Friday, August 19, 2011

Welcome to the Real World: Port Authority Gets Its Fare/Toll Hikes After Brokered Deal With Cuomo and Christie

As I have been warning, the Port Authority is getting its toll hike. Governors Chris Christie and Andrew Cuomo got the political cover they needed. Commuters got stuck with the bill.
Under the new plan, E-ZPass tolls would be raised in September to $9.50 a ride at peak hours, from $8, on the George Washington Bridge, the Holland and Lincoln Tunnels, and three other crossings to Staten Island.

Drivers who pay with cash would face a 50 percent increase in September, to $12 a ride, from $8. Tolls would then rise by 75 cents more a year through 2015, with cash tolls rounded up to the nearest whole dollar.

The less-stringent increases are expected to be approved by the Port Authority’s board of commissioners at a meeting on Friday.

The authority had proposed a $4-a-ride increase for E-ZPass users next month, drawing criticism from drivers and some politicians — including, somewhat incongruously, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York and Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, who jointly control the agency.

Toll increases at the Port Authority are often highly choreographed affairs, and few transportation groups expected the initial proposal to remain unchanged. Both governors had said they were surprised at the steepness of the initial proposal, although their administrations were made aware of the plan before it was publicly announced.
Both New York and New Jersey need the Port Authority to continue handling infrastructure improvements in the New York City metro area because both states' fiscal situation and taxpayer discontent isn't conducive to broad based tax hikes to support mass transit or infrastructure improvements. Thus, it was left up to the Port Authority to impose the higher charges.

The original proposal was unusually steep so as to make the Governors' proposal appear to be far more reasonable. Yet, it still represents real money that commuters will be forced to shell out. The new PATH fares will rise to $2 in September, and then by 25 cents each year after through 2015 ($2.75). That's likely to work out to a $10 a month increase on 40-trip pass. It also moves PATH closer to the MTA bus and subway fare parity, although PATH users do not have free transfers to the MTA system.

Where I can find agreement with the governors and Port Authority is that they impose additional penalties on all motor vehicles that do not use EZ-Pass. However, the Port Authority must do a better job making sure that those drivers who have EZ-Pass are not inconvenienced by the backup of drivers at the cash lanes as is all too frequent a problem. Increased use of EZ-Pass can help reduce congestion and pollution at toll plazas, but if the cash lanes back up, it can mitigate any congestion reductions caused by EZ-Pass use.

The Port Authority board unanimously adopted the governors' proposed toll hikes. They will take effect in September.

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