Wednesday, March 13, 2013
(Danielle Vernon - San Francisco, KQED) Dawnette Reed started working at the Golden Gate Bridge gift shop one summer when she was 17. Now, at 43, she's a toll collector, and loves it. She’s even got her favorite lanes, Number 1 and 2.
But by the morning commute on Wednesday, March 27, Reed and the other eight full-time toll-takers and 29 part-time workers will be out of a job when the bridge goes to all-electronic tolling. The Golden Gate Highway and Transportation District estimates the change will save $16 million during the first eight years. And, they expect traffic to move much faster.
But for Reed, the change is like losing a loved one.
"We've grown to become a family at the bridge. And we loved coming to work. We won't actually believe it until we see it, " Reed says. "There's so many reasons customers still need us there for."
Drivers ask toll collectors for help during health emergencies, like heart attacks or diabetic shock. Toll plaza personnel routinely report accidents and drunk drivers, and they give directions to the many out-of-towners who get lost.
Golden Gate spokeswoman Mary Currie says the bridge district will run patrols to help motorists. And, she says, in an emergency, drivers can always call 911.
"It's not going to be a duty that is theirs and that is going to be missing," Currie says. "We do that on a regular basis."
Most toll collectors already have other jobs lined up within the bridge district, and a handful have retired. But quitting work isn’t an option for Reed, and she’s not interested in taking another district job. "I have the years, but I don't have the age, so I can't retire yet," Reed says. "The bridge has offered us positions, mostly they're pushing us to be bus drivers for Golden Gate Bridge. That's not what I want to do. A lot of people say, just go do it, just go do it. Well, every job is not for everyone."
Not everyone is sad to see the toll drivers go though. Brian Kelly, from Napa, says it's just progress.
"I don’t think that’s a reason to stay away from technology, and I think it saves assets," Kelly said.
Since electronic tolling with FasTrak was added to the Golden Gate Bridge in July 2000, wait times during the morning commute dropped from as long as 20 minutes to under a minute, according to the district.
Starting on March 27, motorists will have three ways to pay for the bridge: FasTrack, a license plate account, or through a one-time payment system. Drivers can open a License Plate Account that charges a registered credit card every time the car crosses the bridge. Otherwise motorists can make a one-time payment up to 30 days before or up to 48 hours after crossing the bridge online, by phone or eventually at "cash payment locations."
Listen to the audio version of this story here.
Thursday, February 07, 2013
(San Francisco -- KALW) Last week, the Golden Gate Bridge began testing a new all-electronic toll collection system. In the past, there’s always been the option to hand cash to a human being.
But in sixty days, if all goes according to plan, human toll collectors will be completely phased out. Mary Currie, the spokesperson for Golden Gate Bridge Highway and Transportation District, said it’s mostly about the budget.
“We have a $66 million, five-year shortfall, and with the movement from manual collection to electronic collection we can save approximately $16 million over an eight-year period,” Currie said.
Currie expects the change will be fairly easy, because more than two-thirds of the people who cross the Golden Gate Bridge today already have a FasTrak--an opt-in program that lets drivers pay their tolls electronically. But Currie says drivers can also pay using credit cards or cash, use smart phones or kiosks to pre-pay.
People who blow through the toll plaza without pre-paying will get a bill for six dollars mailed to their house.
The all-electronic toll system is scheduled to go into effect at the end of March.
But if this Q&A in the San Jose Mercury is any indication of how Bay Area residents feel about the switch, the Golden Gate Bridge transit district has their P.R. work cut out for them. People are asking about everything from what to do when driving a rental cars to how to this will work for those who only take rare trips across the bridge. While the transit district has answers for most of the questions, drivers will need to know them before the big shift.
Of the 28 toll Golden Gate Bridge toll workers, 14 have either retired or have found other jobs within the transit district. In the event the district can’t place the remaining workers, they will get a severance package, the details of which are still being negotiated with the toll takers’ union. The union has not made any toll workers available for comment.
Though many highways use all electronic tolling, by Currie's count, the Golden Gate is the largest bridge to attempt such a system in the United States. Two smaller bridges that have eschewed cash tolls are the SR 520 "floating bridge" in Seattle and the Leeville Bridge in Louisiana. Currie said that while Golden Gate Bridge is among the first bridges to try this new tolling system, it certainly won’t be the last.
“We will see all-electronic tolling across the United States in the next 10 years,” she said.
Friday, January 11, 2013
(Neena Satija - CT Mirror) It's been almost exactly 30 years since a tractor-trailer plowed into cars waiting at a Stratford toll barrier, triggering an explosion that killed seven people. The January 1983 crash prompted Connecticut legislators to begin phasing out tolls in the state -- and they've been banned ever since.
But if some lawmakers have their way, that could change soon. Rep. Pat Dillon, D-New Haven, will be introducing a bill this legislative session that would re-establish tolls in the state.
"Our infrastructure is crumbling," said Dillon, who has been a legislator since the 1980s when tolls were first banned. "And we don't have the money to pay for it. We're not going to have the funds we need for transportation."
Her proposal comes as Gov.Dannel P. Malloy and the state Department of Transportation have been moving to seriously study the issue of tolls, pointing out that Connecticut's revenue from its gasoline tax is set to decline steeply as cars become more fuel-efficient. The state will begin two studies early this year to consider putting tolls on two major highways - I-84 west in the Hartford area, and I-95 between New Haven and New York.
Highway tolls are gaining more acceptance in other states -- most recently, Los Angeles County, which implemented the first tolls in its history last November.
"It's not just Connecticut where this is becoming an issue," said Tom Maziarz, director of the DOT's Bureau of Policy and Planning. "This is an issue nationwide in terms of the amount of funding available for transportation."
Drivers paid tolls all over the state before the 1980s. There were several toll stations on I-95 and Route 52, on the Merritt and Wilbur Cross Parkways, and on Hartford-area bridges including the Charter Oak. The Connecticut Turnpike alone generated $56 million in revenue in its last year of collections.
Maziarz said he doesn't have an estimate of how much money tolls could bring in today. The DOT studies (which will cost about $2.2 million, mostly paid for by federal funds) will focus more on how the state might reinstate tolls, and for what purpose.
"Congestion pricing," which refers to using tolls meant to reduce traffic at peak hours, has become a popular term in many transportation circles. On I-95, congestion relief is critical, with 16 million hours of delay in the area between Bridgeport and Stamford experienced due to traffic in 2007, the last year for which figures were available. (In 1983, the number was under 5 million). The DOT estimates that delays on I-95 and I-91 cost a total of $670 million in lost productivity that year.
But reducing traffic through tolls on the highway won't be easy. I-95's "peak" period lasts from 6:15 a.m. to well after 10 a.m., and many drivers may not be able or willing to shift their time of travel in order to save money. Other possible routes, like the main roads in towns hugging the highway or the Merritt Parkway, are just as congested.
Another option would be adding new lanes that are toll-only -- a costly proposition in terms of construction and land acquisition. Or, all or some of the lanes on the current highway could be pay lanes -- but that may run afoul of federal requirements that generally do not allow tolls on interstate highways, and therefore deprive the state of needed federal funds.
