The Thruway toll hike approved Friday is an insult to all users of the 641-mile highway, but most of all to upstaters, whose economic well-being is threatened by the ever-increasing tolls.
Thruway officials’ explanation for the latest round of hikes is that fewer people are using the toll road these days, while maintenance costs are rising. Why are fewer people using the highway? Could it have anything to do with the 25 percent-35 percent hike in tolls just three years ago? Not according to Thruway officials, who blame higher gas prices. Indeed those have finally started to put a dent in auto travel. But it’s folly to think that higher tolls don’t also discourage motorists from using the Thruway. And as for a business model that suggests the solution to falling sales is a hike in prices, well, let’s just say that it sounds about right for a government agency.
Granted, the Thruway Authority needs money to improve its roads and bridges, some of which are in pretty rough shape. But there’s a way to balance the equation without raising tolls: It’s called cutting costs. The Authority brags that it has cut 450 jobs since E-ZPass got started, and that it plans to cut another 50 jobs by 2012. That’s not nearly enough, given that more than 60 percent of the highway’s tolls are now collected electronically. The toll collection staff is down just 35 percent.
The Authority should be doing everything possible to encourage even more motorists to sign up for E-ZPass, thereby allowing it to cut even more jobs and save more money. But what is it doing? Reducing the E-ZPass discount, effectively raising the tolls paid by these customers as much as 28 percent. More brilliant business thinking.
The Authority ought to have listened to Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli and Gov. David Paterson, both of whom opposed the toll hike. It’s not politics, it’s economics: The higher the tolls go, the worse it’s going to be for New Yorkers, particular those upstate.