The quick rollout of cashless tolling across many of New York’s major bridges and tunnels may have helped to depress traffic volume and toll revenue this year, a consultant to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority has found. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo pressed for the accelerated switch to cashless tolling at all nine MTA bridges and tunnels. In late September, the final two, the Bronx-Whitestone and Throgs Neck, were converted three months ahead of schedule.
About 90% of drivers roll through MTA toll plazas using the electronic E-ZPass payment system. For those who pay cash, toll booths have been replaced with cameras that capture vehicle license plates allowing the MTA to bill drivers by mail.
In April, Stantec Consulting Services published a report for the MTA forecasting that this year bridge and tunnel traffic would rise 1.1% and that toll revenues would increase by 3.9%. But in a letter filed Sept. 27 as part of a recent MTA bond offering, Steve Abendschein, a senior principal at Stantec, wrote that traffic volume through July of this year had fallen 0.6% and that revenue grew just 0.6%. He said potential contributing factors included adverse weather conditions, accelerated implementation of open-road tolling and a “greater initial reaction” to open-road tolling.
The report said toll revenue through July 2017 was $1.084 billion – $6 million higher than the same period last year, but $30 million lower than forecast. The situation “warrants a further review,” Mr. Abendschein said, adding that he would file another forecast in December.
The Henry Hudson Bridge is generating more than 100% of billed revenue because of the high collection rate for violation fees, and early results at the Hugh L. Carey Tunnel and the Queens Midtown Tunnel suggest a similar pattern there, MTA officials said.
The MTA makes less money on E-ZPass transactions because users get a toll discount. There is, on average, a $2.74 difference between the full and discounted rates at major crossings such as the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge (formerly the Triborough Bridge) and the Midtown Tunnel, the Stantec report noted.
The switch to cashless tolling has coincided with a sharp decrease in non E-ZPass payment transactions, such as cash and payment by mail. During the two years from July 2015 to July 2017, monthly non E-ZPass transactions fell 15% to 105,000 from 123,000, according to MTA figures. During the same period, E-ZPass transactions rose 8% to 734,000 from 678,000.
Some MTA commissioners have raised concerns that cashless tolling could encourage fare evasion, particularly among out-of-state motorists who may see little incentive to pay. MTA Commissioner Veronica Vanterpool said the agency is negotiating agreements with other states to help with the collection of unpaid tolls, and that New York state’s Department of Motor Vehicles recently was authorized to revoke a vehicle’s registration for repeated toll violations.
Source: Wall Street Journal