Opinion Split At Public Hearing On Steep NY-NJ Port Authority Toll And Fare Hikes

(Photo by meh8335 / Flickr)

(New York, NY - WNYC) The public is having its say today about steep toll and fare hikes proposed by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. At a public hearing this morning held at the Port Authority Bus Terminal on 42nd Street in Manhattan, drivers and PATH Train riders passionately panned the looming increases. But trade unionists, which stand to benefit if more money goes towards the agency's capital projects, approved of increasing revenues through hikes.

Jason Ertrell is a lawyer who drives over the George Washington Bridge every day from Clifton, NJ, to Midtown. He showed up at the hearing, signed in and took the podium to say he's not happy with what he gets for what he pays. "What I don't understand is how every morning as I drive down to pay my eight dollars, my fillings are getting rattled out and the shocks to my car are getting beat to hell--beat to heck, excuse me."

The NY-NJ Port Authority wants to raise those tolls even higher--up to $12 for EZ Pass users, and up to $15 for drivers who pay cash during peak periods. PATH Train riders would see the base price of a trip increased from $1.75 to $2.75.

But most of the 100 people at the hearing, like laborer Ramon Woodcock, were pro-hike construction workers. "The rebuilding of the World Trade Center is currently a priority and must remain so," said Woodcock. "It is a matter of American pride."

The rebuilding of the World Trade Center is a NY-NJ Port Authority project. Its current price tag is $11 billion.

Governors Cuomo and Christie, who control appointments to the authority's Board of Commissioners, initially balked at the hikes. It's now widely assumed that they're talking to the NY-NJ Port Authority about lowering them. (The commissioners are scheduled to vote on the hikes on Friday.) Those negotiations could be heating up: yesterday Port Authority executive director Chris Ward issued a strongly-worded statement defended the increases it has asked for.

"We recognize that the proposed increase is substantial," the statement said. "But it is also absolutely necessary to ensure the financial strength of the Port Authority and to maintain and grow the critical transportation infrastructure that serves the bi-state region."

A similar rationale was given in prefatory remarks by the NY-NJ Port Authority employee overseeing this morning's public hearing at the bus terminal. It didn't convince driver Andrew Holloway, who began his testimony this way: "Hi, ladies and gentlemen. I think we all know somewhere that this proposed increase is insane."