Port Authority proposes sweeping fare and toll hikes across its bridges, tunnels, trains

The cost of an AirTrain ride at Kennedy and Newark airports is going up. 
The cost of an AirTrain ride at Kennedy and Newark airports is going up.  Photo Credit: John Roca

The Port Authority on Tuesday announced a sweeping proposal for fare and toll hikes across all its bridges, tunnels and trains to support its infrastructure improvements and rising construction costs.

The increases would also come with a host of policy changes, including a new “ground transportation access fee” at the region’s three major airports, a $4 charge for both pickups and drop-offs in ride-hail services and a $4 pickup fee for taxi trips. At the same time, airport AirTrain fares would also jump from $5 to $7.75.

The changes will take effect at varying times, between this November and late 2020, and are subject to the Port Authority board’s approval. As the Port Authority will present the increases to the board this Thursday, it will also propose a revised capital plan for 2017 to 2026, which will grow from $32.2 billion to $37 billion.

A significant portion of that capital plan includes $390 million in new funding for the controversial and seemingly ever-more-expensive LaGuardia AirTrain project, a key priority of Gov. Andrew Cuomo. The Port Authority now expects the new monorail to cost $2.05 billion, up from the previous estimate of $1.5 billion and significantly higher than the original proposed cost of $450 million outlined in 2014.

During a briefing with reporters earlier Tuesday, senior Port Authority officials insisted that 94% of that capital plan increase, or $4.5 billion, would be funded through revenue generated at the PA.

“These recommended increases in tolls and fare are both needed and measured,” said Rick Cotton, the Port Authority’s executive director, in a statement. “We also sought to spread the increases across all our operations to avoid undue burdens. We are wholly committed to delivering improved facilities as we ask our customers to share in supporting the infrastructure investments the region so desperately needs and deserves.”

In addition to frustrating commuters, the proposal is expected to outrage drivers in the taxi and ride-hail industries, many of whom are wading through a financial crisis while also protesting other new congestion-related fees from the state. Bhairavi Desai, the founding member of the worker group New York Taxi Workers Alliance, promised, “we’ll be organizing.”

“When charging drivers for trips in Manhattan, the airports remain the only other viable option [for yellow cabbies],” she added. “The Port Authority and the MTA have a management problem, not a revenue problem, and that should be addressed first and foremost — especially at the Port Authority, which is a quasi-private agency.”

Bill Heinzen, the acting chair of city’s Taxi and Limousine Commission, said the city was also worried about the impact the airport access fee would have on drivers and service. While the idea had been kicked around for years, the Port Authority did not brief the city on the current proposal on Tuesday.

The public will have opportunities to weigh in on the proposed changes at six public hearings split between New York and New Jersey.

Travelers, unsurprisingly, did not take kindly to the news. Joshua Palma, a retail worker from Queens flying through JFK, could barely believe the cost increase to the LGA AirTrain project.

“That’s insane, because it’s like quadruple the price from what they quoted initially," he said. 

The first hike would take place on PATH and on the Newark and Kennedy AirTrains, scheduled for Nov. 1, 2019. The PA has proposed keeping the $2.75 single-ride ticket on the PATH, but multi-trip SmartLink card fares are going up from $2.10 per ride to $2.50. They would increase again a year later, on Nov. 1, 2020, to $2.60. 

Bridge and tunnel tolls would increase on Jan. 5, 2020. Cash tolls are pegged to rise from $15 to $16, while E-ZPass tolls for both peak and off-peak travel are slated to jump $1.25. Along with those increases, the PA would eliminate the carpool discount, in part because of its impracticality under cashless tolling but also because of safety concerns stemming from advantageous hitchhikers thumbing for rides near bridge approaches, according to Port Authority officials. It will also be significantly altering its Staten Island bridge discount to specifically target commuters. Only drivers making 10 trips per month will be eligible for discounted tolls, up from the current three trips.

The new airport ground access fee, which the PA has modeled on the pricing at Los Angeles International Airport, would be implemented at some point between mid-to-late 2020.

In addition to the money for the LaGuardia AirTrain, other big-ticket additions for the new capital plan proposal include $1.64 billion for a new AirTrain at Newark, which is expected to cost $2.05 billion in total, and another $1.9 billion for the proposed redevelopment of John F. Kennedy International Airport, another Cuomo priority. There’s also another $350 million for Newark Airport’s Terminal One redevelopment.

For flyers through the city’s notoriously inaccessible airports, the taxi and for-hire fees seemed cruel. 

“I think it would be annoying. It’s already annoying trying to get to the subway," said Matt Lescher, in town from St. Louis, as he navigated through JFK.

“Coming in from out of town is tricky, because there’s travel expenses," he added. "Anytime you tack on anything more on to that, it makes it harder to compete.”

With Liam Quigley