May 25, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

GW Bridge Introduces Cashless Tolling, Eliminating the Carpool System

As of July 10, the George Washington Bridge has transitioned to a fully cashless toll system for all drivers. The primary goal of this new system is to ensure faster and smoother payment options instead of slowing drivers down, thus creating traffic bottlenecks and potential for accidents as they pay.

The Port Authority first implemented the new cashless system at the Bayonne Bridge in February 2017, the Outerbridge Crossing in April 2019, the Goethals Bridge in September 2019, and the Holland Tunnel in December 2020.

The George Washington Bridge, which opened its upper level in 1931 and its lower level in 1962, is the world’s largest vehicular bridge. During the first full year of operation in 1932 more than 5.5 million vehicles used the original six-lane roadway.

A new cashless toll system at the agency’s remaining Hudson River crossing, the Lincoln Tunnel, will be implemented by the end of 2022.

Cashless tolling eliminates toll booths, replacing them with “overhead gantries” that have cameras. Tolls will either be paid with E-ZPass or mail for drivers who don’t use E-ZPass. Studies have shown that an average of 87% of drivers on the Expressway, Turnpike and Parkway combined use E-ZPasses.

“Cashless transactions are no longer a thing of the future in this age of touchless financial transactions, and for non-E-ZPass customers, that convenience of modern life has now come to our 90-year-old George Washington Bridge,” said Port Authority Chairman Kevin O’Toole. “We are extremely pleased with the activation of this best-in-class, all-electronic technology that will assure quick, accurate, electronic toll billing at the GWB.”

Aviva Oppenheim, a project manager for Port Authority and an active member of Fair Lawn’s Congregation Shomrei Torah’s community, went live on Facebook as part of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey launch of cashless tolling on the bridge on Sunday in Fort Lee, explaining the program for commuters. At what she referred to as “the world’s busiest bridge,” she said that “one of the great things about this project is seeing a diverse team of people from different professional backgrounds come together to face this challenge and make it happen.”

Oppenheim explained that the cashless tolling system was a product of team effort and manifold interests and areas of expertise. She also described the ways in which the cashless tolling option will benefit commuters: The payment process will be smooth and fast, and the cashless option also brings significant traffic safety benefits by avoiding accidents. Less time idling also reduces car emissions, which benefits the environment.

The Port Authority recommends that all drivers sign up for an E-ZPass because it is the easiest and most effective payment method. Those who choose to opt out of getting an E-ZPass will receive their Tolls by Mail bills in the mailing address listed on their vehicle’s DMV registration. Bills are typically mailed once a month and are expected to be paid on time.

However, with the advancement of on-the-go and speedy toll payment, other benefits, like the carpool plan discount, which encouraged commuters to group together and use fewer cars to cross the bridge, will be taken away. This was much criticized by Congressman Josh Gottheimer (D-New Jersey), who believes the end of carpool discounts will add stress on working families already dealing with the economic effects of the pandemic and rising gas prices since the beginning of the Ukrainian-Russian war. Once cashless tolling goes into effect, the average commuter will have to pay an extra fee of $2,375 in tolls annually.

In a press release, Gottheimer called this a “carpool crushing tax” that “crushes commuters and kills the environment. Eliminating the carpool discount will cost many New Jersey commuters thousands of dollars a year in new tolls, add a ton of new cars onto the bridge, and create more air pollution. That’s a lose-lose-lose for absolutely everyone.”

Gottheimer emphasized that offering a cashless toll option is good, but removing the carpool bonus is detrimental to middle class communities. “Port Authority is trying to saddle hard-working commuters with new tolls right now, especially at a time when we’re trying to make life more affordable,” he said.

Dr. Jonathan Field, a Teaneck commuter who works at Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan, said: “For most of us that are coming in early, before traffic hits, accidents aren’t actually being prevented [by the new toll system]. It’s a disappointment. Even with a carpool discount, the prices were still expensive. Gas and parking prices have gone up; it’s stripping away the community. The only upside I see is for the later commuters, but for the average commuter, this is a difficult decision.”

Another commuter, who wished to remain anonymous, said: “[The carpool elimination] is annoying due to the cost increase as I often have a carpool, but since March 2020, my company allowed me to work from home 95% of the time, so this new plan does not have a material impact. If the change clears the congestion at other times that I cross the bridge, it would be a worthwhile trade-off.”

More than 49 million eastbound vehicles used the George Washington Bridge in 2021, accounting for about 42% of eastbound traffic across all six of the Port Authority’s vehicular crossings that year. The bridge is used by more trucks to cross the Hudson River into New York City than the agency’s other two Hudson River crossings combined. To keep the bridge in a state of good repair throughout heavy daily usage, the Port Authority is in the midst of a $1.9 billion rehabilitation program made up of 11 projects, known as “Restoring the George,” which renews or restores nearly every part of the bridge.

By Rina Shamilov

 

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