"The goal is congestion relief," Maziarz said. "What we don't know yet is whether or not electronic tolling can do it, or what combination of electronic tolling and highway improvements and transit improvements are necessary to do it."
When it comes to putting tolls on I-84, the state's focus will be somewhat different. While revenues collected on I-95 could go toward a variety of improvements -- like fixing old roadways and bridges on the interstate, or even beefing up the railway system -- tolls on I-84 are seen as a possible option for financing the reconstruction of the Aetna Viaduct in Hartford.
The elevated roadway through downtown Hartford was built in 1965 and is in desperate need of repair.
"It's reached a point that in order to keep it functioning in a safe manner, it's very expensive and very disruptive," Maziarz said. "We just spent on the order of $25-35 million just within the last year or so with a relatively small repair project out there, where we focused on the bridge joints."
Replacing the whole viaduct, he said, will cost at least $1 billion to $2 billion.
With so many other issues facing the legislature this session, it's not clear whether Dillon's bill to put tolls back on the table will get much attention. Fairfield County legislators are also still very wary of a law that could, many say, disproportionately affect residents in that area.
"I've met so many people, certainly from the Greenwich area, that are opposed to it, that remember what it was like when they had them back in the early '80s and beyond," said Rep. Larry Cafero, a Republican from Norwalk. "So it's a mixed bag."
At the same time, Cafero said, things have changed since the 1980s. Back then, following the Stratford crash, thousands of people marched in protest of tolls because of the potential for accidents at toll booths. There were also concerns about the pollution caused by so many cars braking constantly to pay the toll.
Much of that is no longer a concern, as tolls are often paid electronically now. The DOT's studies will only consider reinstating tolls using an electronic method of payment, such as the EZ-Pass system in use throughout the Northeast.
"I think technology has come a long enough way that it's certainly prudent to look into it," Cafero said.
However, he noted, "for every person that has an EZ-Pass, there's many who don't. And I look to the right of me, and I see lines going back with idling cars for quite some distance of people doing it the old-fashioned way."
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Thursday, January 03, 2013
(Neena Satija - CT Mirror) As we celebrate the beginning of a new year, it’s time for that obligatory look back on the last one. Some big stories for Connecticut commuters in 2012:
A major storm prompts rail closures for the second year in a row. In 2011, Metro-North suspended service during Tropical Storm Irene and suffered severe damage to its Port Jervis Line; this time around, it was the New Haven Line’s New Canaan branch that was badly hit. But most praised the quick recovery of the tri-state area transportation system, much of which was back online within two to three days after the storm. The full consequences of the damage incurred by the storm are probably yet to be felt, however, with damage to the New York’s MTA system in the billions — and, as of Jan. 2, a federal aid package for the region affected by Sandy has yet to be voted on.
An old rail line gets … well, older. As Metro-North officials keep telling us, the New Haven Line is one of the oldest in the country. Commuters had several painful reminders of that this year, as everything from derailing trains to power problems (or perhaps squirrels???) to signal issues to 100+ year-old bridges that wouldn’t close stranded them for hours. And yet, some data suggest it was still actually a better year for the rail agency than 2011, when severe winter weather and extreme heat caused even more issues.
Fare hikes, followed by … more fare hikes! Metro-North prices jumped 5.25 percent in January of 2012. By the time the legislative session in Connecticut rolled around several months later, a few lawmakers tried to make sure more hikes wouldn’t be in the cards — but they weren’t successful. Ticket prices jumped up again this year, by 4 percent.
Tolls?! Often considered the third rail of Connecticut politics for the past three decades, tolls quietly entered the conversation last year as a way to pay for badly-needed transportation projects and infrastructure upgrades. The calls got louder by the end of the year, and the state will begin studying the prospect of tolls on I-84 and I-95 in earnest in the coming months.
CTFastrak. Following plenty of spirited debate, the Connecticut General Assembly approved a $567 million to built a 9.4-mile road from Hartford to New Britain that will be exclusively for buses. Known affectionately — and derisively — as the Hartford-to-New-Britain busway, the huge project (mostly funded by federal money) saw skepticism even from those who eventually became its greatest proponents. Now, construction is well underway, to the chagrin of many — including some downtown Hartford residents.
A conversation starts about the future of rail travel in the Northeast Corridor. OK, so it’s really just the environmental review process that’s starting, and maybe some people are kicking around some early ideas for what rail travel could really look like between Washington, D.C. and Boston in the next few decades. Also, we don’t really have money to do any of this stuff, on a federal or state level. But still, it’s good to dream!
A fight over parking in Stamford. Given that the waiting list for a monthly parking pass at Stamford’s train station — the busiest in Connecticut — is about two years long, there really is a fight going on about this. First, Connecticut’s Department of Transportation asked people for their input on plans to improve the parking situation at the station — but wouldn’t tell people anything about those plans. After much public fuming, the state created an advisory panel consisting of five citizens who were given a tiny bit more information about those plans than the rest of us. Most of us still have no idea who has submitted proposals to replace a parking garage at the station, and what exactly their proposals are — for which they will get $35 million in state aid. The DOT is expected to make a final decision soon.
Here’s to bigger — and hopefully, better — stories for commuters in the coming year.
Monday, December 17, 2012
Thruway executive director Tom Madison, speaking Monday at an announcement with Governor Cuomo, says the authority scrapped plans for the truck toll hike and will economize instead. Some authority workers will be laid off and the rest will see their benefits cut, state police will have to fund Thruway patrols themselves, and some state agencies might take over some of the services provided on the canal system, which has been a financial drain on the authority.
Cuomo says he’s pleased. “I thought it would be counterproductive form an economic development point of view,” he said.
Monday's announcement ends months of back-and-forth of uncertainty. The Authority originally announced the toll hike last spring, but New York State's comptroller blasted those plans -- leading the proposal to languish.
The cancellation of the toll hike was heralded by business leaders, who had pushed to see the truck toll increase rescinded. “We are thankful and relieved,” said New York State Business Council president Heather Briccetti.
Thursday, December 13, 2012
As expected, the head of the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority is recommending the agency raise the base fare for subways and buses by 25 cents, and increase the cost of a 30-day MetroCard from $104 to $112.
Joe Lhota outlined his recommendation in a memo sent to MTA board members Thursday. The board is expected to approve the fare hike at its meeting next week. It would go into effect in March 2013.
Lhota says in his memo that the increase in fares and tolls will raise an additional $450 million annually for the agency.
To learn more, read the memo below, or download a pdf of it here.
Tuesday, December 11, 2012
(Neena Satija -- CT Mirror) Transportation advocates and officials across Connecticut gathered in the state capitol Monday to face a sobering fact: In an age of soaring deficits on both the state and national levels, the funds available for transit improvements are shrinking fast.
Funding on the federal level remains uncertain not only because of the slow negotiations to avoid the so-called "fiscal cliff," but also because a highway trust fund is nearly broke. Meanwhile, Connecticut's own deficit seems to rise daily -- it is now estimated at around $400 million for this fiscal year -- prompting budget cuts to a variety of different state agencies.
