Vincent Pellechhia, general counsel, Tri-State Transportation Campaign
Testimony at Port Authority Fare and Toll Increase Public Hearing
August 16, 2011
Good morning. My name is Vincent Pellecchia, general counsel of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, a regional policy watchdog organization working for better transit and transportation policy in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. I am also a resident of Jersey City and a frequent user of the PATH trains.
I would like to start by noting that the importance of the Port Authority’s capital program in the functioning of our region cannot be overstated. That program allows over 100 million people to cross the Hudson River every year, provides 167,000 jobs and pays for maintenance of the Hudson River crossings. The Port Authority makes a strong case that without new revenue, this capital program and commuters’ mobility will be at risk.
That being said, a PATH fare increase of up to 65% is much too high. Keeping cross-Hudson public transportation fares affordable is in the best interest of all commuters, not just those on the PATH system. Keeping fares affordable encourages people to take public transportation every day which in turn reduces cross-Hudson congestion, creates jobs and is good for the environment. A much more reasonable solution would be a very modest fare increase - say around 5% - with future increases being gradual.
With respect to tolls, the increase should be related to trip timing. The Port Authority should use this opportunity to expand its existing congestion pricing program by deepening off-peak discounts. This type of peak/off-peak pricing is already part of the Port Authority’s toll structure and is based on the idea that because impacts on infrastructure and the environment are greater during rush hour, people traveling at those times should pay a little more to help cover the costs of maintaining the roads and bridges. This type of “congestion pricing” is also likely to save commuters time by encouraging drivers to move their trips to less congested times of day thereby reducing traffic when it matters most – as happened when Port Authority instituted this type of pricing in 2000.
The Port Authority’s deficits are real and due to a variety of forces out of its control: the economic recession, the rebuilding of the World Trade Center site; cuts in federal aid; and requests from both New York and New Jersey to help plug deficits in their state’s transportation programs.
In sum, a substantially reduced PATH fare increase and a modified toll structure can save commuters money and still pay for necessary projects to keep our region moving while minimizing the increased burden Port Authority commuters are being asked to bear.