Trucks drove through bridge toll gates an estimated 416,065 times last year to reach the New York Container Terminal on Staten Island. Total cost for the tolls: more than $14.5 million.
NYCT CEO James Devine calculates the bill will rise to more than $32 million by the end of 2015 under annual toll increases the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey will phase in starting Sept. 18 for bridges and tunnels between the two states.
The current $40 peak-hour toll for a five-axle truck and chassis will rise by $10 a year to $90 at the end of 2015. Tolls for three-axle trucks without chassis will increase from the current $24 to $54. Drivers paying cash instead of using an E-ZPass will pay a $3-per-axle surcharge. Tolls are charged only for New York-bound trips.
The increases will be “a fatally crippling blow” to NYCT, Devine says. “If this toll increase is not zeroed out, this terminal will not survive. It’s that simple. This increase will kill it, unequivocally.”
Jeff Bader, president of the Association of Bi-State Motor Carriers, said many owner-operators, three-fourths of the port’s container haulers, lack E-ZPass tags and will have to pay the cash surcharge. He said costs will be passed to customers and hurt the port’s competitiveness.
Bill Graves, president of the American Trucking Associations, called the increase “ill-conceived and unprecedented” and urged Govs. Andrew Cuomo of New York and Chris Christie of New Jersey to veto it.
That’s unlikely. Cuomo and Christie endorsed the higher tolls before the increases were approved by the port authority board, whose members are appointed by the governors.
Graves said the increases “will not only devastate trucking companies who serve the New York city area, but will also increase the cost of doing business in a region already regarded as one of the most expensive in the nation.”
He said a five-axle truck making a delivery from Baltimore to New York City now pays $114.25 at the cash rate. The port authority’s increases will push that figure to $179.25 by 2015, Graves said, and separate increases being considered in Maryland would raise the cost to $209.25.
In a letter to the governors, Graves said the port authority is using truck tolls to pay for unrelated projects led by the World Trade Center redevelopment, a project that’s been a multibillion-dollar drain on the agency’s budget. It’s a politically sensitive issue that harkens back to the terror attacks of September 11.
Devine said increased truck tolls force the region’s economy to absorb the economic impact of an attack aimed at the nation, not the region. “The World Trade Center wasn’t a symbol of the port authority, or the city, or the state,” he said. “It was a symbol of the United States.”
“We realize that the port authority needs money,” Devine said. “But these toll increases threaten to destroy the viability of NYCT and damage the economic viability of the entire region.”
He urged the port authority to provide a frequent-user discount for trucks crossing bridges to NYCT, which handled 16 percent of the port’s containers last year and is the only major cargo terminal on the harbor’s New York side.
A port authority spokesman said such a discount would be considered. The agency’s toll increase resolution authorizes the agency’s executive director “to evaluate, and recommend to the board of commissioners, the establishment of a truck repeat volume program.”
Devine said the tolls are a handicap to attracting and retaining business. He said toll costs contributed to APL’s recent decision to shift its vessel calls to Maher Terminals in New Jersey when the carrier’s contract with NYCT expires next July, although terminal capacity was the main reason. He said Turkon Lines’ 2009 shift to New Jersey was blamed entirely on the tolls.
APL’s departure is a heavy blow to NYCT. The carrier’s two weekly ship calls generate 200,000 container lifts a year, 37 percent of the terminal’s business.
The impending toll increases come just as NYCT received authorization to buy a new $12 million gantry crane and is making headway in winning New York state environmental approvals for its long-delayed Berth 4, Devine said.
“But I can’t buy a crane if we don’t get this thing solved. I can’t build Berth 4 if we don’t get this thing solved,” he said. “Long term, the port needs the capacity this terminal represents. If you fatally cripple it with this toll program, where’s the volume going to go?”