Friday, April 29, 2011

Missing the Real Story About the Port Authority Easter Traffic Jam Response

Much is being made in the Star Ledger and the Staten Island Advance about the Port Authority's failure to provide sufficient cash lanes for traffic entering Staten Island during the Easter weekend. The traffic jams meant some people waited hours to go over the Outerbridge Crossing or the Goethals Bridge and the Port Authority held public hearings for people to vent their complaints about the problem.

Port Authority Chairman Christopher Ward was contrite in how the Port Authority will handle the situation going forward, and while commuters were calling for his head and the firing of those responsible for not having sufficient toll collectors on hand, Ward's response is instructive:
"Without a doubt, it was a management failure and I take full responsibility for it," Ward told angry commissioners during a morning meeting of the Port Authority’s operations committee.

Later in the day, addressing reporters after the full board’s regular monthly meeting, Ward apologized to the public, acknowledging Sunday’s traffic nightmare was not up to the Port Authority’s usual performance standards.

Ward said the agency plans to fill eight vacant toll collector positions. In addition, he said, agency managers will be given the authority to open E-ZPass lanes to all traffic. To minimize revenue losses, the agency would use cameras already in place to photograph license plates of non-E-ZPass users and then mail them a bill for the toll, Ward said.

"We consider this unacceptable," Port Authority Chairman David Samson said of Sunday’s problem. "We’ve got Mother’s Day coming up. We’ve got Memorial Day coming up. We’ve got the 4th of July. It’s unthinkable that we would have these problems."

Cedric Fulton, the agency’s director of bridges, tunnels and terminals, said the normal contingent of toll collectors for the three Staten Island crossings — the Outerbridge Crossing and Bayonne and Goethals bridges, is 39. But because of the vacancies, there are now 31 collectors, just four above the normal weekend staffing level of 27, Fulton said.
Read that part in bold again.

That's a program that would eliminate the need for toll collectors altogether, not just during peak time periods. If that program were instituted, it could eliminate the need for the toll barriers at those Port Authority bridges and tunnels - and eliminate the traffic jams created when commuters cross the bridges. Eliminating the toll barriers completely would smooth traffic flow and reduce congestion, emissions from idling vehicles, and improve air quality.

The switchover to the system that Ward proposes cannot come soon enough, and should be vastly expanded to include all the Port Authority bridges and tunnels - precisely because it eliminates the need for toll barriers that are a regular source of congestion and air pollution.

EZ Pass violators are already ticketed and fined with a camera system (that works to some extent). Ward's proposal expands on this system, but doesn't go nearly far enough. The Port Authority needs to move in the direction of the MTA, which is converting to a cashless toll collection system on the Henry Hudson Bridge linking Manhattan with the Bronx.

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