Talk about lousy timing. As fears spread about the possibility of a double-dip recession and elected officials struggle to deal with a sluggish economy, the Port Authority announced that it would like very much to raise tolls and fares by about 50 percent, thank you very much.
Not a chance. Govs. Andrew Cuomo and Chris Christie immediately announced their opposition to the measure, as well they should have. It’s a tremendously bad idea, and it couldn’t have come at a worse time.
The Authority proposed increasing tolls for both E-ZPass users and cash payers on its six crossings—two tunnels into Manhattan, the George Washington Bridge, and three bridges connecting Staten Island and New Jersey. Drivers who pay in cash would be charged a $15 toll, an increase of $7, which almost sounds like a joke—except, of course, that the joke would be on those who regularly make the journey between New Jersey and New York by car.
Commuters who use the Authority’s trans-Hudson rail service would be hit with an increase of $1, jacking up the fee to $2.75 per trip. Taken together, the proposed hikes would be the largest in the Authority’s recent history.
What this amounts to, of course, is a tax increase. And its impact on Manhattan could be devastating. After all, like it or not, folks from New Jersey spend a lot of money in Manhattan. Tens of thousands commute into midtown or downtown every day via a Port Authority facility; millions visit on occasion to take in a museum or see a show.
Imposing such a huge hike at such a moment would lead many New Jerseyans, perhaps even most, to consider the joys of working and being entertained on the west bank of the Hudson River. In fact, the toll hike might well be the best thing that ever happened to New Jersey’s own theaters and concert halls. If the Authority makes traveling to Manhattan economically untenable, commuters will look elsewhere if they can, and visitors will stay close to home.
The two governors know what is at stake, and they understand that whatever their differences, they preside over economies that are joined at the hip. The Port Authority itself is an acknowledgment that New York and New Jersey are, in many ways, a single economy. The Authority is a model of bistate economic cooperation and planning.
All the more reason to put an end to plans for record-setting toll hikes. Both states need each other—and each other’s workers and visitors. The Port Authority should make trans-Hudson traffic easier, not harder.