The Little Engine That Could...Empty Your Wallet

In the New York City area, it just got more expensive to drive—yet again. Tolls on the bridges and tunnels controlled by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey have gone up. Paying cash to come into Manhattan from New Jersey? It’ll cost you $12 round trip, just a dollar less than a Manhattan movie ticket. Even with an EZPass, it’ll be $9.50 during peak hours. (Which have lengthened.)

But let’s try to put this price-gouging in perspective. (I call it price-gouging because, although these tolls are supposed to fund transportation projects, some of the increase is going towards construction at the World Trade Center site.) With high gas prices and high tolls, not to mention the high cost of just owning a car, public transportation is starting to look a little better…

Or is it?

Ever since the ’70s I’ve wondered why it’s so much cheaper to get around the tri-state area by car than by train. Ever since the energy crisis of those days we’ve been dogged by calls to conserve power and pollute less. What better way than to take the train instead of driving?

Yet public transportation fares remain silly-high. Two of us took the train to Westchester County recently and it cost us $36, and that was on a weekend. By car, that particular trip, which doesn’t involve tolls, costs only the price of gas; even had it involved crossing to Jersey, the single-digit toll through the tunnel or over the bridge would have seemed a shriveled thing next to those train fares. Assuming you have a car in the first place—and suburbanites pretty much have to—why would you ever spend all that dough to take the train between city and suburbs? Better to get in the car, pollute the air, and spend less money.

So, alas, while the toll increase is a step towards parity, the inequity remains. Something is wrong—still, after all these decades—with this picture.