Six months after the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey raised prices at its six bridges and tunnels, the numbers are in: about a half million fewer drivers per month are using them. That's a 5 percent decrease overall.
The lower numbers, however, will not be a problem for the authority's bottom line. Toll revenues are up 31 percent since the hikes kicked in this past September. Between October 2011 and March 2012, the tolls took in a whopping $602.7 million, compared to $459 million raised between October 2010 and March 2011.
The drop in vehicle usage is to be expected, especially given that four months after prices went up at the crossings, tolls jumped by 50 percent on the New Jersey Turnpike and Garden State Parkway. That's a double toll hike whammy on Jersey drivers making a typical trip to Manhattan or Staten Island.
Traffic has fluctuated in the past six months but has remained consistently down. In the 16 months before the toll hikes, the number of vehicles using authority crossings ranged from 10 million to 11 million — excluding three months of extreme weather during late 2010 and early 2011. Then came September, when the authority raised peak-time E-ZPass tolls to $9.50 from $8. (After scheduled increases through 2015, that toll will be $12.50.) Since then, usage of the crossings has ranged from 9 to 10 million vehicles per month.
The toll hikes remain contentious. A February audit of the authority, conducted as a condition of support for the toll hikes by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, found a $4 billion cost over-run at the World Trade Center and an average salary for authority employees of $143,000 per year. Both governors used the audit as an occasion to blast the authority for wasteful spending.
New Jersey Senator Frank Lautenberg held a congressional hearing on Wednesday to grill Bill Baroni, deputy executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, about the fairness of the hikes. The hearing devolved into political theater as Baroni, a Christie appointee, told Lautenberg he was unfit to investigate the impact of the toll hikes because the senator had, for five years, used the bridges and tunnels for free, a perk of his former position as a Port Authority commissioner.