The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey signaled it will go ahead with eliminating the carpool discount in January as it expands cashless tolling technology, despite the latest opposition from two New Jersey congressmen.
For years, commuters have utilized the carpool discount so they would only pay $6.50 at the George Washington Bridge rather than the $15 standard rate. Port Authority announced in late September that it wanted to cancel the discount.
With the implementation of cashless tolling, officials contend, the discount would not work because toll workers would not be physically present to count how many occupants are in the car.
“Eliminating the carpool rate will cost New Jersey residents thousands of dollars a year in new tolls, add a ton of new cars onto the bridge, and create more air pollution,” U.S. Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-5th District, retorted at a Monday morning press conference in Fort Lee in front of the George Washington Bridge entrance. “That’s a lose-lose-lose for absolutely everyone,” he added.
Gov. Phil Murphy has also put his support behind keeping the discount.
Gottheimer and New Jersey Rep. Bill Pascrell, D-8th District, wrote in a letter to Port Authority Chairman Kevin O’Toole that other states have implemented technology that lets them employ the carpool discount even with cashless tolling.
“[S]everal toll systems, including FasTrak in California, and pilot programs in Massachusetts and Georgia, are currently utilizing technology with the capability to track multiple passengers in cashless, camera-enforced toll systems,” the letter states.
Even still, Port Authority officials have disputed that the technology is reliable, including O’Toole at a press conference following a Nov. 21 board of commissioners meeting.
“There is no broadly accepted technology that can accurately and reliably count occupancy in an open-road tolling system,” Port Authority spokesperson Steve Coleman said in a statement to NJBIZ on Monday. “If reliable technology becomes available in the future, we can revisit the decision to discontinue the carpool discount.”
The cashless tolling system is being installed at the George Washington Bridge, and the Lincoln and Holland tunnels, for a $240 million price tag.
Cashless tolling was introduced to the Bayonne Bridge in 2017 and the Outerbridge Crossing in April.
Under the new system, the toll booths would be replaced by mounted cameras which will take a picture of the license plate and either send the bill to the registered owner or deduct the funds from an E-ZPass account, if the owner has one.
“If there’s a technology that allows us to move along with the car discount that does not cause us to have a bottleneck and back-up, we’ll be open to it,” O’Toole said.