There’s no free ride on the Mass Pike. If you don't use the fast lane, you've got to pay the toll taker.

But some drivers complain their ten seconds at the tollbooth turned into trouble.

Driver: "You get to toll booth and the guys talking on the phone, and you're waiting…"

Our investigation found even though the automated fast lane means fewer toll takers are collecting your cash, the number of complaints about them is actually going up!

Driver: "The guy was asleep."

Driver: "It's pretty rude."

And look at the records we obtained:

The top complaint: toll takers are rude. Rude, rude, rude, rude, rude: Extremely rude. Rude and nasty, rude and unhelpful, rude and obnoxious, rude and intimidating.

And there's more. Lots more. Drivers complain toll takers blow smoke into their cars, read magazines, talk on the phone. They throw pennies, throw bills, throw coins. There are reports of toll takers yelling again and again and complaints of screaming and vulgarity and profanity.

When we called the toll takers union for a reaction, they–hung up on us. So we went to the state agency that’s just taken charge over the Pike.

Hank: “What do you think about that?”

Luisa Paiewonsky, MassDOT: “Toll collectors work under difficult conditions, a lot of the time, through all sorts of extremes of weather, but we don't accept any excuse for not treating the customer with respect.”

Mass pike officials point to the millions of happy drivers who zip through the tolls without incident…but they admit, they'd noticed – recently-there’s a problem.

Luisa Paiewonsky, MassDOT: “It’s particularly frustrating knowing that people are paying for the privilege of driving on the highway not to be treated with the greatest of courtesy.”

Pike officials say they investigate each complaint but how? Cameras snap photos of the license plates of toll violators, but there are no cameras on the toll takers. There's no videotape of the transactions, and no audio recordings.

There are supervisors on site, but they admit every transaction can’t be monitored–and complaints wind up in an administrative hearing.

Hank: “So all you have is he said/she said.”

Luisa Paiewonsky, MassDOT: “We hear two sides of the story from the two people who were there and make an assessment.”

That may be a big reason why only about a third of complaints lead to any kind of disciplinary action. Although some toll takers have been suspended even a few fired after alleged misconduct usually nothing happens.

Hank: “By far most often no action is taken!”

Luisa Paiewonsky, MassDOT: “We don't always get the details back//our presumption is that there was an incident that took place and we want to know more about it//but if there's not enough information then we cannot reasonably punish somebody.”

Now some changes in the works we have learned the state's going to crack down on the problem with a new toll taker retraining program including classes and posters to make sure everyone knows the rules and follows them.

(Copyright (c) 2010 Sunbeam Television Corp. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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