Friday, August 05, 2011

Details Leaked About Port Authority Toll and Fare Hikes

The MTA has already announced its intention to raise fares and tolls on its bridges and subways and buses.

Now, the Port Authority is proposing to unleash its own two-tier hikes on tolls and PATH fares.
A $4 toll increase for E-ZPass users could go into effect as soon as September on the three major Hudson River crossings – the George Washington Bridge and the Holland and Lincoln Tunnels – as well as three other bridges between New Jersey and Staten Island, the Bayonne and Goethals Bridges and the Outerbridge Crossing.

The proposal, the first increase since 2008 and only the third since 2001, would raise peak-hour E-ZPass tolls on those crossings to $12 a ride, up from $8. The individuals familiar with the plans asked to remain anonymous because the proposal was not yet intended to be made public.

The biggest increase by far would be felt by drivers who pay in cash: cash tolls on those crossings would be raised by $7, to $15 a trip. (By comparison, a cash toll on the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge currently costs $13.) About 25 percent of drivers on the Port Authority crossings currently pay in cash.

A single fare on the PATH train, the diminutive commuter subway system that connects parts of Manhattan to New Jersey, would be raised by $1, to $2.75 a ride.

And the price of a 30-day unlimited pass for the PATH system would be raised by 65 percent, to $89 from $54 a month.
The tolls would be raised by another $2 in 2014. No increase in PATH fares would occur at that time.

These hikes will be felt hardest by those living on Staten Island, who have no way to travel by car without getting hit with tolls - you can leave Staten Island without paying a toll, but you'd get hit with a $13 to $15 toll for coming back.

Fare hikes will be a further drag on suggesting that people get out of cars to use mass transit.

I'm among those who would be hit by the fare hike - $89 from $54 a month. That's $35 a month or $420 per year (a not inconsiderable amount). Many people use PATH to commute between Newark, Jersey City, and Hoboken, so they'd be hit by the bi-state agency's plans. Combining the fare hikes with the cost for NJ Transit, and some commuters may decide that it is cheaper and less of a hassle to drive into Manhattan than use mass transit.

I understand that the Port Authority needs to close its budget due to cost overruns on various Ground Zero components, but some of those problems were self-inflicted. It refused to engage in serious cost-cutting to make sure that the PATH transit hub was built within budget. It's also facing higher energy costs to operate PATH, but the system has gone from having one of the oldest fleets to having one of the newest after its purchase of hundreds of new railcars. There are savings to be had by retiring the old cars as well.

At the same time, the Port Authority should start to see income coming in from Ground Zero as the Freedom Tower nears completion along with Tower 4 and the transit hub. It recently completed a deal with Westfield for the retail component, leading to more revenues. Those revenues can't come fast enough.

It's expected that the first phase of the increases would raise $720 million annually. The second phase would add another $290 million annually.

At the same time, the Port Authority's expenses would begin to decline as construction wraps up at Ground Zero and it can focus on other area projects that are on its to-do list including a Bayonne Bridge lift/replacement, a replacement span for the Goethals Bridge, and maintenance on its bridges, tunnels, and airports.

If this deal is approved by the Port Authority Board, Gov. Christie and Gov. Cuomo each have 10 days to veto the plan.

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