"In two years, our federal [funding situation] could be a disaster," said Jim Redeker, commissioner of Connecticut's Department of Transportation. "There's a real sense that we have to look very quickly at what the options are."
Like many other states, Connecticut is left with major transportation projects that have little or no source of funding at the moment -- including a badly needed overhaul of the Aetna Viaduct, a three-quarter-mile elevated stretch of Interstate 84 over Hartford, and the modernization of Metro-North's New Haven rail line, which carries upwards of 38 million passengers between Connecticut and Manhattan each year.
"These are multi-billion-dollar projects ... and the state does not have the funds to do them," said Emil Frankel, a former commissioner of Connecticut's Department of Transportation who is now with the Bipartisan Policy Center. "We have to look at other revenue sources."
Those sources must include tolls, he said, and was echoed by many others at the forum -- touching what had long been considered a "third rail" in Connecticut politics. Since a fiery crash at a toll barricade in 1983 killed seven people, Connecticut has eliminated all of its tolls and relies mostly on gasoline taxes and federal funding for transportation.
"We, as citizens, have to take on more responsibility for funding," said Oz Griebel of the MetroHartford Alliance, who ran for Governor as a Republican in 2010 and suggested highway tolls for the state at the time. He speculated that Gov. Dannel Malloy, who was criticized by many for embracing the controversial $570 million Hartford-to-New-Britain busway dubbed CT Fastrak, might now be willing to touch the third rail.
Redeker said the state has been studying the possibility of adding fees for highway drivers based on time of day, type of vehicle, and lanes. "Tolls need to be looked at, like everything else," he said. The Los Angeles area, which for years boasted of its toll-free highways, recently began charging tolls on an 11-mile stretch of its 110 Freeway.
Still, tolls -- or higher gasoline taxes, which have also been floated as a possibility on the national level -- wouldn't solve the problem. A large chunk of gas tax money that was technically meant for transportation in the state has for many years gone to other uses. Last year, Malloy put $40 million back into what's called the "Special Transportation Fund," but this fiscal year he took out $70 million. He offset the difference partly by fare increases on Metro-North that will take place on January 1, 2013.
If tolls were added, said many at the forum, they would have to be dedicated only to the Special Transportation Fund.
As Frankel put it, "People who use the system should pay for the system, and they should know that the money is being reinvested in the transportation system."
Kim Fawcett, who represents Fairfield and Westport in the Connecticut General Assembly, said she's been fighting for years to get her constituents to warm to the idea of tolls on I-95 or other highways in the state.
"How do I sell it?" she asked panelists at the forum on Monday. "We need a grand vision."
Perhaps, she suggested after the forum, she could "sell" her voters on tolls if they came with this promise: "You're going to get a commute of 30 minutes to New York City instead of the hour and 15 minutes that it currently takes on the train."
At the moment, though, the state doesn't have any long-term plan that would allow her to promote such a vision. And there's no guarantee that Connecticut won't continue to raid its Special Transportation Fund, making the situation even worse.
In his opening remarks at the Transit for Connecticut Forum, Malloy referred to that issue, saying pointedly, "Putting our fiscal house in order after 20 years of ignoring it is a very important issue...these days will be behind us."
He also pointed out that Connecticut does have a few major transportation projects already underway, including CT Fastrak and the new high-speed rail line that runs from New Haven through Hartford up to Springfield. (Those projects are financed largely through one-time federal grants).
Redeker said the Special Transportation Fund should not be affected by changes to the state's General Fund -- but in reality, there are no guarantees.
"At this point I'm really not aware of what the proposals are or what the debates are going to be, but it's a tough problem," he said. "And we'll work together on it."
Redeker's agency budget totals about $1.2 billion, including both capital and operating expenses.
Monday, December 10, 2012
(Karen DeWitt, Albany) The board in charge of setting tolls for New York's main highways is scheduled to meet again next Monday. But there’s still uncertainty whether the New York State Thruway Authority will finally act on a proposal to raise truck tolls.
The 45 percent toll increase on trucks, first proposed by the Thruway Authority last spring, has languished for months as the board has scheduled, then abruptly cancelled several meetings. Opponents, including the trucking industry, have condemned the idea, saying it detracts from the state’s recent efforts to be more business friendly.
At a cabinet meeting called by Governor Andrew Cuomo in recent days, Thruway Authority executive director Tom Madison says it hasn’t been decided yet whether the board will continue to push its proposal at a meeting scheduled for December 17th. Madison says he knows the toll hike idea is widely unpopular.
“We’ve heard at the toll hearings loud and clear from our customers,” Madison said. “We’re exploring every possible alternative.”
Madison spoke following a presentation on proposals for new Tappan Zee Bridge, in which three design options were unveiled as artist's renderings.
Cuomo has neither supported nor condemned the toll hike proposal, saying he understands that the authority, which has been poorly managed in the past, might need new revenue to avoid a bond rating downgrade. The Thruway Authority holds billions of dollars in road construction bonds. But the governor has said he’d like to see toll hikes implemented only as a last resort.
“I don’t think [it's] any mystery. It’s a tough situation for the Thruway,” Cuomo said. “They’re under pressure from the bond underwriters.”
But Cuomo says there have been enough toll hikes lately. The authority has raised the fares several times in the past decade. Less than two weeks ago, tolls were increased on bridges and tunnels controlled by the Port Authority of NY and NJ.
“I don’t think you go to the last resort until you have proven that there is no other viable option,” Cuomo said. “And I don’t believe they’ve gone through that process yet.”
Assembly Republican Leader Brian Kolb has proposed that the Thruway Authority merge with the state’s Transportation Department, to save money. Kolb says the authority has been secretive, and mismanaged. He says he’d rather see an independent audit conducted of the Authority’s books to find out whether a toll hike is really justified.
“You’ve got an agency that won’t answer the bell, in terms of questions about how its finances are run, why is so much money needed,” Kolb said. “They’re not answering the public.”
Madison, with the Thruway Authority, says since he was appointed to his post by Governor Cuomo over a year ago, he has been trying to cut costs.
“We have taken a hard look and continue to do so internally,” said Madison, who says the construction program has been cut by $300 million, and the authority has reduced in operating expenses by $25 million.
The Thruway Authority meeting on December 17th, to approve proposals for a new Tappan Zee Bridge plan, is its first gathering since early August. A spokesman could not say whether the toll hike proposal, in its present or an altered form will be voted upon then. Spokesman Dan Weiller says even though thruway executive director Madison said all options are on the table, he did not mean a toll hike for passenger cars. He says that option has been ruled out.
Thursday, November 15, 2012
The agency managing the largest public rail expansion in the nation voted to increase tolls on a Virginia highway in part to help fund construction of the Silver Line.
On Wednesday, the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority unanimously approved raising the full, one-way toll on the Dulles Toll Road to $2.75 effective January 1, an increase of $.50. In January 2014 toll will increase to $3.50.
The toll increases are a major part of the financing plan for the Silver Line extension to Dulles International Airport, a 23-mile, $5.5 billion project whose first phase is scheduled for completion late next year. The MWAA board put off a decision to increase tolls again in 2015 because of the possibility of obtaining additional state and/or federal dollars.
