For New Jersey officials, recycling project was no token gesture
Consequently, when the New Jersey Turnpike Authority went out to bid for the destruction of the tokens, officials new that the project would reduce the need for secure storage (eliminating a liability at the same time). They also figured that the project would involve recycling, as the tokens are melted down and made into new tokens or other items. But what surprised state authorities was how much the state’s coffers would be replenished by the project.
Ultimately, the New Jersey Turnpike Authority eliminated approximately 190,000 pounds of its transit tokens (separate sizes and types for passenger vehicles and for commercial buses). Thanks to the “Three R’s” – reduce, recycle and replenish – the state freed up much-needed storage space and eliminated some costs while returning nearly $250,000 to the citizens of the Garden State.
Reduce, recycle and replenish
When transit tokens were introduced as a means of payment in 1981, they were heralded as a huge time-saver for frequent motorists. No longer saddled with the need for exact change, drivers traversing the parkway would arrive at their destinations faster thanks to the tokens and automated token collectors at each toll plaza.
While the tokens were quicker, their effectiveness pales in comparison to the transponder technology allowed by the Parkway’s E-ZPass system – which is why state officials decided to phase out tokens in favor of E-ZPass.
Since there still are tokens in circulation, they are accepted as payment and continue to be accepted (though their usage is waning). Tokens accepted at toll plazas are consolidated and transferred by an armored car service to the closest of four secure storage facilities. After placing the tokens in rolls and then into cardboard containers that resemble bricks, armored car personnel place the bricked tokens into nested metal storage containers that are kept under lock and key in secure “storage sheds” in Essex, East Orange, Great Egg and Keyport.
Eliminating the sale of the tokens means that authorities no longer need to keep them in a secure facility; nor are armored cars required to transport them. This frees up valuable storage room and eliminates a line-item cost from the operating budget.
Because the tokens have a high nickel-silver and brass content, they have a value to recyclers. Unlike disposal by throwing away, which might lead some tokens back into circulation, recycling of the tokens ensures that they will be melted down and turned into something else – perhaps other transit tokens, key chains, custom coins for promotional purposes or a number of other items.
In addition to providing peace of mind, recycling of the tokens is an environmentally friendly way to alleviate the storage and disposal problems.
Because the tokens have a value for recyclers, there is a financial component to their recycling. A portion of that value was returned to the state – after the winning bidder had covered it costs for removal of the boxed tokens, hauling to a secure recycling facility and destruction to eliminate the possibility of any tokens finding their way back to the parkway. The winning proposal, submitted by Cincinnati-based Osborne Coinage Co., (the firm that supplied the transit tokens), returned $250,000 to the state of New Jersey.
Not all roses in the Garden State
While many token-destruction projects are rather straightforward, this one was fraught with peril. The four secure storage locations, while convenient to the other toll plazas, were not designed for token destruction.
“There was not enough space on site to accommodate a destruction truck,” said Walt Hodge, destruction supervisor for Osborne Coinage.
Compounding the problem was the fact that the storage sheds were never designed for large-scale movement of tokens, in or out. The 40-inch doorways did not permit forklifts to enter the facility, so the nested containers were removed by hand. They also required additional wrapping to ensure that their integrity would not be compromised during the trip back to the destruction site in Cincinnati.
The volume of traffic proceeding through the toll plazas also was an issue. Since tractor-trailers are not permitted on the parkway, not all of the bridges and underpasses accommodate tractor-trailers, so special routing was required. The toll plazas were not designed to accommodate tractor-trailers either.
Due to the weight of the tokens (the trailers reached their legal weight limits before being filled), five trucks and trailers were required. But the throughways would not physically accommodate the three trailers, and the sight of several semis with 50-foot trailers would cause quite a disruption for motorists unaccustomed to seeing such a spectacle.
Consequently, the decision was made to remove the tokens during the night. Hodges and the crews he supervised began with the East Orange plaza at 8 p.m., and burned the midnight oil – literally – as they worked until 3:30 a.m.
Building trust one step at a time
Earning the trust of the New Jersey Turnpike Authority was a key to the success of the project. Because the project was far from a “standard” one – given the high level of material handling required – Hodge visited the facilities before preparing the Osborne bid documents.
“Traveling to the various sites and seeing the conditions firsthand was really important to understand the scope of the material handling requirements,” Hodge said. “I had lots of questions for the turnpike folks, which they answered before asking many of their own. Ultimately we mapped out a detailed plan and then worked the plan. Everyone was great to work with – from the turnpike officials to the warehousing and trucking teams. There was a real sense that we were all working toward a common goal.”
One unique wrinkle to the bid documents concerned the possibility of finding U.S. currency among the tokens to be destroyed. Since it is a crime to destroy U.S. currency, coupled with the fact that the nickel-silver content is far lower (and therefore would reduce the value of the scrap material), Osborne agreed to return any U.S. coins found among the tokens.
In addition to scouting all aspects of the project, Hodge took photos of the toll plazas, the containers and the storage sheds. He then shared these with the warehousing and trucking companies to make everyone aware of the intricacies of the project.
Now that the project is complete, the Garden State Parkway’s secure storage sheds have more room for holding other controlled items. Armored cars no longer are required to transport tokens among facilities, so operating costs are reduced. With the removal and recycling of the passenger car and bus tokens, a significant liability has been avoided. And with the return of nearly $250,000 to the state of New Jersey, the project surely was a fiscal success as well. In retrospect, all aspects of the project look pretty rosy for residents of the Garden State.
Osborne Coinage Co. provided this case history. Any views and opinions expressed in this case history do not necessarily represent those of Government Product News or Penton Media Inc.