FORT LEE, NJ  - Today, Monday, December 2, 2019, U.S. Congressman Josh Gottheimer (NJ-5) announced plans, along with fellow New Jersey Congressman Bill Pascrell, Jr. (NJ-9), to urge the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PANYNJ) to reverse course on its proposal to eliminate the carpool toll discount on the George Washington Bridge (GWB) starting in January 2020. The Port Authority has stated carpool rates have to be eliminated due to new cashless tolling camera technology, which will not be able to capture how many people are actually in a vehicle. However, the technology exists and is being used right now in California, Georgia, and Massachusetts. Gottheimer and Pascrell released a letter today to the Port Authority Chairman kindly requesting they explore all available technology to allow for carpool rates to remain intact with cashless tolling and to pause plans to eliminate the current carpool rate until a suitable solution for commuters can be implemented.

 

Read the letter HERE.

 

Every day, 289,000 people drive in and out of Manhattan over the George Washington Bridge from Bergen County and from all over New Jersey. Without the incentive for drivers to carpool, this will bring more cars to our roads, increasing traffic, making commute times worse, and increasing emissions into the environment.

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Furthermore, eliminating the carpool discount will cost New Jersey carpool drivers an additional $2,125 a year in new tolls.

 

“In 2019, with traffic nearly unbearable, we shouldn’t be undoing a policy that encourages fewer cars on the roads – and helps our environment. Eliminating the carpool rate will cost New Jersey residents 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. It just doesn’t make any sense to me, and I hope Port Authority will reconsider their decision,” said Congressman Josh Gottheimer (NJ-5).

 

“These incentives help reduce traffic and air pollution for everyone. People are going to be paying more to be stuck in traffic longer and will end up breathing in more pollution. Getting rid of this program makes absolutely no sense because New Jersey has some of the worst air quality in the nation,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “This is an important issue for commuters and for people who care about clean air. We want to thank Congressman Gottheimer for standing up to The Port Authority. Most counties in New Jersey received an ‘F’ from the American Lung Association, and getting rid of incentives for carpooling means more traffic and more air pollution. We should be expanding carpool incentives instead of taking them away."

 

Video of the announcement can be found HERE.

 

Gottheimer’s full remarks as prepared delivery are below.

 

We are standing here today, just feet from the George Washington Bridge, where, every day, 289,000 people drive in and out of Manhattan from Bergen County and all over the state.

 

Many of them are my constituents who work in New York, and are driving in to support their families, and help boost a 100 million dollar a day regional economy. Others head in over the weekend to spend a day with family and friends, shop on black Friday, or go to the Thanksgiving Day parade.

 

Every day, a massive portion of the global economy travels between the two states. This region is the economic nerve center of the world. And, it’s in no small part, thanks to the incredible people from here in Jersey — especially here in North Jersey —with an educated and diverse workforce that can compete with any country around the globe.

 

We’re here today to fight back against the Port Authority’s proposed plan to end the carpool lane and carpool rate discount right here on the George Washington Bridge.  Yes, in 2019, with traffic nearly unbearable, we are actually undoing a policy that encourages fewer cars on the roads – and helps the environment. It just doesn’t add up and we are asking the Port Authority to reconsider their decision.

 

Eliminating the carpool lane will cost many New Jersey residents 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. It just doesn’t make any sense to me, and I hope Port Authority will reconsider their decision.

 

The Port Authority has said that carpool rates won’t work with cashless tolling, because their camera technology can’t tell how many people are actually in a vehicle.  However, the technology exists and is actually being used right now in California, Massachusetts, and Georgia.

 

I’m hoping they will utilize this technology and reverse the planned elimination of the carpool lane and toll discount.

 

Today, my friend and colleague Congressman Bill Pascrell and I are releasing this letter to the Port Authority Chairman kindly requesting that they explore all available technology to allow for carpool rates to remain intact with cashless tolling.  I’m also requesting the Port Authority pause its plans to eliminate the current carpool rate – and send tolls up -- until a suitable solution for commuters can be implemented. We should be redoubling our efforts to encourage, not discourage, people to carpool.

 

Here’s why: First, at a time when taxes are already too high and living in and commuting in northern New Jersey is too expensive, taking the carpool lane saves our hard-working residents money right now.  Under the current plan starting in January, the $6.50 reduced carpool rate to cross GWB will become a thing of the past. That will be a real hardship on too many people just trying to make ends meet.

 

At a maximum of $15, tolls on the GWB are already some of the highest in the country, making the simple act of commuting to work unaffordable for many New Jersey residents.

New Jersey residents who work in New York daily, and use the carpool rate, pay $1,675 dollars per year. That, of course, pales in comparison to daily commuters who pay the $15 dollar rate. They spend $3,750 per year on tolls.

Under PANYNJ’s new proposal, carpool drivers – those with at least three people in the car – will now lose their discount and be forced to pay an additional new carpool tax of $2,125 annually just to get to work. This massive new added tax will have a significant and detrimental impact on working families who already struggle to make ends meet.

Eliminating the carpool lane, and the accompanying incentives, will also likely bring even more vehicles onto the road and more emissions into our air. So, guess what suffers? Our environment and our commute times. According to the Sierra Club, transportation is now the largest source of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, and in particular, people driving alone is a big factor. This is why the Sierra Club has endorsed promoting incentives to reduce emissions, including reduced tolls for those who carpool. According to the Sierra Club and other environmental groups, carpool lanes cut pollution

 

I applaud the Port Authority’s efforts to make driving over the GWB a smoother experience and, with that, implementing camera-operated cashless tolls. That’s a good move.  But eliminating the carpool rate in the process just doesn’t make sense, especially when we know the technology exists for camera-enforced tolls that can count the number of people in a car.

 

I’m eager to sit down with the Port Authority to have a cooperative and constructive discussion on maintaining carpool rates that help everyone. Eliminating the carpool rates of New Jersey commuters who already pay a fortune is no way to make this region stronger.

 

Third, and finally, fixing this problem is just common sense. The carpool lanes date back to 1974 as an effort to reduce the number of cars on the road in the midst of the oil crisis, and save drivers money at the pump. With the environment even more a front-and-center issue on everyone’s mind, regardless of political party, our clean air and water in the balance, and the cost of living in New Jersey even higher – it just doesn’t make any sense to take a step backward here. Why would we add more cars, more pollution, and yet another tax on our residents?

 

The carpool rate is something we should be promoting, not eliminating! Many people don't even know this rate exists -- as a way to save money and help the environment. We should also make it less difficult to sign up.

 

I know, working together with the Port Authority, with the State of New Jersey, and with our local stakeholders, we can turn this around and develop a plan that works for the Port Authority and for Jersey’s commuters.

 

Congressman Pascrell and I look forward to a prompt reply from the Port Authority, so that we can do right by Jersey’s hardworking commuters and help families make ends meet, cut down on traffic, and save our environment.

 

I know, working together, here in the greatest country in the world, we can put the right plan in place.

 

Thank you, may God bless you, and may God continue to bless the United State of America.