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Sunday, March 24, 2019

Attention N.J. commuters: You don't have a constitutional right to drive into the city

Photos of traffic heading into the Lincoln Tunnel in Weehawken from The Star-Ledger, above, and NJ.com, below. The top photo shows commuter buses (left of the barrier) in the exclusive bus lane (XBL) on Route 495, linking the turnpike to the tunnel.
Despite increasing congestion and delays, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey has never added a second XBL since the first was set up in 1970. More than 463,000 buses carrying 18.5 million passengers use the XBL now, compared to 206,000 buses in the first year. And the bi-state agency hasn't expanded PATH since taking over the trans-Hudson rail system in 1962.

If you venture below 60th Street,
plan is to hit you with $11.52 fee

Editor's Note: This week, The New York Times reported "congestion fees are not expected to start until 2021."

HACKENSACK, N.J. -- Commuters aren't the only New Jersey residents who will be affected when congestion fees are imposed on drivers venturing south of 60th Street in Manhattan.

Broadway theater goers who drive into the city for Wednesday matinees, and members of clubs who gather for monthly lunches in midtown also will be affected, unless they take the bus and walk to the venue, as I do.

"Under a similar plan put forward by a [New York State] task force last year, drivers [would be] charged $11.52 for passenger cars and $25.34 for trucks," The New York Times reported in February.

No actual fee amounts for passenger cars have been decided, The Times says.

A congestion fee of $2.50 already is tacked onto taxi rides, and Uber users are paying $2.75 more for trips that begin, end or pass through south of 96th Street in Manhattan.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo "is banking on congestion pricing to generate $15 billion for repairs and improvements to the transit system through 2024," The Times said, or, he has warned, subway riders could be hit with a 30 percent fare hike.

A congestion fee also is expected to cut traffic volume, improve air quality and prompt drivers to switch to mass transit.

The zone would stretch from river to river. 

Not a right

The plan to impose congestion fees tells New Jersey drivers, especially those going solo in enormous gas-guzzling SUVs, that commuting to Manhattan isn't a constitutional right. 

These drivers ignore mass-transit options -- and bumper-to-bumper waits at the Hudson River tolls that have ballooned to 90 minutes on some days -- as well as Manhattan's high parking fees.

Many likely are receiving subsidies from their employers to defer the enormous cost of driving to work and parking in the city, compared to taking NJ Transit or a ferry.

Bumper-to-bumper traffic at the George Washington Bridge tolls in Fort Lee. This photo, from Drew Angerer of Getty Images, appeared on the New York Daily News site. Waits of 90 minutes are not unusual.

Credit for tolls?

The Times story on Feb. 19 said some drivers would receive "a credit," if they "use already tolled tunnels or the Henry Hudson Bridge from the Bronx to enter Manhattan."

"Drivers crossing the Brooklyn Bridge and headed directly north on the FDR Drive past 60th Street would not have to pay," the newspaper reported.

So, does that mean New Jersey drivers who pay a toll at the Lincoln Tunnel or George Washington Bridge also will get a credit?

The Times didn't say.

The Record weighs in 

Transportation writers at my local daily newspaper have never met a driver they didn't like.

On the other hand, Staff Writer Curtis Tate and former Road Warrior Columnist John Cichowski of The Record and their editors have never, as far as I know, fretted over a struggling  trans-Hudson public transit system in one of the world's most congested metropolitan areas or called for its expansion.

Those reporters and opinion writers at the once-great daily -- now a Gannett rag based in Woodland Park -- may be kowtowing to car dealers and makers, whose advertising helps keep NorthJersey.com and the print edition afloat despite declining readership.

'Big costs?'

In a Page 1 story on Feb. 6, Tate warned that New Jersey commuters who pay Hudson River tolls to drive into the city "could face a double whammy that New York drivers coming into Manhattan from the outer boroughs would not."

But he doesn't say New Jersey drivers can reduce the impact of congestion pricing by carpooling or cut their commuting costs dramatically by switching to mass transit.

The clunky headline:

Big costs from NY
congestion pricing?

The cash toll at the three Hudson River crossings is $15 (collected going into the city), $12.50 with an E-ZPass tag during peak hours (weekdays 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. to 8 p.m.) and $10.50 off-peak.

Tate doesn't bother giving the E-ZPass carpool discount of $6.50 at all hours -- weekends, too --as long as there are 3 people in the vehicle. 

The Port Authority told The Record 43.2 million passenger vehicles crossed the George Washington Bridge from New Jersey into Manhattan last year, but Tate doesn't say how many of those were then driven south of 60th Street into the planned congestion zone.

The Lincoln Tunnel was used by 14.4 million vehicles going to Manhattan, and 13.1 million used the Holland Tunnel, Tate said.

Will N.Y.C. be first?

New York would be the first U.S. city to adopt congestion pricing, but central London put a fee into effect in 2000.

Stockholm, Milan and Singapore also employ similar charges. 


  1. New York has been declaring war on drivers for many years. The bigger issue here is an issue of why New York is still so required by so many. We have internet, we have facetime, we have fax machines. If going to New York did become less desirable, it would enhance the revenue of, number of, and perhaps also the quality of many restaurants outside of New York. With all that traffic and so many people there, with the housing and parking shortages, why did they rebuild the twin towers ground zero site? Why would they entertain bringing an Amazon HQ2 to Queens? As a society, we need to stop commuting, do less transporting, learn to focus on and function where we are, including in the suburbs, and stop glorifying that rat infested sewer with sky high rents and low quality of life.

  2. Well, I think we have to explore just how much Manhattan employers subsidize their employees' commutes. At one time, there was no employer subsidy or tax credit available if you took mass transit, but there were plenty of employer subsidies if you drove in and parked. I guess Manhattan still is the center of finance, the stock market and so forth. I mentioned PATH in this post. The Port Authority took over the PATH rail system in 1962, and along with the railroad (Hudson and Manhattan Railroad and later H&M Tubes) came the right to build the Twin Towers on the site of the commuter railroad's terminal, the Lower Manhattan terminus of the tubes. So, that site is forever owned by the bistate agency, which is so desperate for tolls from drivers that it has refused to expand the bus lane or PATH, lest that would reduce the number of drivers using the agency's Hudson River crossings.

  3. Looks like John Cichowski -- The Record transportation columnist responsible for more errors and misinformation than any other single reporter in the history of that once-great local daily newspaper -- has retired:

    I found this by Googling his name:

    "Jan 6, 2019 - Sloppy roads trigger reader outrage John Cichowski, The Road Warrior, @njroadwarrior. No matter how long or enjoyable the ride, it’s never wise to overshoot the exit, so as of this week I’m retiring as The Road Warrior for NorthJersey.com, The Record and the USA TODAY Network."

    Good riddance. Cichowski and other reporters at The Record let Chris Christie, our former governor, destroy mass transit in the region without a protest -- from killing the first rail tunnel project to New York, stealing leftover transit funds to fix roads and bridges, and slashing NJ Transit aid by more than 90%.


Please keep on topic.