MWAA has two avenues to secure additional funds: Virginia’s General Assembly, which has provided only $150 million to date, and the federal TIFIA (Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act) loan program.
“Our project is, bar none, (one) of the more worthy projects in the country for TIFIA loan financing,” said MWAA Board Chairman Michael Curto in remarks to reporters after the agency’s vote. “We’ve seen the enhanced TIFIA loan program so we’re positioned well, given that the project is shovel ready. We’re ready to move."
Curto is not the only public official who has expressed optimism a federal loan with come through. However, MWAA has a lot of competition for TIFIA dollars. Nineteen major transportation projects totaling $27 billion are currently applying for loans, and Congress has authorized $1.75 billion for TIFIA the next two fiscal years.
“The pool is very small compared to what the needs are just for our rail system,” said Terry Maynard, a board member of the Reston Citizens Association, which represents 58,000 residents in a Fairfax County tax district. “It's going to be very hard to get a significant contribution.”
The association opposes not the Silver Line’s construction but its financing plan, which leaves fifty percent of the entire project’s cost on Dulles Toll Road users (75 percent of Phase II).
“We really want this to get built and succeed,” Maynard said. “We are pressing that all the money [MWAA] receives relieve the burden on toll road users.” Fairfax County residents have relayed their concerns to MWAA that drivers looking to avoid higher tolls will opt for already congested secondary roads, further clogging their communities with traffic.
Curto promised that MWAA will lobby Richmond for additional funding. He declined to criticize the McDonnell administration’s spending priorities, which have seen hundreds of millions of dollars allocated for highway expansions.
“We are going to reach out, work closely and hope to encourage the governor’s administration and the folks in Richmond that Dulles Rail should be the recipient of additional funds. As Secretary LaHood said, it is a model project,” Curto said.
D.C. Beltway Opens HOT Lanes to Breeze Past Traffic for a Price, but Strapped Gov't Won't Get Revenue
Tuesday, November 13, 2012
(Washington, D.C. -- WAMU) Heralded as the Beltway’s largest expansion that will provide drivers in Northern Virginia congestion relief for a price, the 495 Express Lanes ceremoniously opened Tuesday morning as Governor Bob McDonnell (R-Va.) cut the ribbon on the $2 billion project.
“So many said that expanding the Beltway was just not a possible task given the multiple challenges. It would consume VDOT’s entire budget, some would say at the time. It would take an immense amount of property. And yet the private sector came up with this concept of a high occupancy toll lane,” the governor said at a ceremony in Tysons Corner.
The high-occupancy toll (HOT) lanes will actually open to traffic November 17. Two new lanes will run in each direction for fourteen miles between the Dulles Toll Road and I-95 interchange in Fairfax County, Virginia.
If all goes according to plan, there will never be traffic slower than 45 miles per hour in the HOT lanes.
HOV-3 vehicles and buses may use the 495 Express Lanes for free. All other motorists must pay electronic tolls through EZ Pass that will be dynamically priced: the higher the traffic volume on the Express Lanes, the higher the toll. The highway’s operators are required to keep traffic moving at least 45 miles per hour.
The project was made possible through a public-private partnership with Fluor-Transurban, an engineer and construction conglomerate. Virginia gets a $2 billion dollar road; Transurban receives the toll revenues for 75 years as per its contract with the state. Virginia funded roughly one-fifth of the cost ($409 million); Transurban provided $1.5 billion with considerable help from a $589 million federal loan through the TIFIA program.
The use of public-private partnerships to complete massive transportation projects is raising questions about Virginia’s lack of tax revenue and conservative debt capacity to build needed infrastructure. The state’s gasoline tax of $.17 per gallon hasn’t been raised in 25 years; 85 percent of gas tax revenues are used for maintenance of existing roadways, according to Secretary of Transportation Sean Connaughton.
“When you look at projects that are growing in cost and complexity it is becoming more difficult for the public sector to be able to design, build, and finance them,” Connaughton said. When pressed on whether the Republican administration of Governor Bob McDonnell would ask the state legislature to raise the gas tax, Connaughton would not commit to a position.
“The governor is working with his team right now as well as leadership in the general assembly to develop a consensus package to address our transportation funding challenges,” said Connaughton, who said gas tax revenues have been depleted by inflation and improved vehicle fuel efficiencies.
“People are buying more fuel efficient vehicles. They are buying alternative vehicles and hybrids, and we are actually seeing an impact on our gas tax revenues for vehicle miles traveled,” he said.
The gasoline tax’s diminishing returns are not a reason to avoid raising it, according to Virginia Congressman Gerry Connolly (D-Va.).
“So long as the current administration in Richmond is unwilling to deal straightforwardly with the issue of declining revenue, we are going to starve the Commonwealth of any new infrastructure except for projects like this which are uniquely funded with massive amounts of federal aid,” Connolly said, referring to the large federal loan secured by Fluor-Transurban.
Connolly said both Virginia and the federal government should raise their gas taxes and index them to inflation. The federal gas tax has remained at $.18 per gallon since 1993.
If an attempt were made to finance such a project by floating bonds without leveraging private equity, Connaughton said the state’s debt capacity would not allow it.
“Almost all the debt capacity for the state is spoken for today and out into the future. If you want to get projects done, given the cost involved, you have to look for ways to bring in the private sector,” said Connaughton, who acknowledged public-private partnerships only work in cases where the private sector investor would have a dedicated revenue stream. In the instance of the 495 Express Lanes, that would be tolls.
“There are a limited number of projects that actually can generate the types of revenues that help offset the costs of the infrastructure. Public-private partnerships are a tool in the tool chest. We want to use them where they make sense… but at the end of the day we still have to look at the broader package of funding sources,” Connaughton said.
In Connolly's view, public-private partnerships have another limitation. "There is a limit to the public tolerance for new toll facilities," he said.
Monday, October 15, 2012
The New York MTA has released its new fare hike proposals, bringing the cost of a monthly MetroCard to as much as $125 under one scenario.
The hikes, which came as the authority also proposed a one dollar rise in cash tolls over most of its bridges and tunnels -- to $7.50 -- are not unexpected. The authority has presented a virtually endless series of hikes to pay for its operations in its current budget.
MTA chief Joe Lhota said the increases are unavoidable. "Costs that the MTA does not exercise control over, namely those for debt service, pensions, energy, paratransit, and employee and retiree health care, continue to increase beyond the rate of inflation."
The proposals will now go to hearings before a final option is settled by the MTA board.
Our Jim O'Grady sends these notes from MTA's headquarters. We'll have a fleshed out version soon.
The current base fare of MetroCard is $2.25. A 30-day unlimited pass is $104, and a 7-day pass is $29.
There are four proposed versions of the increase, which the MTA is calling 1A, 1B, 2A and 2B. (Click on the below graphic for more detail.)
Under Proposal 1, the base fare would rise to $2.50. Under proposal 1A, the bonus discount would remain unchanged, effectively providing a per-trip fare of $2.34. Under this proposal, the 30-day unlimited MetroCard would rise to $112 and the 7-day would rise to $30. Under proposal 1B, the bonus discount would be eliminated but the increases to time-based cards would be lower. The 30-day would rise to $109 and the 7-day would remain unchanged.
