Thursday, April 24, 2014
 

Breaking it Down: What happens when companies sponsor free tolls on the MassPike?

Who pays what for free tolls in Massachusetts?

FOI Requests:

Read the Documents File a FOIA request

The Allston-Brighton toll at Interchange 19 of the Massachusetts Turnpike only costs $1.25 (or $1 with an EZ Pass/FastLane), but some companies are hoping that drivers will be so grateful to be relieved of the hurried, last-minute search for quarters that they’ll spend upwards of $70 on their next pair of heels or concert tickets.

Or at least that’s what Zappos and the Boston Symphony Orchestra may have hoped for when they negotiated with the Masschusetts Department of Transportation to sponsor the Allston-Brighton tollbooth this past year.

The online shoe retailer Zappos paid the fees for all drivers passing through the tollbooth 5-7 p.m. the day before Thanksgiving 2011, traditionally the busiest traveling day of the year. MassDOT documents reveal that the agency earned $5000 from the promotional event in the form of a sponsorship fee. In addition to that fee, Zappos paid MassDOT advances of $22,500 for estimated toll revenue, $500 for a police detail, and $300 for the overtime hours that it took MassDOT employees to put up signs and other promotional materials.

The total upfront cost for Zappos was $28,300, and MassDOT agreed to bill or credit the difference to Zappos so that the retailer would pay the exact cost of the toll fees and labor costs. Zappos also agreed to supply 80 promotional tee shirts and hats for MassDOT employees, as well as all signage and other marketing materials.

Earlier this year, the Boston Symphony Orchestra arranged a similar deal with MassDOT at the same tollbooth. Through Norbella, a public relations agency, the BSO contracted to pay for all fees between 5-6 p.m. on Friday, June 22 -- the first day of the orchestra’s 75th Tanglewood Festival. The sponsorship agreement had Norbella paying an upfront cost of $16,500, a sum that would cover the estimated toll revenue. The organization paid a $5000 sponsorship fee, $500 for a police detail and $1000 MassDOT overtime costs.

Since the company would eventually have paid for all toll and labor costs, it is unclear why the amount of the advance payment was lower that the arrangement with Zappos. Norbella also provided MassDOT employees with signage, 50 T-shirts, and promotional materials -- but no hats.

These two contracts were what came out of MuckRock’s original request for the toll contracts between companies sponsoring free tolls and MassDOT. Since Dunkin’ Donuts and Maxwell House have reportedly sponsored similar free tolls, we’ve filed a new request to see if those are on file as well.

Interested in launching your own investigation? MuckRock makes it easy for anyone to publicly request, receive and publish government documents under Freedom of Information law: Register today.

Mass Pike postcard from Bostonography.com

 
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