Regional Plan Association Testimony on Port Authority Fare and Toll Increases

Good morning, I am Nat Bottigheimer, NJ Director at Regional Plan Association. 

Investing in our regional transportation system is essential for those who live and work in the New York region and to support continued economic growth. 

Regional Plan Association supports the Port Authority’s recently announced amendments to its capital plan to build transit links to our airports, which will benefit both drivers and transit riders.

While nobody ever wants to pay more, toll increases on our congested tunnels and bridges are necessary to generate investment in our infrastructure systems and maintain regional competitiveness.

It’s more important than ever to reduce carbon emissions and to fund critical trans-Hudson projects including Gateway, PATH, and the Port Authority bus terminal. RPA strongly supports the Port Authority in taking these steps.

The fare and toll increases will allow the following projects to move forward:

  • New PATH Improvement Plan which would allow increased capacity on the Newark-WTC line by 40 percent and all other lines by 20 percent by 2022. This is vital as population growth continues in Jersey City and its neighbors, and as other cross Hudson transit options become increasingly unreliable

  • Electric vehicle infrastructure, which would allow investment in public electric charging stations and the conversion of PA shuttle buses to all electric fleets. 

  • Planning for a new Terminal Two at Newark Airport

  • Construction of new AirTrains at Newark Airport and LaGuardia Airport; AND

  • Improvements to JFK Redevelopment and Newark’s Terminal One

RPA has the following recommendations as you continue this dialogue:

Apply drop off fees more broadly and consider fees consistent with Airtrain fees

RPA has long advocated for drop-off and pick-up charges to pay for these investments. We applaud the Port Authority for their proposal to join other major airports around the country in doing this.

We also urge consideration of higher vehicle drop off fees, so transit and auto trips to the airport are equalized. Under the current proposal, drop off fees are $4.00, and Airtrain fares will be $7.75. Also, pooled for hire trips should be encouraged, so we recommend drop-off fees be instituted per vehicle rather than per passenger.

Further, RPA supports drop off fees on all vehicles to help pay for needed investments, including private automobiles. 

To support this, the Port Authority should document all the expenses associated with airport auto access, including:

  • Port Authority Police and traffic operations

  • Snow removal

  • Roadway repairs 

  • Stormwater drain maintenance; and 

  • Carrying cost of capital investment in roads

Ensure the Airtrain replacement at Newark Airport benefits Newark residents

Because its construction was funded with Passenger Facility Charges, the Newark Airport Rail station is not accessible to members of the public - only to those accessing the airport for travel or for airport workers.

This lack of access prevents the airport rail station area from providing support services to the aviation community, such as hotel and convention space, and other aviation support services that could be a simple AirTrain trip away from Newark’s terminals.

The inaccessibility of the airport rail station denies the City of Newark a useful economic development opportunity, denies Newark Airport users a potentially valuable amenity, and prevents area residents from taking advantage of new employment opportunities in the heart of their community.

RPA recommends that as part of the planned AirTrain rebuilding program, the PA reconstruct the AirTrain Rail Station to make land along Frelinghuysen Avenue directly accessible, and to work with property owners in the rail station area as sellers, partners, or stakeholders so that rebuilding of the AirTrain provides not just reliable terminal access from the rail station, but from south Newark as well.

Because airport pick-up and drop-off charges and AirTrain ticket revenue are not restricted as PFCs are, these could be used to fund AirTrain and AirTrain rebuilding and open the station to public access.

Land owners along Frelinghuysen Avenue whose property values would increase as a result of having new, direct airport access could also contribute to AirTrain rebuilding funding. 

Ensure PATH extension project moves forward and brings benefits to Newark residents

Right now there is $1.7.billion in the capital program for the PATH train to be extended to Newark Airport. RPA has been working with the City of Newark and local stakeholders to develop a community based vision for the area around the future PATH station. We strongly support this project and believe it will bring not only enhanced airport access but better mobility and community development opportunities to Newark’s South Ward. 

Ensure Terminal Two Redevelopment Allows for Future Expansion of Airport Capacity

Expanding Newark Airport’s capacity to accommodate more flight operations and passengers is an important foundation of ongoing regional economic strength.

As the Port Authority begins planning for reinvestment in Terminal Two, the PA should consider how the rebuilt terminal’s footprint will affect the potential to add a third runway on the 4-22 alignment.

With regional air passenger volumes projected by RPA to grow from their recent level of 125 million per year to at least 200 million annually by 2060 -- and with recent Port Authority forecasts envisioning 175 million passengers a year by 2033 -- it is critical that planned Terminal improvements be consistent with a publically articulated program of airport capacity expansion.

RPA requests the Port Authority to fund as part of the Terminal Two rebuilding program a detailed analysis showing how Terminal improvements are consistent with, and do not preclude, the potential to expand airport capacity that would support forecast levels of passenger growth, including a potential new runway that may be needed for that purpose.  

Ensure Terminal Two Redevelopment allows Airport Headhouse to be moved to Northeast Corridor Station 

The Terminal Two rebuilding program should support a migration of airport “headhouse” operations -- such as ground access, baggage pick up and drop off, & security -- from the middle of the airfield, where they are presently located, to a new, state-of-the-art facility serving all Newark Airport terminals that is co-located with a new, higher-capacity Newark Airport rail station that leverages the airport’s unique access to the Northeast Corridor. 

Consider two-way tolling at Hudson Crossings as congestion pricing is implemented in NYC

NYC is poised to implement congestion pricing in early 2021. As such, RPA has evaluated options and found that two way tolling at all crossings coming into Manhattan would deliver the greater mobility benefits. We urge the Port to work with the MTA to rationalize the region’s tolling structure, to discourage people to drive farther distances to seek cheapest routes (e.g. “toll shopping”). 

Ensure Gateway Tunnel and PABT move forward in new capital program

The Gateway Tunnel and Port Authority Bus Terminal are critical elements of a regional economy that links northern New Jersey’s workforce with employment opportunities in New York City and vice versa. RPA supports the PA continuing to prioritize these regionally critical projects.