Under Proposal 2, the base fare would remain unchanged. Under Proposal 2A, the bonus discount would be reduced to 5%, effectively increasing the per-trip fare to $2.14. Under this proposal, the 30-day unlimited MetroCard would rise to $125 and the 7-day would rise to $34. Under Proposal 2B, the bonus discount would be eliminated, the 30-day card would rise to $119, and the 7-day would rise to $32.
Under each of these proposals, the $1 surcharge for purchasing a new MetroCard would be implemented.
Eight public hearings are scheduled from November 7 to 15. The public can also record videotaped comments at MTA headquarters and train stations in Long Island and Westchester. From the MTA's website: Members of the public are also encouraged to submit written comments via to the MTA's website, or register to speak at a public hearing by calling (718) 521-3333 between the hours of 6 a.m. and 10:00 p.m. MTA Board Members will review transcripts of all public hearings and submitted videos, as well as copies of all written comments submitted via the web.
The MTA says 2013 fare and toll increase must generate $450 million annually. The 2015 fare increase must raise $500 million annually.
38% of fare trips use bonus MetroCard
31% use 3o-day
16% - 7-day
10% - pay per ride
5% - cash
Most Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North tickets would rise by 8% to 9.3%, with the fee increase based on distance.
E-ZPass discounts (vs cash) remain.
RFK Bridge, Throgs Neck Bridge, Bronx-Whitestone Bridge, Brooklyn Battery Tunnel, Queens Midtown Tunnel:
E-ZPass - from $4.80 to $5.30
Cash - from $6.50 to $7.50
Verrazano Narrows Bridge:
E-ZPass round trip - from $9.60 to $10.60
Staten Island resident E-ZPass rate: from $5.76 to $6.36
Henry Hudson Bridge
E-ZPass - $2.20 to $2.43
Tolls by mail (camera snaps license plate, bill mailed to driver; this bridge is cashless) - $4 to $5
Cross Bay, Marine Parkway Bridges
E-ZPass $1.80 to $1.99
Friday, August 10, 2012
It's a new chapter in a series of events that started last Thursday evening, when Larry Schwartz, the secretary to the governor, formally revealed at a community meeting that tolls on the new bridge would almost triple when it opens to traffic in 2017.
The current Tappan Zee Bridge, which connects Rockland and Westchester Counties across the Hudson River, is considered to have outlived its useful life. New York State has been working on plans to replace it for almost a decade, and Governor Cuomo has made jump-starting construction one of his priorities.
Although Cuomo had been saying that tolls on the Tappan Zee would go up when the new bridge opens to traffic in 2017, the number -- which one Albany talk show host referred to as "jaw dropping" in an interview with the governor on Friday -- caught many people off guard, and the backlash was immediate.
But today the governor struck a different tone in a letter to the New York State Thruway Authority, the agency in charge of the bridge. It was the first time Cuomo backed away from the $14 number.
"I believe the projected 2017 toll schedule based on the Federal Highway Administration’s estimate of up to $5.2 billion for the new bridge is too high," wrote Cuomo. "Over the next five years, we must find alternatives, revenue generators and cost reductions that reduce the potential toll increases." It was not immediately clear what a non-toll revenue generator would be.
To lower future tolls, the NY state is banking on lowering the projected construction costs below the federal estimate of $5.2 billion. Another option would be applying for additional grants to the state from the U.S. Department of Transportation. A spokesperson for the governor's office said that three construction bids are currently under review and that the cost will be the last piece of information to be parsed.
While it will take some time to hash out exactly how much toll revenue is required to build the new Tappan Zee, Cuomo's letter had one immediate effect: the supervisor of one Westchester town cancelled a planned meeting to protest the toll hike. "In light of the Governor’s responsiveness to the concerns of residents who object to the toll hike -- there is no need to have the meeting on August 15th," reads a notice on the Greenburgh web site.
Thursday, August 09, 2012
Following last week’s news that tolls on the new Tappan Zee Bridge could nearly triple by the time it opens in five years, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office has mounted a PR campaign trumpeting support for the $5 billion project.
The governor's team has been sending out near-daily emails listing numerous backers of a new bridge--including an endorsement from former New York Governor George Pataki, who had defeated Andrew Cuomo's father, Mario, in 1994. Notably absent from the list of supporters: Rockland County executive Scott Vanderhoef and Westchester County executive Rob Astorino, two elected officials who have yet to sign off on the project in order for it to receive federal funding.
The Cuomo plan would set the new bridge's cash toll at $14, a hefty jump from the current $5 charge. The governor says the increase is needed to pay for the $5.2 billion span, whose "basic source of financing will be the tolls."
Administration officials point out that at the new toll would bring the TZB in line with other Hudson River crossings, like the George Washington Bridge, due to rise to $14 in 2014, and the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, which costs $13.
The projected toll was laid bare at a community meeting in Ramapo last Thursday -- and Larry Schwartz, secretary to the governor, was careful to back into it.
Schwartz began by repeating the governor's assertion that a comprehensive bus rapid transit system would double the cost of the new bridge. "A full build-out of bus rapid transit on the bridge is $10 billion [leading to] a $28 toll in 2017," said Schwartz. He tried to use that number to make $14 look like a bargain.
It didn't work: the collective chagrin was immediate.
Media outlets ran headlines the next day using words like "tripling," and "steep." Opinion columns fumed that "the logic must be that if commuters already are soaked, they won't notice another wave of cold water." One local official said the toll hike would make the Tappan Zee a "bridge for only the rich" and announced plans for a town meeting on the topic. And Hudson Valley advocates who have been hoping -- so far in vain -- for a robust mass transit system said area commuters "could have few options in the face of higher tolls."
That same day, Cuomo's office sent out a statement implying that the $14 toll was a no-brainer. "On the cost the choice is clear," said Cuomo. "A new better bridge will require about the same tolls as just fixing the old bridge and about half the toll of a new bridge plus a new bus system."
But still: $14 tolls?
"I guess I was pleasantly surprised that the tolls weren't going to be higher," said Bob Yaro, president of the Regional Plan Association.
Yaro said that even if the current bridge was not replaced, tolls would go up because the cost of maintaining the 50-year old structure is skyrocketing. "People are not happy that they have to pay increased tolls but this strikes me as a reasonable amount," he said.
The RPA has long advocated for better bus service across the Tappan Zee Bridge. But Yaro says the corridor doesn't need a 30-mile bus rapid transit system, at least right now, because the I-287 corridor has seen a significant drop in traffic over the past ten years. "It is a place where we don't have growing traffic congestion," he said.
Instead, Yaro recommended easing bus traffic across the bridge on either side, and creating a better connection to the Tarrytown Metro-North station. Caveat: building a ramp from the bridge to the station, as some have proposed, would cost too much. "But we've gotten assurances from the governor's office that they'll will work with us and other advocates to look at options to make those connections work, both in the immediate future and as the new bridge comes on line," Yaro said.
