SYSTEM-WIDE TOLL ADJUSTMENTS PROPOSED FOR 2021 & 2024
Public Comment Period Commences; Three Remote Hearings Scheduled;
Two-Tier Pricing Contemplated with Cash/TOLL BY PLATE Tolls Higher than E-ZPass
YARDLEY, PA – The Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission (DRJTBC) today announced proposed system-wide toll adjustments to offset continuing COVID-19-induced toll revenue declines, ensure payment of financial obligations and provide funding for planned capital projects throughout the agency’s Pennsylvania-New Jersey service region. If approved, it would be the Commission’s first system-wide toll adjustment in 10 years.
The full schedules of proposed toll changes may be viewed on the Commission website at www.drjtbc.org/newtolls. The first schedule is proposed for implementation on or after April 3, 2021. The second is proposed for implementation on or after January 6, 2024. The Commission also has published a webpage — www.drjtbc.org/tollcomments — to provide more information on the adjustments, the comment/hearings process on the proposals, and a series of capital projects that the prospective toll revenues would help fund.
The proposed adjustments would establish a two-tier system of toll rates, under which cash/TOLL BY PLATE customers would pay higher tolls than E-ZPass-equipped motorists. This type of pricing is a prevailing trend among toll agencies nationally because it helps cover the increased processing costs associated with cash or license-plate-billing collection methods.
In 2019, slightly more than 75 percent of toll transactions at DRJTBC bridges were handled by E-ZPass. In 2020, nearly 80 percent of the agency’s toll transactions were through E-ZPass – but that figure is skewed higher by emergency “Toll-by-Mail” billing that took place during the COVID spike between late March and early May. The Commission already has a two-tier pricing schedule in effect at its new Scudder Falls (I-295) Toll Bridge.
(Note: The DRJTBC classifies motor vehicles strictly by number of rolling axles and height. Tolls are assessed in the Pennsylvania-bound direction at all Commission tolling points.)
DRJTBC Executive Director Joe Resta said the toll adjustment was necessitated by the continuing recessionary impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. He said the Commission recorded 11.8 million fewer toll transactions than had been anticipated in 2020, a 23.6 percent decline. As a result, the Commission collected 9.36 percent less toll revenue than had been projected for 2020. Like other toll agencies around the country, bond-rating firms assigned a negative outlook to the Commission last year. Resta said COVID-19 impacts have continued into 2021.
“The Commission has faced a steep reduction of traffic and revenue and is still in the throes of those losses,” said Resta. “The 2020 revenue losses leave a hole in our financial model, now and into the future.”
The Commission operates eight toll bridges and 12 non-revenue-generating “toll-supported” bridges that connect Pennsylvania and New Jersey along the fresh-water portion of the Delaware River separating the two states. The agency also has 73 lane miles of road surface, 34 short-distance approach bridges (overpasses or viaducts) and various other maintenance and operational facilities.
The Commission is funded strictly by the tolls it collects at its eight toll bridges. It does not receive state or federal subsidies to run its transportation system and services. The Commission is unique among other toll agencies in the region because it is legally obligated – under identical statutes enacted by both states and ratified by Congress under the Compact clause of the U.S. Constitution — to use a share of its tolls to operate and maintain 10 older low-capacity non-highway vehicular bridges and two other pedestrian-only crossings along the river. The Commission refers to these 12 spans as “toll-supported bridges.”
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Commission took a series of steps last year to tide things over to 2021. These include: foregoing new hiring, delaying new capital program construction starts, and making 10 percent cuts in discretionary budget lines and freezing salaries in the new 2021 operating budget. Meanwhile, the agency explored avenues to shore up finances for the foreseeable future. A Financial Resilience Policy was adopted in December and now the Commission is putting forth needed toll adjustments.
“For months, we have worked on a plan that would bring the Commission to operational and fiscal stability, allowing the Commission to continue its mission to the people that use our toll and toll-supported bridges, and to keep our facilities in a good state of repair, now and into the future,” Resta said of the toll proposals being put forward today for public comment.
Proposed Toll Adjustments – 2021
The lion’s share of proposed toll adjustments would occur in 2021 and largely affect the seven Commission toll bridges that have mixed-mode (E-ZPass and cash) toll plazas: Trenton-Morrisville (Route 1), New Hope-Lambertville (Route 202), I-78, Easton-Phillipsburg (Route 22), Portland-Columbia (Routes 611, 46, and 94), Delaware Water Gap (I-80), and Milford-Montague (Route 206).
Proposed 2021 rate changes at these locations include:
- Raise the $1 E-ZPass toll for Class 1 passenger vehicles (two axles and less than 8 feet high) by 25 cents to $1.25.
- Raise the $1 cash toll for Class 1 passenger vehicles by $2 to $3.
- Raise the $1 surcharge for Class 1 vehicles with a bumper-hitch trailer in tow by a $1, making for an added $2 toll.
- Establish uniform per-axle rates for Class 2-to-7 vehicles (two or more axles and 8-feet and above in height) at $4.50 for E-ZPass and $5 for cash. Class 2 vehicles currently are charged $3.25 per-axle for E-ZPass and cash; Class 3 vehicles and larger currently are charged $4 per-axle for E-ZPass and cash.
