This Tuesday, Jersey City residents will have two opportunities to address the toll and PATH fare increases recently proposed by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. Before the authority’s Board of Commissioners can vote on the increases there will be several public hearings on Aug. 16, two of them in Jersey City.
One public hearing will take place at 8 a.m. at the Port Authority Technical Center, at 241 Erie St., in Room 212. The second Jersey City public hearing will take place later that evening at 6 p.m. in the conference room of the Holland Tunnel Administration Building, located at Provost Street and 13th Street.
Although other hearings will be held elsewhere in New Jersey that day, these will be the only two public hearings to take place in Hudson County.
The Port Authority is sure to get an earful from angry residents who say they cannot afford the steep hikes proposed by the transit agency.
Under the proposed increases, a one-way PATH ride would jump from $1.75 to $2.75 later this year. EZ Pass tolls paid by auto drivers who use the Holland and Lincoln tunnels would jump from the current $8 to $12, round-trip, during morning and evening rush hours. Off-peak toll prices would increase from $6 to $10, round-trip. Under the Port Authority proposal, peak and of-peak tolls would increase by an additional $2 in 2014.
Auto drivers who pay their tolls in cash would see even steeper increases, as would truck drivers.
Many New Jersey residents must use multiple mass transit systems to get to and from work each day. Hudson County commuters who work in New York City would be among those hardest hit by the increases if they are approved in their current form. The increases also come on top of fare increases last year imposed by NJ Transit and recent fare hikes in New York City.
“I don’t know how they expect working people to afford that,” said Jersey City resident Sheila Thorne last week. Thorne works in Manhattan and commutes into work each day on the PATH train. “I haven’t received a raise or nothin’ in about six years. But everything is going up. And this won’t just affect me, I [have adult] kids who live with me, and they either go to school or go to work in the city, too.”
When members of the family are short on PATH fare money she said they already have to borrow from each other when money is tight. She expects the fare hikes will force the family to cut back on other necessities.
The Port Authority argues the increases are necessary to cover the costs of improving its infrastructure. The agency has incurred $11 billion in costs to rebuild the World Trade Center station in lower Manhattan at a time when the economic downturn has led to $2.6 billion in lost revenue.
At least one transit advocacy group agrees the agency may indeed be hard up for cash.
“Their budget is pretty straight forward. The Port Authority doesn’t receive any tax revenue. They receive money from the Hudson River crossings, the PATH fares, tolls,” said Kate Slevin, executive director of he Tri-State Transportation Campaign. “Unlike the Metropolitan Transit Authority in New York City, the Port Authority is not a public agency and doesn’t get any public resources. Also, keep in mind another factor here is the fact that [New Jersey Gov. Christopher Christie] asked the Port Authority for $1.8 billion to help rebuild its transportation infrastructure. They also have requests from the MTA for $380 million to help their underfunded capital program.”
Interestingly, Slevin’s organization believes the Port Authority actually has a “good case” for raising tolls, although Slevin was less sympathetic to the proposed PATH fare increase, which she called “very high.”
“We’re a little concerned about the transit fare increase. That’s a little high, especially for people who also take NJ Transit. NJ Transit riders saw a 22 percent fare increase last year.”
Still, several New Jersey public officials have slammed the proposed increases.
Last week, the Jersey City Council and Hudson County Board of Public Freeholders each passed resolutions opposing the fare increases.
“This has a disproportionate impact on working families, who are already struggling during this New Great Depression,” said Mayor Healy. “It also poses particular harm to communities like Jersey City, where access to affordable public transportation into and out of Manhattan has contributed greatly to our revitalization. We urge the Port Authority to reconsider these increases and the negative impact they will have on so many people.”
Menendez: audit the PA
U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) has called for an audit of the Port Authority, which would have to be initiated by New Jersey Governor Christopher Christie and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, who have each also criticized the proposed hikes.
Political observers in New York City speculated over the weekend that Christie and Cuomo’s opposition to the hikes amounted to little more than political posturing. Other observers stated that fare hikes are likely, but the two governors will work to lower the increases to minimize impact on commuters.
The Port Authority Board of Commissioners is currently expected to vote on the proposed fare increases on Friday, Aug. 19.
E-mail E. Assata Wright at firstname.lastname@example.org.