MassDOT won’t say who’s getting a free ride

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Our Commonwealth’s toll system doesn’t appear discriminating at first glance. If you drive on the turnpike, you’re paying to be there. Unless you’re among the public employees who have access to a transponder that lets you ride for free.

There are many reasons why public employees would need unlimited access to perform their duties. But Pioneer Institute wants to let the public know which officials are being offered a free ride who don’t maintain the roads or keep them safe.

As part of Pioneer’s partnership with Freedom of Information service MuckRock, we asked for any index or log or other file that tracks the non-revenue highway toll collection transponders.

In a letter rejecting the request, MassDOT said such information fell under the general exemption that prevents paid pass data or images generated from the toll booths being shared.

But that law is meant to protect the privacy of those paying into that toll system, not those who are being waved through without paying. And even if the identities were redacted, we would still be interested in seeing how many are given out and how they’re being used.

We decided to attempt to reword the request to not include names of individual pass holders. The department responded by saying a similar request (ours) had already been responded to. That’s not an acceptable answer: Each public records request needs and deserves its own consideration, and failing to negotiate is a failure for transparency.

MassDOT’s refusal to even partially fulfill either request — or give a legitimate reason to block access to the the entire file — falls far below not only the spirit of transparency the Patrick Administration claims to have but the letter of our state Freedom of Information law. MuckRock has filed an appeal with the Public Records office, although we’re not holding our breath.