David King, an assistant professor of urban planning at Columbia University's graduate school of architecture, was similarly sanguine about a future with $14 tolls -- even in the face of few mass transit options. "I think if the tolls are $14, that will substantially cut down traffic -- so it doesn’t matter that there's not going to be a dedicated transit lane [on either side of the bridge]," he said. Then he slammed the project's price tag. "We should be outraged just because it’s costing so much, whether it has transit or not."
Meanwhile, as this story was being written, yet another email came in from the Governor's office. “The elected officials of the Hudson Valley know best what their region needs, and on behalf of their constituents, they are calling for a new bridge to replace the obsolete Tappan Zee,” Cuomo said.
Wednesday, July 25, 2012
(Matt McCleskey, Washington, D.C. -- WAMU) The trucking industry is urging Virginia to abandon its plan to charge tolls on Interstate 95, launching a campaign called "Say NO to I-95 Tolls."
The goal of the anti-toll initiative, according to the Associated Press, is to get the Virginia Department of Transportation to drop a proposed plan to put tollbooths on I-95 in Sussex County. The toll would be $4 for passenger vehicles and $12 for tractor-trailers.
The effort includes a website, an online petition and a Facebook page and is organized by the National Association of Truck Stop Operators, the American Trucking Association, and the Virginia Trucking Association.
The Federal Highway Administration gave its preliminary approval last fall to let VDOT start a pilot toll program on I-95 to raise money for expanding highway capacity and for transportation improvements.
The only toll facility proposed so far is the Sussex County site.
Listen to the audio of this story at WAMU, or follow @WAMU885 for Washington, D.C. updates.
Wednesday, April 18, 2012
Listen to a conversation about the hearings -- and hear some audio from them - below.
UPDATED A Senate hearing ostensibly on the fairness of toll hikes devolved into a slugfest between Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Bill Baroni, Deputy Executive Director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
Lautenberg has been seething since New Jersey Governor Chris Christie killed the ARC commuter tunnel under the Hudson River in late 2010. Last summer's Hudson River toll hikes -- raised by as much as 50% -- only added fuel to the fire.
Lautenberg had a line of questions prepared, including when the Governors of New Jersey and New York knew about the 2010 toll hikes and whether Baroni thought they were fair.
But Baroni, a Christie appointee, was prepared. "It is impossible to argue fairness in tolls if you don’t pay them," he said, pointing out that the senator -- a Port Authority commissioner from 1978-1982 -- had used an agency-funded EZ Pass at Port Authority toll crossings 284 times (a perk -- since discontinued -- formerly available to Port Authority commissioners for life).
Lautenberg seemed caught off guard by the statement, and although he quickly brought the line of questioning back to the toll hike, it looked like he had brought a butter knife to a switchblade fight.
The senator was also unable to pin Baroni down on one of his key issues: what did Governor Christie know about the Port Authority's plans for last summer's toll hikes, and when did he know it? Baroni wouldn't get specific. "I'm not going to talk about conversations that I have with different administration officials," he said -- spurring Lautenberg to retort: "Are you running a protection agency there?" "Excuse me?" responded Baroni, all wounded indignation.
But with all things Lautenberg and Christie-related, all roads lead back to the ARC tunnel. Senator Lautenberg is furious with the governor for canceling the trans-Hudson tunnel -- a project which the senator had long championed. "Why did the administration that we have in office now cancel $6 billion worth of money that we raised through this place to build a tunnel and get 22,000 cars off the road?" he spat at Baroni. A brief mic outage muted the Port Authority executive's response.
Lautenberg went on to grill Baroni about accusations of political patronage at the Port Authority, and told Baroni he had two weeks to supply the Senate committee with the names of people Governor Chris Christie had recommended for employment at the Port Authority.
"Sure!" said Baroni. "Should we go through them now?"
"Your impertinence is barely tolerable," Lautenberg told Baroni.
Later in the hearing, which stretched to almost 70 minutes, Baroni described the agency's plans to expand platforms at Harrison's PATH station. "Under the plan, we're going to be able to go to ten cars, and that's going to help us bring more rail —"
The senator abruptly hit the gavel twice. "Thank you very much. This hearing is over."
After the hearing, Senator Jay Rockefeller, Chair of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee chided Baroni: “I am troubled and disappointed by accounts of inappropriate discourse and decorum by a witness at the Senate Commerce Subcommittee this morning. A basic level of civility is expected from every witness who testifies in a formal Senate hearing and reports suggest that standard was not met today.”
Later this afternoon, Governor Chris Christie's press secretary, Michael Drewniak, sent the following statement dripping with enmity: (full statement at end of post) "Let’s accept the obvious: the hearing was a partisan charade. Senator Lautenberg is deluding himself if he actually believes the practices he oversaw, participated in and encouraged during his time as a commissioner with the Port Authority are not relevant in explaining the Port Authority inherited by Governors Cuomo and Christie."
For his part, Lautenberg sent out a statement saying "Mr. Baroni engaged in distraction, deception and diversion. I am very disappointed that the Port Authority continues to operate behind a veil of secrecy."
Lautenberg has requested that the GAO examine interstate tolling authorities. Meanwhile, late this afternoon, word was released that a joint New York-New Jersey hearing on the Port Authority -- scheduled for this Friday on Staten Island -- is being postponed.
Read below for a partial transcript of a piece of this morning's exchange. You can watch a archived video of Wednesday's hearing here.
Here's a transcript of part of this morning's exchange:
Lautenberg: The question is: did the size of the increase strike those of you who make decisions at the Port Authority as being fair? I mean, that’s a substantial -- 50% increase to cross the bridge. That’s a lot of money.
Baroni: Senator, thank you for the question, and I know that the conversation we heard, some of my colleagues talking about much it is. But as I described before, Senator, that if you are a cash-paying, non-EZPass using, rush hour driving truck, you are causing the most challenges physically to our crossings. For every fully-loaded tractor-trailer that goes across our bridges, it (causes) 10,000 times the damage to our bridges as one car. But one of the reason we built all of the discounts in, Senator, is to be able to -- those folks who are commuting, who have an EZ Pass, or drive in off-peak, and, Senator, respectfully I understand the concerns that people have about paying tolls across the Hudson. It is something that commuters as you mentioned, Senator, each and every day – but respectfully, Senator, you only started paying tolls recently. For years, Senator, as former commissioner of my agency, you received free EZ Pass. Year after year – in fact, I have a copy of your free EZ Pass. I’ve got letters from ‘01 --
Lautenberg: how often was it used? Do you know?
Baroni: yeah, actually. ’01, ’02, ’03
Lautenberg: what? how many times?
Baroni: I can tell you. In...
Lautenberg: I’m not going to permit you to continue with this silliness.
Baroni: Well, Senator, you took 284 trips for free in the last two years you had the pass.
Lautenberg: I want you to answer this question. (Baroni. Sure!) Is this fair? Is this toll increase fair to the public at large?
Baroni: I think, Senator, for those--
Lautenberg: talk about the individual cars (crosstalk) I want to keep you on track. So. Let's go.
Baroni: Senator, it's impossible..certainly, Senator. It is impossible to argue fairness in tolls if you don’t pay them.
After that testy exchange, Baroni talked about the Port Authority's discount toll programs and how many vehicles use EZPass (81%) -- but Senator Lautenberg was doing the slow burn.
