Most employees of the Delaware River Port Authority get 100 free E-ZPass rides a year across the agency's bridges, even after they retire.
A dispute over the E-ZPass benefit has roiled the agency's board of commissioners and focused renewed attention on the widespread perk.
John J. Dougherty, a Philadelphia union leader who is one of eight Pennsylvania members of the 16-person DRPA board, stirred up a tempest this month when he asked for records of board members' E-ZPass use going back to 2000.
Until July, they enjoyed unlimited free E-ZPass trips on the Ben Franklin, Walt Whitman, Commodore Barry, and Betsy Ross Bridges. Now, board members must pay for trips unrelated to official business, agency spokeswoman Danelle Hunter said.
Dougherty said in a letter to DRPA general counsel Richard Brown, with copies to his fellow commissioners, that he wanted the records as part of an effort "to cut costs and increase transparency." But his political opponents on the board, including Philadelphia City Councilman Frank DiCicco, suspect it is an effort to embarrass them.
DiCicco threatened to sue the DRPA over any release of the records, but backed off that threat last week.
The DRPA has been moving recently to limit the passes for new employees.
The current policy is that DRPA employees hired before Jan. 1, 2007, are entitled to 100 free E-ZPass trips across DRPA bridges and 10 free rides on PATCO High-Speed trains annually. With bridge tolls at $4 and PATCO maximum fares at $2.70, that would mean a value of as much as $427 a year per eligible employee.
Those same employees are entitled to 100 E-ZPass trips a year upon retirement.
Workers hired on or after Jan. 1, 2007, get the freebies while on the payroll, but not after retiring.
Those hired on or after Sept. 14, 2008 - the date of the most recent toll increase - don't get any free trips.
The policies are similar for PATCO employees.
PATCO employees hired before Jan. 1, 2007, receive 100 free train trips and 10 free E-ZPass trips a year. After retirement, they are eligible for 100 free train trips annually.
PATCO employees hired on or after Jan. 1, 2007, get the same perks, minus the post-retirement trips. Those hired after Sept. 14, 2008, aren't eligible for free trips.
DRPA has about 600 employees, and its subsidiary, PATCO, has about 300. Most were hired before 2007.
Other nearby bridge operators are less generous.
At the Burlington County Bridge Commission, which operates the Tacony-Palmyra and Burlington-Bristol Bridges, there are no free rides, said spokeswoman Liz Verna.
"On the Bridge Commission's bridges, everybody pays. There's no free passage here - not for our commissioners, our employees, anyone. And that's with or without E-ZPass. And it's for current and former."
The Delaware River and Bay Authority, which operates the Delaware Memorial Bridge, also offers no free passes, said spokesman James Salmon.
But free-ride policies are not unique to the DRPA.
At the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, nearly 7,600 current and retired employees get free use of E-ZPass tags for all of the agency's Hudson River and Staten Island crossings.
Current Port Authority board commissioners get free E-ZPasses as well. The agency also allows 1,100 PATH rail employees free train use. Spouses of PATH workers and retirees get the perk, too.
The Port Authority operates the Holland and Lincoln Tunnels; the George Washington, Goethals, and Bayonne Bridges; and the Outerbridge Crossing.
At the New Jersey Turnpike Authority, employees receive free E-ZPass use only for business travel on the turnpike and the Garden State Parkway. The agency's commissioners always pay their own way, spokesman Joe Orlando said.
At the Pennsylvania Turnpike, commissioners and management employees are provided with free "non-revenue transponders," with the understanding that they must aid any turnpike travelers in distress they encounter, said spokesman Carl DeFebo.
At NJ Transit, current and retired employees travel free on NJT vehicles, and current board members have ID cards for free travel to board activities, spokeswoman Penny Bassett Hackett said.
At SEPTA, employees and board members get to ride free on all SEPTA vehicles. Retirees also get free rides with a "pensioner's pass."
At New York's Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which operates seven bridges and two tunnels, about 1,800 current employees have free use of authority E-ZPass tags, while about 1,000 retirees have the same perk.