Don't forget to pay


At Work



Debby Ness

Toll collector

Maryland Transportation Authority/Baltimore Harbor Tunnel

Salary --$17.41 an hour

Age --52

Years on the job --13

How she got started --After working as both a waitress and deli clerk, Ness said she saw an advertisement in the paper recruiting toll collectors. She decided to apply because of the stability and benefits that came with a state job. She began working the tolls at the Baltimore Harbor Tunnel and still does. However, she has filled in at the Fort McHenry Tunnel and Francis Scott Key Bridge.

Typical day --Ness is responsible for collecting tolls, the amount of which depends on the size and type of vehicle. The busiest time during the morning shift is from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m., and Ness estimates that 300 cars can come through the toll lane in one hour. The center lanes are the busiest. Ness works from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. five days a week with two 20-minute breaks and one 40-minute break. The days vary, but she usually gets every third weekend off. Overtime is available if she wants to work it. The job is harder and busier than it looks, said Ness.

Washing her hands --She doesn't like to wear gloves and instead washes her hands during breaks. She is careful not to touch her face between washings.

The good --"Seeing some of the people that come through and being able to help people with directions. That's a big part of our job, giving directions."

The bad --"It can be a little bit monotonous, doing the same thing, nonstop."

Regulars --"Like anywhere else you work, you have your regulars. They stop and say a couple words before they have to move along. You get to know each other a little bit over the years."

E-ZPass --The electronic toll collection system has made it easier for travelers to pay, but Ness said fewer lanes are open for traditional collection, so the traffic flow is about the same as before the system was implemented.

No money for the toll --It happens a lot, said Ness. A photo of the car's tag is taken and the driver is sent a bill for the unpaid toll the first time; after that, administrative fees are added.

The fumes --The first year she would get headaches, but not anymore.

The weather --Nice days are her favorite, because even though the toll booths are equipped with air conditioning and heat, it's comparable to driving during the freezing cold or muggy hot weather with your window open. Ness adds that on rainy days, drivers should turn their windshield wipers off; otherwise the toll collectors get soaked.

The customers --"You get people that brighten your day, that are very happy and happy to see a smile. It makes your day go nicer. Then you also have ones that are irate because of traffic or because they have to pay the toll, or just got cut off or are upset and they take it out on you."

One she would like to forget --Ness said she remembers a man who came through the toll and became upset when he had to wait as she put change from the previous driver into the drawer. After a long pause, he drove off without paying. He was stopped by police, had to wait much longer and ended up paying anyway.

Nancy Jones-Bonbrest Special to The Sun

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