Local residents attended public hearings last week to blast proposed increases in tunnel tolls and PATH train fares, even while they expected the amounts to be lowered or vetoed by the end of the week. Commuters argued that even small increases would put a dent their budgets.
Meanwhile, an audit released Wednesday showed that the PA paid $85.7 million in overtime to 5,360 of its 6,877 employees last year.
On Tuesday, the Port Authority held nine public hearings throughout New Jersey and New York to give commuters and other members of the public an opportunity to weigh in on the hikes, which were scheduled for a vote after press time on Friday. Most of these hearings pitted union workers, who support the increases, against commuters, who largely oppose them.
The PA has said that the increases are necessary to help with the rebuilding of the World Trade Center site, an explanation many have questioned, pointing out that insurance money and federal dollars should have covered those costs.
At one hearing that was held Tuesday evening at the Holland Tunnel Administration Building in Jersey City, vanloads of construction union workers were driven in to express their support for the proposed increases. Arguing that many of their colleagues have gone months without work, members of LiUNA! spoke out in favor of the increases and the estimated 180,000 infrastructure jobs that the PA has said will be created from the increased revenue.
One union worker, Carlton Hill, said at the hearing, “Right now, I’m lucky if I get one day of work a week. And I don’t get any benefits.”
But several Hudson County residents said Tuesday night the increases will have a significant impact on commuters who are already struggling to make ends meet.
“Yes, jobs will be created [from the fare and toll increases]. But you also have to look at the jobs that will be lost,” said Weehawken resident Seth Huling.
Noting that he has to use multiple transit systems to get to and from his job in New York each day, including the PATH train, Huling said the fare increase will leave commuters with less disposable income to spend on other necessities. He predicted the increases would have a ripple effect throughout the economy that will affect restaurants, dry cleaners, coffee shops,
and other small businesses.
Other commuters, said Huling, will not be able to afford to get to work at all.
Elizabeth Cronk, who owns a small business in Secaucus and frequently drives into New York, said the increased toll costs would have a devastating effect on her ability to stay afloat, and would hurt her “ability to save money for retirement as a self-employed person.”
Another small business owner said such companies could be forced to lay off employees if travel expenses begin to erode thin profit margins.
Jersey City Mayor Jerramiah T. Healy, who attended the Tuesday evening hearing and who made a statement to the Port Authority, agreed the increases would hurt northern New Jersey’s local economy.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who have jointly opposed the fare and toll increases, have the authority to veto the board’s decision.
Two weeks ago, former Union City mayor and current Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) also criticized the Port Authority.
Menendez called for an audit of the Port Authority, noting, "We’ve already seen increases as it relates to rebuilding the World Trade Center...It was my understanding that money was already earmarked and set aside for the rebuilding of the World Trade Center. Where is that money? That’s why I think there needs to be an audit of the Port Authority, so we can find out where that money went."
Price for WTC
The PA originally said that drivers using the Holland and Lincoln tunnels would see an increase of $8 to $12 during rush hour, and $6 to $10 off-peak. Fares on the PATH trains from Hoboken, Jersey City, Harrison, and Newark to New York would rise from $1.75 to $2.75. However, these amounts were expected to change by the end of the week. (For an update, go to hudsonreporter.com.)
The governors of New York and New Jersey released a proposal at the end of the week cutting and staggering the amounts of the increases.
According to the Port Authority, the price tag to rebuild the World Trade Center is more than $11 billion. The agency has also stated that it has incurred $6 billion in increased security costs since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks that destroyed the original World Trade Center site, in addition to the transportation infrastructure near the lower Manhattan office complex.
These expenses, the Port Authority has added, came at a time when the national and regional economies have collapsed and projected revenue has declined by $2.6 billion.
E-mail E. Assata Wright at email@example.com.