While calls to toll the East River crossings have stalled in New York State, the MTA may have hit upon a partial solution to some forms of congestion in its latest fare hike proposal. As WNYC’s Matthew Schuerman noted late last week, the authority has issued two plans for its bridges and tunnels: One would see rates increase evenly across the board while another would penalize non-E-ZPass users more than it would those with the electronic payment tags.
The options — as the MTA presents them here — are simple. If rates are raised evenly across the board, tolls will increase from anywhere from 25¢ to 50¢ with the one-way toll across the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge going up by $1. The E-ZPass rates would increase by approximately 10 percent across the board.
Another plan, though, earning less play on the MTA’s website is summarized thusly: “If tolls were raised only for Cash and non-NYS E-ZPass customers, this would result in a $7.00 toll at Major Crossings ($14 at the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge), $4.50 at the Henry Hudson Bridge and $4.00 at Minor Crossings.”
Scheruman spoke with MTA officials about the rationale behind this plan. He reports:
The new idea, according to MTA spokesman Kevin Ortiz, is meant to encourage people to use E-ZPass, cutting down on congestion at toll plazas and the pollution that comes with it. The proposal means that E-ZPass users from elsewhere on the Atlantic seaboard who occasionally pass through New York would end up paying 53 percent more. They currently qualify for the $4.57 E-ZPass rate.
AAA New Jersey opposes any sort of variable tolling, according to spokesman Stephen Rajczyk. “It shouldn’t matter if you are an out-of-state driver or an E-Z Pass driver,” he said. “You could say the people who use it all the time maybe should be paying more for it because they are using it all the time.”
The MTA says that you don’t have to be a resident of New York State to get a New York State E-ZPass—you simply have to apply for a tag from the New York State E-ZPass Service Center. And in fact, drivers who use tags from the Port Authority would qualify for the discount, according to MTA Bridges and Tunnels spokeswoman Joyce Mulvaney. About 75 percent of drivers who use MTA’s bridges and tunnels use E-ZPass; 70 percent use New York State tags.
This variable-rate plan is a sure sign of economic protectionism by the MTA. First, they would be foisting off more of the costs on out-of-state users who don’t pay taxes to New York State (and thus, aren’t contributing to the MTA’s coffers through the state treasury). With this variable-rate plan, drivers would either have to pay to purchase a New York State E-ZPass tag with a $25 prepayment charge or be willing to fork over more dollars for tolls.
Second, this plan serves as a de facto congestion-reducing proposal. By raising the rates at tolled roads, the MTA will discourage some — but not all — drivers. Unfortunately, however, the MTA doesn’t have a monopoly on tolled river crossings. They can raise rates at the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel and the Queens-Midtown Tunnel, but the Queensboro Bridge and Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges will remain untolled. Thus, any toll increase could have the unwanted result of foisting more traffic onto local roads that lead into the free crossings and contributing to the negative side effects of increased congestion.
The MTA’s various hearings on these toll proposals and their slate of fare increases are set to begin in two weeks from tonight. For a full list of hearing times and locations, visit this site.