PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) – In about two weeks, driving will literally take a toll on drivers traveling through the Downtown and Midtown tunnels. But employees of the company putting up the tolls get a free ride to and from work.
Following WAVY.com’s first report of the ERC employees’ perk, viewer response exploded. It also caught the attention of Governor Terry McAuliffe and his Secretary of Transportation, Aubrey Layne.
From a public relations standpoint, the fact that 120 ERC employees don’t pay the tolls going to and from work has only confirmed the negative thoughts many people have for ERC. There remains a lot of frustration and outrage that even with the lower tolls announced Wednesday, a select group won’t have to pay.
WAVY.com talked to Governor McAuliffe about the issue and he seemed concerned that the tone of that perk sends the wrong message.
“It makes people really mad,” McAuliffe said. “I was concerned, and it should make people mad. It is not fair.”
Two weeks ago, WAVY.com asked ERC Spokesperson Leila Rice why ERC thinks it is the perk is fair.
“Elizabeth River Crossings is a private company, and all private companies have the right to provide that perk. It is part of our compensation package,” Rice said.
It’s a compensation package most Portsmouth and Norfolk businesses can’t afford. They can’t afford the perk because, unlike ERC, the money would have to come out of pocket.
“As soon as you walked out of my office, I called the Secretary of Transportation, and said ‘what’s up?'” McAuliffe said.
“They are aware that we don’t think this is good optics, and there may be other ways to deal with that,” Lane told WAVY.com. “At the end of the day, they are a private company, and they make their own rules.”
Rice told us Thursday, “Elizabeth River Crossings will provide its employees free passage to and from work, and when conducting official business.”
We asked Rice how ERC will protect itself from any abuses by employees, like going to the mall on the weekends.
“The employees have their license plates registered. It’s basically a pay by plate. It’s listed as a zero. There’s no toll charged. It’s based on the vehicle and the license plate. The license plates are in the system,” she said.
Governor McAuliffe sees it this way: “Look, fair is fair. Everybody should have to pay the tolls.”
ERC also claims audits will be done on a regular basis, as well as on a random basis to ensure there is no abuse of the privilege.