It is widely expected that the Port Authority of NY & NJ will announce the details of a fare and toll increase on the PATH system and the NJ-NY automobile crossings at its next board meeting on Thursday. Tolls on the Goethals, Bayonne, and George Washington Bridges, Lincoln and Holland Tunnels, and the Outerbridge Crossing will reportedly increase at least $2 or $3; cash users currently pay $6, while E-Z Pass users pay $5 during peak hours and $4 off-peak. The PATH fare will increase up to 50 cents (a one-way trip currently costs $1.50). The Tri-State Campaign has urged the Authority to increase the differential between peak and off-peak tolls, to encourage more drivers to travel during less congested times.
The toll increases are a necessary prerequisite for what the New York Times called a “robust agenda” of projects. At the top of the list is the ARC trans-Hudson rail tunnel, which would double peak-hour capacity on NJ Transit’s New York-bound rail network, allow more New Jersey commuters a one-seat ride to NYC, and reduce congestion at the Hudson automobile crossings. The Port Authority’s other plans include expanding Stewart Airport, completing a study of the cross-harbor rail freight tunnel, and replacing the PATH system’s antiquated signal system and rolling stock.
A rise in Port Authority tolls could decrease the revenue from New York’s proposed congestion pricing plan, if it is approved in its current form by the City and State, since E-Z Pass users would have their tolls deducted from the $8 congestion fee. However, with or without a toll increase, New Jerseyans would pay $8 to drive into Midtown Manhattan. In fact, NYC’s congestion pricing plan was designed to fund the ARC tunnel (and other critical transit projects), so it makes little difference what fraction of the $8 fee goes to the Port Authority and what part goes to a congestion pricing plan—either way the $8 fee is a contribution towards transit projects of regional significance.
The Port Authority will need to make a strong case to the public that a PATH fare increase is warranted and if one is necessary, ensure that tolls increase by a larger percentage than fares. Generally, people who drive in the region are more likely to be able to afford higher transportation costs than those who rely on transit. The New York Post reported today that the majority of New Jersey drivers on the GW Bridge and Lincoln and Holland Tunnels earn more than $100,000 annually.
Unfortunately, Trenton continues to ignore this fact. Despite booming ridership, fares on NJ Transit trains have steadily risen over the past few decades, increasing most recently this past summer. On the other hand, the gas tax and Garden State Parkway tolls have remained stagnant since the late eighties. At least the Port Authority is seeking a fare and toll increase in tandem, rather than relying on transit riders to shoulder more of the burden of our regional transportation network.