In PA budget, PATH fares up 57 percentBy
While New Yorkers have seen the MTA raise fares and tolls while cutting service due to a lack of proper investment in transit, the Port Authority is set to do the same. In a sweeping budget unveiled this afternoon, the two-state agency announced a massive increase in fares and tolls in order to fund a variety of capital projects. New Jersey commuters will be paying more — much more — to enter New York City soon.
The structure of the fare increases themselves are fairly straightforward; the reasons behind them are not. But first the former: For PATH riders, the base fare will increase from $1.75 to $2.75 with an aim toward raising the average fare from $1.30 to $2.10. The 30-day unlimited pass will go from $54 to a whopping $89. That’s a 65 percent increase in one felt swoop and would be the equivalent of raising the 30-Day MetroCard from $104 to $170.
Tolls too are going up up up. E-ZPass users will see trips increase from $6 to $10 for off-peak travel and from $8 to $12 for peak-hour trips. An additional $2 increase is planned for 2014. The PA will also implement a cash surcharge of $3, and this move is expected to push the E-ZPass market share from 75 to 85 percent while reducing congestion by 10-20 minutes. A variety of similar increases are planned for trucks.
So now for the tough part: Why the large increase? In its release touting the new tolls, the Port Authority pinpointed three factors. First, the recession has left revenue well below projections. Second, post-9/11 security costs have tripled while the World Trade Center rebuilding has been a drain on the authority. And third, the physical infrastructure is in dire need of upgrades. Without state support, the toll and fare increases then will fully fund a ten-year $33 billion capital plan.
So what do we get for $33 billion? On the subway side of things, the Port Authority has vowed to reinvest all of the funds raised from the PATH fare hikes back into the system. Projects to be funded include an order of 340 new cars, an overhaul of the 100-year-old signal system and duct bank network, new security measures and the rehabilitation of aging systems with an eye toward ensuring that 10-car trains can stop at every station.
Roadwork includes the following:
- The first replacement of all 592 suspender ropes at the 80-year old George Washington Bridge, the world’s busiest crossing, joining other suspension bridges like the Golden Gate and RFK, which have already replaced theirs. ($1 billion)
- The replacement of the Lincoln Tunnel Helix. It will require major lane closures and load restrictions if not replaced. ($1.5 billion)
- The raising of the Bayonne Bridge, which will solve the current clearance problem, preventing post-PANAMAX ships from accessing key ports. ($1 billion)
- A new bus garage connected to the Port Authority Bus Terminal, which will serve as a traffic reliever to the Lincoln Tunnel and midtown Manhattan streets, saving two-thirds of the empty bus trips that must make two extra trips through the tunnel each day. ($800 million)
- Significant security investments at the region’s airports, including the installation of security barriers. ($360 million)
The Port Authority will vote on this plan on August 19 with public hearings set for nine locations on August 16.
Reactions have been swift. The Tri-State Transportation Campaign has called upon the PA to scale back the steep PATH fare increases, and the Campaign has laid the blame on the feet of political leaders in New Jersey and New York. Even as the agency has delivered zero-growth budgets in recent years, governors in both states are using the Port Authority as a piggy bank. Says TSTC:
The recent pressures from both New York and New Jersey put the Authority’s finances in a precarious situation. Governor Christie is relying on the Port to contribute $1.8 billion to pay for road and bridge projects that should be paid for by the state’s bankrupt transportation capital program. The Governor canceled one of the country’s most worthy transit projects, the ARC commuter rail tunnel, so he could redirect Port Authority’s monies for that project to his state’s transportation program. Governor Cuomo is banking on $380 million in Port Authority funds to help pay for the remaining three years (2012-2014) of the MTA’s capital program. The MTA has been struggling financially for years in the absence of a sustainable, reliable revenue source such as congestion pricing for the Manhattan core.
Transportation Alternatives, meanwhile, tried to find the silver lining. “Infrastructure forms the bones of a healthy economy,” Paul Steely White, TA’s executive director, said in a statement. “This is a tough but necessary step to get New York City’s crumbling infrastructure back in good repair and invest in a vigorous economy. The Port Authority does not rely on state or local taxes from New York or New Jersey. So these fees – a significant source of the Authority’s revenue – are crucial to the upkeep of the rails, bridges and ports that New Yorkers rely on every day.”
Without investment and the right balance of subsidies and reliance on fare revenue, this budget plan is the outcome. If New York doesn’t learn its lesson, MTA riders could one day be greeted by a similar plan which calls for a one-time fare increase of nearly 65 percent. That’s not a comforting thought for a Friday afternoon.