing in her conversation with a colleague. I had my hand out to receive the change, and waited while she continued talking and fiddled around with the cash register. After a while, she noticed that I hadn’t driven off, turned to me, and said “What,” in a way that made it clear that I was wasting her time.

I said, “I’d like my change.”

She rolled her eyes, and said, “It’s 40 cents.”

“I’d still like it.”

She huffed, then gave it to me.

I was kind of flummoxed. I’ve driven that route hundreds of times, and never had an exchange remotely similar. After I drove away, my first reaction (kind of a people pleaser) was apologetic: sorry, I shouldn’t have bothered her for just $0.40 — I don’t carry coins because I tend to lose them without even noticing, and $0.40 one way or the other has absolutely no impact on my life. But then I got pissed — yes, I want my change, dammit, and you don’t get to make me feel bad for asking for money that belongs to me! And, finally, I concluded that trying to shame someone for calling you out for short-changing her is not the reaction of someone who made an honest mistake. I suspect I am not the only person she short-changed, even if I am the only one who said anything about it.

So, should I have insisted on receiving my change? Should I have reported her to someone? — M.

That toll person you encountered was really rude to you, and you have every right to be angry about it.

“New Jersey Turnpike Authority officials today announced that toll plaza employees will
receive annual training in customer service, one of a series of steps being taken toward the elimination of public complaints about rude toll collectors.”

That’s from a press release published not too long ago from the New Jersey Turnpike Authority after news organizations began reporting an unusually high number of bad experiences between drivers and toll employees.

Should you have insisted on receiving your change? Yes, it’s your money. You paid $2 for something that costs $1.60, and you should receive 40 cents in change. That’s just an everyday transaction and you shouldn’t receive guff for it.

Should you have reported her to someone? Sure! If you felt that strongly about it (and it seemed like you felt pretty strongly about it), because as you can see from the press release, people do send in reports — enough to get the big wigs to do something about it.

Can I tell you about some of the other crazy things people have reported? See this lede from Gothamist in 2010:

Toll collectors on the New Jersey Turnpike were the subject of 550 letters of complaint in 2008 and 2009, including one from a woman who was told she’d have to be cuffed and strip searched after getting in the wrong lane and another driver who was told to “get on the road and die” by an attendant after attempting to pay his toll with a $20. Numerous collectors allegedly preferred a silent attack: spitting on their fingers before handing back change.

If you see something, say something, as they say.

Email me your WWYD experiences to me with “WWYD” in the subject line. See previous installments.