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The History of Toll Collection on the NYS Thruway

The conversion to cashless tolling in November 2020 marks the end of an era for the Thruway Authority with the conclusion of cash toll collection at toll booths along the Thruway after 66 years of operation.

Since the first tolls were collected on the Thruway in June 1954, toll collectors have been the backbone of the organization, assisting customers and collecting cash tolls along the superhighway. From 1951, when the first toll collector was hired to work at the Grand Island Bridge toll booth, through 2020, more than 12,000 men and women have served as toll collectors, working 24 hours a day, 7 days a week in all weather conditions.

While cash collection technology inside the toll booths changed over the years, the high level of customer service toll collectors provided to motorists on the Thruway remained the same, and they were a vital component to the successful operation of the New York State Thruway Authority.

Offering a friendly smile and greeting, toll collectors were the face customers saw when entering the Thruway, and the last as they finished their journey on the system. They provided customers not only with a toll ticket and change for their tolls, but directions, local recommendations, answers to questions and other assistance.  

Thruway Authority Executive Director Matthew J. Driscoll said, “The Thruway Authority enters a new and modern era of transportation with the conversion to cashless tolling, but we will never forget the commitment of our toll collection staff and the impact they made on hundreds of millions of motorists over the decades. In 1954 when the Thruway first opened, 140  toll collectors took the first cash collection and since then, thousands of men and women have served in the role and contributed to our mission.  We honor all of the toll collectors who have served with the Thruway Authority over the years for their hard work and dedication. Your legacy will always be a critical part of our history.”

Thruway Authority Vice Chairman of the Board of Directors and former Thruway Authority Executive Director (2015-2016) Robert L. Megna said, “As the Thruway Authority moves full speed ahead to modernize toll collection by switching to cashless tolling, it’s important to recognize and appreciate the hard-work and service of the toll collection staff over the decades. These men and women may be moving forward onto a new career path or retiring, but they can be proud to be a part of history and they will take all the experience and professionalism they used to assist millions of customers with them. Thank you for your service.”

Former Thruway Authority Executive Director Stephen Morgan (1995-1996) said, “During my career at the Thruway Authority, I worked closely with the hard-working men and women on the toll collection staff. Every day, in all weather conditions, toll collectors performed countless services for patrons with courtesy and dedication. They were on the front lines of transportation and we appreciate their service and contribution to making the Thruway what it is today. Thank you.”

1940s 1950s 1960s 1970s 1980s 1990s 2000s 2010s 2020



  • 1940s 

    1944 - ESTABLISHING THE AUTHORITY

    Governor Thomas E. Dewey authorized the Department of Public Works to proceed with construction of the New York State Thruway, a superhighway from Buffalo to New York City.

  • 1946 - GROUND BREAKING

    Ground is broken at Liverpool by Governor Dewey for the first section of the Thruway. Over the next few years, several segments opened to traffic on a toll-free basis.

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  • 1950s 

    JOINING THE TEAM

    In May 1953, a Civil Service exam was held to establish a list of candidates for positions as Thruway toll collectors. One hundred and forty toll collectors, including four women, were hired and reported for a two-week training course in Syracuse in June 1954.

    After the training course, the toll collectors and supervisors were assigned to the toll stations between Lowell and Rochester, the first portion of the Thruway that was to open.

    The recruitment, training and selection process continued for approximately 30 toll collectors for the opening on August 26 of the Rochester-Buffalo section, and again prior to October 26 for approximately 180 toll collectors for assignment to the Newburgh-Utica section.

    Male toll collectors wore blue uniforms and numbered badges, with caps, short jackets and trousers. Women wore caps, blouse-style jackets and skirts, and numbered badges.

  • 1954 - THE GRAND OPENING


    (Governor Dewey cuts the ribbon at the Canastota interchange on June 24, 1954)

    On June 24, 1954, the first toll section of the Thruway opened, a 115-mile stretch of I-90 between Rochester and Lowell.

    During the ceremonies that morning, Governor Thomas E. Dewey attended ribbon cuttings and celebrations along the route to Rochester at Exit 46.

