Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Port Authority Toll Hikes Hammer Commuter Buses

The recently approved Port Authority fare and toll hikes will end up hammering commuter bus companies, including NJ Transit. These companies and agencies have a reduced toll, but will feel the effects of the increases. While they're claiming that they wont pass the hikes on to the commuters, you can bet that they eventually will have no choice but to do so.
Bus operators will also have to find extra cash — in some cases millions more each year — to cross the George Washington Bridge and travel through the Lincoln and Holland tunnels.

For example, NJ Transit and Paramus-based Coach USA — which pay $4 per bus to use any of the three Hudson River crossings, will see a 150 percent increase to $10 per bus, following last month's move by the Port Authority to hike tolls.

That amount, which applies to buses enrolled in the E-ZPass program, will climb each year until 2014, when the toll will be $13, said Port Authority spokesman Ron Marsico.

The dramatic increase has some transit advocates rattled and questioning whether those costs will eventually be passed on to customers.

"It's terrible," said George Grieve, president of Mahwah-based ShortLine Bus, a subsidiary of bus operator Coach USA. "They dropped it like a bomb."

Grieve said he spends about $300,000 per year in tolls to send buses from New York State and along Route 17 through Bergen County to the Port Authority Bus Terminal in Manhattan. "It's going up to $800,000," he said Tuesday. "It's tremendous."

He said managers throughout Coach USA will be meeting today to discuss how to deal with the increases.

"We haven't decided that yet," Grieve said. "With the price of fuel going so high — we have significant increases in health care. Then they throw this toll hike."

He said his buses make 1,352 trips per week through the Lincoln Tunnel and 25 use the George Washington Bridge.

NJ Transit, meanwhile, will see an even bigger increase. The Newark-based agency spent $4 million in 2010 on bus tolls, said Penny Bassett Hackett, agency spokeswoman. It will spend an estimated $8.6 million in 2012, she said.

But Bassett Hackett emphasized NJ Transit, which raised its own bus and rail fares between 10 and 25 percent last year, will not be passing on a new increase to customers to offset the higher Port Authority tolls.

The agency last year also eliminated discounted off-peak fares as part of an effort to close a $300 million budget gap.

"We will be able to absorb it," she said. "It will have no impact on our fares. [Executive Director] Jim Weinstein was very clear that we will not raise fares" this year.
The Port Authority is essentially taxing other state instrumentalities for the right to use its property, and this is something that both Gov. Christie and Gov. Cuomo have to reevaluate in light of the need to promote mass transit to reduce congestion and pollution in the region.

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