Reforming the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey is gaining steam. The goal is to make it more accountable to lawmakers and force daylight into how it operates. It’s been percolating since the Port Authority’s controversial nearly 50 percent toll hike three years ago. The Port Authority has been fighting in federal court to withhold documents showing its internal deliberations leading up to that toll hike. Regional Director of Public Affairs and Government Relations for AAA Cathleen Lewis told NJTV News Anchor Mary Alice Williams that the toll hike lawsuit originated at the AAA of New York and the AAA North Jersey.
“I know that there’s a few pieces percolating through the court, using your own words, but we have not received any additional information as of late,” said Lewis. “Which is why we’re continuing to pursue legislative reforms as well.”
According to Lewis, part of the reason for the lawsuit, which was from AAA New York and AAA North Jersey, was to make sure that all of the toll money went to the transportation projects and that it didn’t get used in other areas. Lewis also said that there is concern about the Port Authority’s reporting structure and that the AAA is making sure that fixes are made throughout the legislative process in New Jersey.
Those toll increases were made in 2011 and Lewis said that tolls have increased twice and that they’re scheduled to go up a few more times.
Meanwhile toll takers took a unionized pay cut to prevent the privatization of the toll systems, but the idea of privatizing is gaining speed again. According to Lewis, if tolls are privatized, a new company would take over and manage toll collectors or get rid of them. Lewis said that if toll collectors are eliminated, it would create problems for drivers who may not have E-ZPass.
The AAA has proposed a bill of rights for New Jersey toll payers, which Lewis said started off as a national bill of rights but that some tweaks had been made for New Jersey because of specific problems in the state. In New Jersey’s bill of rights, each tolling agency must be required to fall under their state’s Open Public Records Act.
“It’s not one or two things that went wrong that we can easily fix. It’s about changing a culture and changing the way that things have gone on,” said Lewis. “So really we propose these in New Jersey and nationwide as a way for legislators to look at what they’re doing when they’re collecting tolls to make sure that they’re following the principles.”
Lewis also said that the bill of rights involves making sure that money stays with the tolling authority and that it stays for projects that are important for the mobility, safety and infrastructure of roadways.