Lautenberg: To pull out that little thing that I got after serving after in the Port Authority for four years -- I don't even think about using it, Mr. Baroni.
Baroni: of course not, because we took it away.
Lautenberg: Well, what happened, what happens, it was there, that's what they did, that's what I took and I'm not going to defend it. That's a silly thing to bring into this. I want to discuss your direction of this grand agency and where the money is gone, and why the increases were so large. What - what - is that fair play in your view? Why did the administration that we have in office now cancel $6 billion dollars worth of money that we raised through this place to build a tunnel and get 22,000 cars a day off the road? Do you want to talk about those things?
Christie's office sent out the following statement:
"As we learned today, Senator Lautenberg himself perpetuated some of the very dysfunction that only now, under Governors Christie and Cuomo, is being reversed through reforms and intensive audits. A few counterpoints raised by Deputy Executive Director Baroni:
→ Senator Lautenberg, a wealthy businessman who was a commissioner of the Port Authority from March 1978 to December 1982, received free annual passage at Hudson River crossings and parking privileges at all NY/NJ airports for 24 years. Mr. Baroni pointed out that in the final two years of his free EZ Pass, the Senator made no less than 284 free toll crossings.
→ At the height of his hypocritical moments today, Senator Lautenberg became enraged when Mr. Baroni pointed out that one of Sen. Lautenberg’s 2002 campaign staffers in charge of “U.S. Senate Candidate Visibility” was hired at the Port Authority after the campaign as a “principal energy specialist.”
While Mr. Baroni told the Senator he was available to talk all day and present evidence about PA tolls and operations, the hearing ended abruptly with Senator Lautenberg visibly angry over the turn of events. Repeatedly, Senator Lautenberg tried to stop Mr. Baroni from providing answers that didn’t fit the hearing game plan or that held inconvenient truths.
→ “I’m not going to permit you to continue with this silliness,” Senator Lautenberg said as he cut off Mr. Baroni’s discussion of EZ Pass discounts available to motorists and the Senator’s free privileges. “Certainly Senator,” Mr. Baroni replied, “it is impossible to argue fairness in tolls when you don’t pay them.”
→ Let’s accept the obvious: the hearing was a partisan charade. Senator Lautenberg is deluding himself if he actually believes the practices he oversaw, participated in and encouraged during his time as a commissioner with the Port Authority are not relevant in explaining the Port Authority inherited by Governors Cuomo and Christie.
→ The toll hikes at the NY/NJ crossings were the last thing the Governors wanted to see happen. But by 2010, the agency was mired in a fiscal crisis years in the making that required the reduced toll hikes the two Governors finally had to approve. And the undisputed fact of history is that only since Governor Christie took office have reforms been enacted, payroll numbers and costs beenreduced and independent audits – warts and all – been ordered. Sure, hold a hearing, ask all the relevant and necessary questions you like, but Senator Lautenberg should have spared us the hypocrisy and fake outrage.
Here's Senator Lautenberg's statement:
PORT AUTHORITY’S BARONI CALLS $12 TOLLS “FAIR”
LAUTENBERG PRESSES PORT AUTHORITY ON ALLEGATIONS OF PATRONAGE AND MISLEADING THE PUBLIC
BARONI ENGAGES IN “DISTRACTION, DECEPTION AND DIVERSION” AT HEARING
WASHINGTON – At a U.S. Senate Commerce Committee Surface Transportation subcommittee hearing today, Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg pressed Port Authority Deputy Executive Director Bill Baroni on the Port Authority’s recent toll hikes and allegations of patronage and mismanagement.
During his testimony, Mr. Baroni stated that $12 tolls on drivers are “fair” and repeatedly refused to answer questions about when Governor Christie became aware of proposed toll increases.
In contrast to Mr. Baroni, witnesses from AAA and the American Trucking Associations were very clear about their strong opposition to the toll hikes, the burden they put on families and businesses, and the lack of opportunity for public input about the toll increases.
“We called this hearing to help New Jersey drivers understand the reasons behind these massive toll increases and what steps the Port Authority is going to take to fix their serious problems,” said Sen. Lautenberg. “Instead, Mr. Baroni engaged in distraction, deception and diversion. I am very disappointed that the Port Authority continues to operate behind a veil of secrecy. Despite this stonewalling, I will continue to stand up for New Jersey commuters and businesses.”
Tuesday, April 03, 2012
(Martin Di Caro -- Washington, DC, WAMU) You pay for electricity, your phone and Internet. You pay for most, if not all, of the services you use every day. Should highways be different? Virginia says the future answer will be no -- and drivers should be ready to pay a premium for a faster ride on congested highway corridors.
Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) officials are banking on drivers' willingness to pay an electronic EZ Pass toll for a faster commute on the I-495 express lanes that are set to open late this year. Tolls on the new section of the beltway will rise as traffic volume in the express lanes increases. Dynamic tolling, as this practice is called, is relatively new in the United States.
"The day of free highways is behind us," said Emil Frankel, a visiting scholar at the D.C.-based Bipartisan Policy Center and a former assistant transportation secretary under George W. Bush. Frankel said governments need the revenue that tolls would provide, and charging a premium to use express lanes serves another purpose: turning highways into a commodity.
"When you think about highway space as a product, it's limited," said Frankel. "Supply is constrained. And the only way to control how that supply is going to be allocated is by pricing it."
Dynamic tolling is relatively uncommon in the U.S. compared to Europe and Australia. In the U.S. it's been a success on State Route 91 in southern California, where critics said the so-called Lexus Lanes would only be used by rich people, Frankel said.
"In fact, the experience in California is quite the opposite. The lanes are most frequently used by people with limited time," said Frankel, who said getting motorists used to paying tolls is hard because of the idea that highways should be free.
Commuter Bevin Bresnahan, who was gassing up in Tyson's Corner, Virginia, typifies that attitude. "I think everything should be free," she laughed. "We pay enough in gas, we pay enough in taxes."
The company that will operate the tolls on the I-495 express lanes says the typical toll during rush hour will be between $5-6 dollars one way, the average trip length is expected to be about four to six miles, and motorists are expected to use the new lanes a couple of times a week.
Listen to a report on this issue here.
Monday, March 05, 2012
New York Times columnist Bill Keller (and former editor-in-chief) put congestion pricing squarely back in the public eye today, with his column backing a plan by noted transportation expert Sam Schwartz.
Schwartz -- known to the masses as "Gridlock Sam"-- is a former New York City traffic commissioner who has long advocated congestion pricing.
Schwartz's plan -- which he's been showing around the city to private groups -- would reduce the costs of some tolls and raise others. That would make driving outside of Manhattan easier and driving into Manhattan south of 60th Street much more costly.
The East River Bridges -- Brooklyn, Ed Koch/Queensboro, Manhattan, and Williamsburg, would have a $7 cash toll, and an $5 EZPass toll. Other bridges -- like the Verrazano, the RFK, and the Bronx Whitestone Bridge would be cheaper.
These tolls and other fees (like ending a parking tax rebate for Manhattanites and adding a taxi surcharge on cab rides south of 86th Street) could raise as much as $1.2 billion annually, Schwartz argues -- money that would then be spent on improving transit and roads.
