The South Jersey-Philadelphia commuter line’s ridership grew by 3.62% in 2011, a figure that even outpaced the record-breaking PATH system to its north.
At the Delaware River Port Authority Finance Committee meeting where these figures came to light, the authority also fleshed out its financials (DRPA owns and operates PATCO):
- In 2011, PATCO revenues were up by $1.6 million (6.84%);
- As of November 30, 2011, there were 3% fewer bridge crossings by motor vehicle on DRPA owned bridges than for the same period in 2010, according to preliminary figures;
- Toll revenues were up by $19.3 million, even though fewer drivers were crossing DRPA’s bridges—this owes to a $1 toll increase (from $4 to $5);
- Despite the increased revenue, tolls fell $1.3 million short of what DRPA had projected in its 2011 budget, while PATCO revenues exceeded projections by $878,065.
DRPA Chief Financial Officer John Hanson explained that the PATCO surplus “[goes] a long way” in offsetting the toll revenue shortfall. A number of factors likely contributed to the PATCO passenger surge in 2011, such as the rising gasoline prices and improving economy that drove transit ridership up nationwide.
PATCO’s growth also occurred while bridge tolls went up and corresponding driving rates went down. Something similar occurred in northern New Jersey, where toll increases were followed by decreased car use and increased transit ridership. The trend suggests that higher tolls and comparatively low public transit costs have created an incentive for commuters to switch from driving to riding the train—in South Jersey and Philadelphia, PATCO was the most affordable way to cross the Delaware River.
While these initial figures are a positive step towards reducing congestion and improving local air quality, the longer-term trends will need to be monitored to see if these changes in commuting behavior are sustained.