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Tollway reduces car perk, reviewing transponders and phones
By Marni Pyke | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 8/27/2010 12:01 AM

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Tollway officials are cutting back on company cars issued to employees as they review whether to chop other perks such as transponders.

The agency will reduce the number of vehicles assigned to staff from 53 to 33, which should save about $100,000 a year, Executive Director Kristie Lafleur said Thursday

The remaining cars will continue to be used by people characterized as "front-line" staff, such as employees who responded to flooding on the Tri-State last month, Lafleur said.

All cars have been outfitted with tollway logos "so the public can identify who is driving in a tollway vehicle," she added. Departments losing cars include engineering, information technology, toll operations, investigations and procurement.

Other privileges awarded to workers include laptops, cell phones, BlackBerries and nonrevenue I-PASS transponders. Past policies allow employees to use the transponders to get to and from work.

"I don't think the tollway should subsidize commuting," said Lafleur, who started at the agency in April.

But she said it was important not to have a "knee-jerk reaction." There are about 1,600 tollway employees and 1,344 have transponders. The cost to the agency is $228,957 annually.

Before acting on the issue, Lafleur said she wanted to examine how the transponders are used by reviewing employee use history, requiring records of usage, looking into whether the benefit should be taxed and instructing supervisors that any abuses need to be taken seriously.

In the meantime, "we intend to strengthen the audit process to ensure there aren't abuses," Lafleur said.

She added that previously it appeared there was little oversight of transponder use or discipline for misuse.

The tollway is also still scrutinizing other perks.

"The goal is not to take everything away, but to make sure it's used for tollway business," board Director Bill Morris said.

There are 85 BlackBerries distributed to staff, costing about $6,100 monthly.

"It does help increase productivity and responsiveness," Lafleur said.

A total of 323 cell phones are assigned to employees, which comes to $9,500 monthly.

The tollway also has given out 445 laptops, priced at about $1,600 each. Half of the laptops are allocated to Illinois State Police.