Schwartz would then target that money to reduce transit fares and to launch new transit lines -- particularly bus rapid transit -- in the outer boroughs where transit service is poor.
Schwartz would also like to see three new pedestrian/bicycle bridges built. One would go from downtown Brooklyn, go through Governors Island and lead to the financial district; another would connect Greenpoint/Long Island City to Manhattan's East Side, and a third would go from Hoboken/Jersey City to Manhattan's West Side.
It's not clear how much political support a plan like this could garner. City Council member Peter Vallone Jr., who represents Astoria, is blunt: "I don't support tolling the East River Bridges," he says. "There are ways to influence congestion without increasing costs to motorists." He'd like to see tolls increase during peak times, but decrease off-hours.
But Kathryn Wylde, the president of the Partnership for New York City says congestion pricing is "something that New York City is going to have to turn to." She adds: "I think that Sam has put forward a very practical approach to mobilizing political support" for it. She says part of the stumbling block in the past has been "you didn’t have any obvious concurrent benefits...that you could point to." This version of the plan -- with its attendant toll reductions and outer borough transit improvements -- "give people a reason to be for it, not simply to be against it."
It's a parity issue, adds Transportation Alternatives head Paul Steely White, who's endorsing the plan. "What you have is a situation where some drivers are paying as much as $11 to take a round trip in their own neighborhoods," he says, "whereas other drivers aren't paying a cent."
The fallout from that is evident in places like downtown Brooklyn, which is inundated with drivers seeking to avoid the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel and its $6.50 toll (or $4.80 for EZPass users) in favor of the free Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridges. Tolling those bridges, White says, would make the system "more rational so drivers aren't toll shopping and driving out of their way for a free bridge or tunnel."
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg pushed for congestion pricing in 2007. Although it passed City Council, it died in Albany.
City Hall may like this plan, too. New York City deputy press secretary Marc LaVorgna says of the Schwartz proposal: “The Mayor put forward a comprehensive and bold transportation vision that would have provided billions to create the mass transit system our city needs. But Albany said no, and the MTA continues to struggle.”
But the biggest kick for the plan comes from today's Times Op-Ed page, one of the loudest megaphones you can have.
"You do not have to be an engineer to appreciate the logic," Keller wrote. "The scheme puts the heaviest onus on the solo driver who has ready access to a train, and lowers the cost for drivers who have no alternative. Unlike earlier plans that amounted to a punishing tax on commuters from outlying communities, the Schwartz plan has more affluent neighborhoods (like the plusher parts of Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens) pay a fair share."
Wednesday, February 22, 2012
(Houston, TX -- Gail Delaughter, KUHF) In a festive event at a transit center near downtown Houston, car-themed music blasted from speakers as colorful "art cars" lined up for a brief parade. The lively occasion was the kickoff of the Metropolitan Transit Authority's first HOT lane, which gives solo drivers the option of paying a toll if they want to drive in the high-occupancy lane.
Along with running Houston's bus and rail service, Metro also operates HOV lanes on area freeways. The roadways are maintained by the Texas Department of Transportation, but Metro is in charge of opening and closing the HOV lanes as well as handling accidents.
Metro is opening its first HOT lane on a segment of I-45 known locally as the Gulf Freeway. The freeway runs south of downtown, taking commuters to suburban communities and on to the coastal city of Galveston. The segment that just opened is a little over 15 miles long. Drivers will have the option of entering and exiting the lanes at several points along the route.
The toll for solo drivers ranges from $1.00 to $4.50, depending on the time of day and the level of congestion. Inbound lanes will be closed to solo drivers between the heavy traffic hours of 7:00 and 8:00 in the morning, and outbound lanes are closed between 4:00 and 6:00 in the evening. They'll also be closed to solo drivers if traffic on the lanes slows below 50 MPH.
Metro CEO George Greanias is touting the program's benefits. He says the HOV lanes are an under-utilized resource, and there are times when they can carry more traffic. "I don't know if you need to do a study to ask, would you like to get some relief from driving on the Gulf Freeway. I don't think it really takes a study to get an answer to that one."
Greanias said putting more vehicles in the HOV lane will save wear and tear on the main lanes, and easing stop-and-go traffic conditions will put a dent in vehicle emissions. He adds the addition of the HOT lane drivers will not slow things down for HOV carpoolers.
"The notion behind this concept is to make sure that when we do have capacity, when the lane is not full, vehicles with just one person can get on the lane."
KUHF took an informal poll of some of the folks at the transit center as to whether they would pay a few dollars to get home quicker. One driver said it was a good idea.
"If you don't have a friend with you and you have to pay a couple extra dollars, spending resources doing it by yourself, then that would be a worthy cause to spend money, I guess."
But others thought it was unfair.
"It's a special access lane for the affluent, and people who can't afford to pay two or three extra bucks every day are stuck in traffic. It's not very democratic."
HOT lane drivers will have several access points along the route, which are controlled by remote-control gates. Solo drivers will be directed to the "All Others" lane where they'll pay the toll with a toll tag. They can use toll tags supplied by Metro, and they can also use tags from the county toll road authority. As for driving solo on other HOV lanes, Metro says it plans to expand the program to other HOV lanes, including U.S. 59 North and South, U.S. 290, and I-45 North.
A Metro spokesman says they counted about 700 HOT lane drivers on the first day of operation.
TN MOVING STORIES: California Bullet Train Hits Borrowing Bump, Boston Faces Steep Fare Hikes, and the Rise of the Gondolas
Wednesday, January 04, 2012
Top stories on TN:
Romney: I’d Stop Funding Amtrak, and Have Big Bird With Ads (Link)
Chicago, New York to Make Snow Plow Locations Live During Storms (Link)
Coach Bus Files Chapter 11 (Link)
And: have you seen "New York’s Lost Subways" yet? What are you waiting for!
Expert panel: California's high-speed rail plan isn't financially feasible, and the state must delay borrowing billions for it. (Los Angeles Times)
Boston would raise subway fares by up to 70 cents and dramatically cull bus routes, eliminate ferries, and end weekend commuter rail trains under a plan unveiled Tuesday to help erase a projected $161 million deficit. (Boston Globe)
Honolulu's $5.3 billion commuter rail line will break ground in March -- unless a judge halts it. (New York Times)
The Transport Politic has a map of transit projects underway in 2012.
Pay the toll, or spend the extra time? Two reporters test-drive whether it makes sense to pay the new tolls on the NJ Turnpike -- or spend more time on free side roads. (New York Times)
Two retirees are suing the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey for canceling their lifetime free passes over its bi-state bridges and tunnels. (Star-Ledger)
In San Francisco nearly 2 in 3 trips in the city are made by car -- but transportation officials want to get the number to 1 in 2 trips before the decade is over. (San Francisco Chronicle)
Chicago's street parking rates are increasing. (WBEZ)
Gondolas: the transit wave of the future? (Toronto Star)
The 2012 presidential elections will decide the fate of transit projects nationwide. (City Limits)
Thanks for paying taxes, San Francisco! Learn the story behind the billboard on the Bay Bridge. (SFist)