Life in the Toll Lane: Meet Jane Walsh

Have you ever driven past a toll and wondered what's it like to be in the booth?

Newswatch 16’s Ryan Leckey has an up close and personal look at a profession many of us see every day but don’t often think about.

From the weirdest ways people have paid for their tolls to those regular turnpike travelers who become like long lost friends, Jane Walsh of Pittston is a toll collector who let us inside her life in the toll lane.

Ryan: "Out of all of the careers you could have chosen, how did you become a toll collector?”

“My ex-husband. We were driving from Philadelphia and I said that's the job I want out of the blue. The next week he called, and I had an application sitting on the kitchen table,” explained Jane.

This mother of three, and now grandmother, left her job unloading trucks at Kmart overnight and started as a Pennsylvania Turnpike toll collector in 1999.  At first, Jane worked in toll booths across the state.

“It’s six months here, six months there,” said Jane.

Eventually, Jane ended up in Luzerne County. We tagged along as she headed off to start her day at the Wyoming Valley Toll Plaza in the Pittston area.

When asked how long has it taken someone to get the change out and actual pay her, has it ever taken 10 minutes, Jane replied, “Oh yeah, I actually had a girl pull up, get out of her car, open the trunk, take out the spare tire, and start grabbing handfuls of pennies, and paid me in pennies.”

Jane added there was “the girl who was flashing the midnight guys, so she wouldn’t have to pay her toll. That’s what she was trying to do, yeah.”

But technology, including E-Zpass and other cashless tolling systems currently being tested, could change the game out here in about five years. It could mean fewer toll collectors.

To give you a sense of just how many drivers utilize easy pass at the interchange near Pittston, workers with the turnpike tell us it’s around 79 percent.

Jane added, “There are some die-hards who, no matter what, they don`t want to see us lose our jobs so they refuse to get E-Z pass.”

And those die-hards have nicknames.

“The nurse from Lehigh. The blondie from Wilkes-Barre. If you don`t see them, you’re like ‘Oh my god, what happened’?”

And the “toll lady” also has talent.

“[So a toll collector by day and at night?] Bar singer!” she laughed. A few tunes she carries with her fiancé Chuck.

“Carol King, the Mamas and the Papas, it’s fun!” Jane added.

Jane says she is staying until the end when they close the doors.

As for those toll collectors who could be impacted a few years from now if more toll booths are automated, the Pennsylvania Turnpike says it would try to find those employees other positions within the agency.