    At 13 toll booths along the route, cars were lined up for hours to be the first on the Thruway.
    At 10 p.m.  that night, in the Powers hotel in Rochester, Governor Dewey pushed a button and buzzers sounded at every toll booth between West Henrietta and Lowell. Every toll collector heard the Governor’s voice via Thruway communications, as he proclaimed the road open to traffic. Minutes later, the first Thruway tolls were collected.

    Toll supervisor Jim Murphy was given the first toll by a motorist at 10:01pm.


  • (Toll ticket in 1954)

  • (Toll booth in 1954)


    (Toll Equipment in 1954)
  • 1955

    During its first year of operation, there were a total of 8,700,000 trips made by motorists with mileage totaling 522,000,000.

    Toll collection staff continued to increase yearly to accommodate the heavy traffic and newly opened sections of the Thruway.

  • VITAL ROLES

    The first toll collector was hired in December 1951 for the Grand Island Bridge toll booth. From 1951-2020, more than 12,000 men and women served with the Thruway Authority.

    Along with cash collection, toll collectors were recognized for other vital roles on the job.

    Motorists inquired about directions, weather conditions or traffic incidents, all of which the toll collectors stayed informed about to pass along information to travelers.

    During the 66 years of toll collection, toll collectors also assisted New York State Police Troop T in reporting suspicious vehicles, identifying wanted individuals or vehicles, reporting disabled vehicles, and contacting emergency services.

  • TAPPAN ZEE BRIDGE

    In December 1951, the Authority identifies a crossing site between South Nyack and Tarrytown, prompting public protest amid concern the bridge would negatively impact the riverfront communities.

    In 1952, although delayed due to steel shortages during the Korean War, construction begins on the new bridge.

  • THE GRAND OPENING

    On December 15, 1955, Governor Averell Harriman is joined by legendary actress and Rockland County resident Helen Hayes and the mayors of Nyack, South Nyack, Suffern, and Tarrytown for the opening of the Tappan Zee Bridge. The bridge carries Interstate 87/287 across the river, virtually completing the Buffalo-to-Bronx mainline. At 3.1 miles long, the Tappan Zee is the longest bridge in New York. The toll to travel over the Tappan Zee Bridge in 1955 was 50 cents.

  • 1957-1958

    On December 14, 1957, the final 29-mile link in the Erie Section was opened to traffic, extending from the Silver Creek Interchange to join the Thruway’s Mainline in Buffalo. This established an unbroken Thruway route of 496 miles from New York City to the Pennsylvania state line and made the Thruway the longest toll highway in the world. Total Thruway mileage in operation was increased to 506 miles.

    Automatic toll collection equipment, or exact change coin drops, were installed at the Yonkers toll barrier in 1957, and in 1958 were installed at the New Rochelle toll barrier and additional locations in the Buffalo area. Instead of a toll collector, a machine with a hopper was located at the toll booth. Motorists with exact change of the toll deposited the coins hopper and then proceeded through when the light turned green. Exact change coin drops were eventually added to the additional fixed toll barriers on the Thruway.

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  • 1960s 

    TRAVELING THE THRUWAY

    During the 1960s, travel on the Thruway set records, with millions of motorists now utilizing the new superhighway.

  • 1964

    On September 1, 1964, a legislative act took effect naming the Thruway “The Governor Thomas E. Dewey Thruway,” paying tribute to the former Governor’s leadership in creating the superhighway. Signs welcoming motorists to the Dewey Thruway were erected at eight major entrances to the Thruway.

  • 1965

    In 1965, the uniforms worn by toll collectors were updated. Women toll collectors were issued a completely redesigned uniform, and men’s jackets were replaced by a coat. Neckties, belts and tie claps were also issued to men.

    In 1968, women toll collectors were approved to wear uniform slacks.


    (New uniforms in 1965 for women toll collectors)
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  • 1970s 

    Women's Uniforms


    (Women’s uniforms in 1954 and 1970)


    (Women’s uniforms in 1970)
  • At the start of the new decade, vehicles driving the Thruway exceeded four billion miles for the first time. Vehicles traveled 4,028,455,119 miles in 1970.  Traffic continued to set records in the following years.

    To relieve congestion at the Tappan Zee Bridge, the Thruway Authority removed the westbound tollbooths in 1970 and began collecting round-trip tolls in the eastbound direction. The toll on the Tappan Zee Bridge was 50 cents each way, and was changed to one dollar eastbound only.


