Transportation Tribulation: Can New York and New Jersey Do Better Than Toll Hikes?

Transportation Tribulation: Can New York and New Jersey Do Better Than Toll Hikes?

August 19, 2011 at 11:18 am

Port Authority approves revised toll hike plan. Can Port Authority learn lessons from other cities? Photo courtesy of Greg Mocker/WPIX 11.

On Friday morning, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey voted to raise tolls by $1.50 on bridges and tunnels into and out of Manhattan, and increase PATH fares by 25 cents, reported the New York Times. The plan, which features significantly lower toll hikes than Port Authority had originally proposed, is the result of negotiations between Port Authority and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo.  Many political sources have speculated that the two governors knew about the Port Authority plan before it was announced, which they’ve denied, and that their efforts to revise the plan were designed to boost their approval ratings, reported New York Daily News.

But the toll hikes which will go into effect in September are only the beginning of the increases, which will continue to rise over a four year period. PATH train fares will increase by 25 cents annually over the next four years under the plan. E-Z pass tolls will increase $1.50 by September, but rise to $12.50 by 2015. Cash tolls will increase 50 percent next month, and rise to an unprecedented $15 by 2015.

According to the Port Authority, the decision to raise tolls was heavily motivated by the immense costs of rebuilding the World Trade Center site.


NJToday talks with Alfred Doblin, editor for the Record, about how the rebuilding of the World Trade Center influenced the toll hikes.

The agency’s scheme, which resulted in turbulent public hearings on Tuesday (that were not attended by any Port Authority officials),  for raising revenue is just the latest in a series of measures local transit authorities have proposed to repair its crumbling infrastructure and invest in capital projects.

Last month, Metropolitan Transportation Authority CEO and Chairman Jay Walder announced his resignation just hours after he disclosed that the MTA would slash $2 billion from its five-year capital plan by cutting the administrative payroll by 15 percent — he’s off to Hong Kong in October for a new position in the private-sector.

Can the region’s transit planners and politicians take a lead from other cities? Is there a cautionary tale from other urban centers or a creative model New York and New Jersey can follow?

Hong Kong: Jay Walder’s sudden departure from the Metropolitan Transit Authority has brought attention to Hong Kong’s Mass Transit Railway, the MTR. While the Metropolitan Transit Authority sinks further in debt (currently, $10 billion) and continues to raise fares, annual profits for Hong Kong’s transit system avergae $1 billion and a ride costs little more than a quarter. How does Hong Kong do it?

MTR doubles as one of the Hong Kongs biggest real estate developers, buying properties around subway stations for shopping malls and restaurants. These business ventures generate profits that are recycled back into the system. On the contrary, MTA sells proximate land to private developers. Furthermore, the company benefits from the curiously named Octopus Card,  the smart card that riders can load with a dollar amount and use against transit fares. The card can also be conveniently used for parking meters, at fast food restaurants and convenience stores, bringing in revenue with each transaction.

London: If passed, the Port Authority’s proposed toll hikes will cause major headaches for New York and New Jersey commuters entering Manhattan, but they’ve found a cure across the pond. London’s congestion pricing model, launched in 2003, charges private drivers $16 to enter the city center during 7a.m. – 6p.m. Monday through Friday.  Shortly thereafter, London added 250 additional buses to accommodate more commuters, resulting in a near 20 percent drop in car use. Furthermore, the program has generated over 197 million dollars in revenue, which has been used to maintain the buses and Tube.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg proposed a similar congestion pricing plan in 2007 as part of his PlanNYC 2030 initiative, which would have been the state’s first. The plan would have charged drivers $8 during peak hours when entering Manhattan south of 86th street, and funnel an additional 350 million dollars into public transportation projects. Commuters from outside of Manhattan voiced opposition and the plan was shot down twice.
Amsterdam: The New York grid is covered in 250 miles of bike lanes,  and in the past decade, bicycle commuting in New York City increased by 262 percent. Along major bike routes in Brooklyn and Manhattan, cyclists make up a third of the evening rush hour traffic. In Amsterdam, a city a fraction of the size of New York City, boasts 249 miles of bike lanes and over 55 percent of inhabitants ride a bike daily.
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