    (Toll booths removed northbound at the Tappan Zee Bridge, 1970)
  • 1974

    Spring Valley toll barrier installs exact change coin drops at the toll booths.

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  • 1980s 

    1984

    In 1984, miles traveled on the Thruway surpassed the landmark of 100 billion.

    Four additional toll lanes were constructed at the New Rochelle Toll Barrier, the busiest on the system, to provide better service for motorists during peak travel times.

  • 1989

    Automated toll ticket machines were installed at seven locations on the Thruway. Cars with nothing in tow can use the machines to receive a toll ticket, instead of receiving one from a toll collector.

    Toll collection staff increased from 1,169 in 1980 to 1,457 in 1990.


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  • 1990s 

    1991

    Thruway Authority assumed operation of the 11-mile Cross Westchester Expressway (I-287), expanding Thruway system to 570 miles.

    Toll collection staff increased from 1,457 in 1990 to 1,614 in 2000.



  • (Toll collector helping a customer with directions)
  • NEW TECHNOLOGY

    In 1993, the Thruway Authority began implementing new technology at the toll plazas, with the introduction of E-ZPass. E-ZPass was first installed at the fixed toll barriers in the Hudson Valley and the Tappan Zee Bridge, the Grand Island Bridges and by 1997 was fully operationally on the entire Thruway system.


    For the first time in the history of the Thruway, the toll ticket was updated to be printed on-demand and customized for the vehicle to which it is issued.

  • 1997

    In 1997, tolls for passenger cars were eliminated at the Spring Valley toll plaza.


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  • 2000s 

    NEW ERA

    The 2000s began with a new era of technology for travelers on the Thruway, with dedicated E-ZPass lanes at Thruway toll plazas, the creation of the Thruway Authority’s website, and new methods to receive traffic information such as the Thruway Highway Advisory Radio and TRANSalerts, and conveniences such as free Wi-Fi at the 27 service areas. Closed Circuit Television System (CCTV) images were also made available for real-time traffic reporting programs.

    From 2001-2003, the exact change coin drops located at the fixed toll barriers were all removed and converted to E-ZPass lanes.

    In 2010, 1,430 toll collectors were on staff.


  • (Modern toll ticket - Exit 24)
  • 2009

    After years of study, a replacement is determined to be more cost-effective than maintaining and repairing the Tappan Zee Bridge. 

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  • 2010s 

    2011

    Under the leadership of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo, a new twin-span crossing is chosen to replace the Tappan Zee Bridge. Construction begins on the new structure in 2011.


    (Rendering of the future Gov. Mario M. Cuomo Bridge)


    (Tappan Zee Bridge in 2013)

  • (Modern toll booth)
  • 2016

    Cashless tolling, or all electronic tolling, is implemented on the Tappan Zee Bridge, eliminating toll booths and cash toll collection at the crossing.


    (Cashless tolling gantries located at the Tappan Zee Bridge/Gov. Mario M. Cuomo Bridge, 2016)
  • 2017

    In August 2017 the first span of the new bridge opens to traffic. Soon thereafter, the 61-year old Tappan Zee Bridge is retired and dismantling operations begin. Tolls are collected through cashless tolling, instead of cash collection at toll booths.


    (First span of the Gov. Mario M. Cuomo Bridge opened to traffic, August 2017)
  • 2018


    In September 2018, the second span opens to traffic, and the newly-minted Governor Mario M. Cuomo Bridge is dedicated.


    (Cashless tolling gantry at the Gov. Mario M. Cuomo Bridge)
  • MOVING FORWARD

    Governor Andrew Cuomo announced in the 2018 State of the State Address cashless tolling would be implemented on the Thruway system-wide by the end of 2020.


    (Cashless Tolling Gantries at the Grand Island Bridge)

    In March, cashless tolling is operational at the Grand Island Bridges in Western New York, ending cash collection at toll booths.

  • 2019


    Through a competitive bidding process, the Thruway Authority selects Cashless Tolling Constructors, LLC to complete the installation of cashless tolling on the Thruway by the end of 2020.

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  • 2020 

    2020

    In November 2020, cash toll collection ends, with the implementation of cashless tolling system-wide.

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