The new tolls would be:
- Class 2 — 2 axles — $9 E-ZPass; $10 cash
- Class 3 — 3 axles — $13.50 E-ZPass; $15 cash
- Class 4 — 4 axles — $18 E-ZPass; $20 cash
- Class 5 — 5 axles — $22.50 E-ZPass; $25 cash
- Class 6 — 6 axles — $27 E-ZPass; $30 cash
- Class 7 — 7 axles — $31.50 E-ZPass; $35 cash
The proposed rate changes would be less impactful at the Scudder Falls (I-295) Toll Bridge, which opened to traffic in July 2019 with a toll schedule charging different rates for E-ZPass and TOLL BY PLATE transactions. The proposed 2021 toll adjustment would affect rates at this location as follows:
- Maintain the $1.25 E-ZPass toll for Class 1 passenger vehicles
- Raise the TOLL BY PLATE Class 1 vehicle toll to $3 from the current $2.60
- Raise the $1 surcharge for Class 1 vehicles with a bumper-hitch trailer in tow by $1, making the additional toll $2.
- Increase the per-axle rates for Class 2-to-7 vehicles (two or more axles and 8-feet and above in height) to $4.50 for E-ZPass and $5 TOLL BY PLATE. Class 2 vehicles currently are charged $3.50 per axle E-ZPass and $4.175 per axle TOLL BY PLATE. Class 3 vehicles and above currently are charged $4.25 per axle E-ZPass and $4.75 TOLL BY PLATE. The resulting new tolls would be the same as those listed for Class 2 to Class 7 at the seven other toll bridges.
Proposed E-ZPass Discount Changes – 2021
E-ZPass discounts at all eight toll bridges would be reduced or eliminated under the proposed 2021 adjustments.
The Commission’s frequency-based commuter discount would be maintained through 2023, but the discount amount would be reduced to 20 percent from the current 40 percent. This discount is applied as a retroactive credit on an E-ZPass-statement when 16 or more tolled trips are made across DRJTBC bridges in a respective calendar month. The discount is transponder-based and can only be applied to accounts administered by the Commission’s toll processor – the regional New Jersey E-ZPass Customer Service Center.
Meanwhile, the 10-percent off-peak (9:01 p.m. to 5:59 a.m.) discount for Class 2-to-7 vehicles with commercial E-ZPass transponders would be completely eliminated.
The proposed 2021 rate and discount changes would take effect on or after April 3, 2021.
Proposed Toll Rate & E-ZPass Discount Adjustments – 2024
A second series of less-expansive toll adjustments are proposed to take place on or after January 6, 2024. The changes would be applied at all eight toll bridges as follows:
- The Class 1 vehicle E-ZPass rate would increase by 25 cents to a $1.50 toll.
- The combined Class 1 vehicle and bumper-hitch trailer toll for E-ZPass would rise accordingly, to $3.50.
- Commercial vehicles (vehicle classes 2 and above) would see no toll adjustment.
- The Commission’s E-ZPass commuter discount program would be eliminated in its entirety at all eight of the Commission toll bridges.
If fully implemented as planned, the proposed toll adjustments would result in a uniform toll schedule at all eight toll bridges beginning on or about April 3, 2021.
The proposed system-wide $1.25 Class 1 personal vehicle rate for 2021 would remain the lowest of any public toll agency along the Delaware River. Meanwhile, the proposed commercial vehicle rates would maintain the Commission’s competitive edge for movements of overland freight.
In 2024, the Commission would completely end the practice of incentivizing E-ZPass with discounts that many other agencies abandoned years ago. Instead, E-ZPass customers would pay lower rates than non-E-ZPass-equipped motorists and those lower rates would apply equally to an applicable E-ZPass transponder regardless of its issuing agency affiliation.
The $1.50 Class 1 personal vehicle E-ZPass rate proposed for all eight toll bridges in 2024 would be half of the $3 rate for Class 1 cash or TOLL BY PLATE customers. Two-tier pricing systems like this already are in place within the region at the Scudder Falls Toll Bridge, the Governor Mario M. Cuomo Bridge (former Tappan Zee), at Metropolitan Transportation Authority crossings like the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge, the Pennsylvania Turnpike, New York Thruway, and bridges/tunnels operated by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
Comment and Hearing Process Begins
The Commission is commencing a 26-day comment period for the proposed adjustments. Due to COVID-19, three virtual/remote hearings will be held through the Zoom online public platform and by teleconferencing. Pre-registration is required to speak at a remote hearing.
The three virtual hearings are scheduled as follows:
- February 17, 2021 – 10 a.m. to noon
- February 17, 2021 – 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.
- February 18, 2021 – 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Zoom access links and teleconferencing numbers and codes for the online hearings will be posted Feb. 10 on the webpage the Commission is publishing for this toll adjustment comment process — www.drjtbc.org/tollcomments. Individuals interested only in watching the live-stream Zoom broadcast will need to provide, at a minimum, a name and e-mail address. Teleconferencing will be the only means for individuals to listen to the hearings without providing any identifying information.
Members of the public who wish to provide verbal comment at a virtual hearing through Zoom or via teleconferencing must register ahead of the meeting dates. Registrations will be accepted online at a portal on www.drjtbc.org/tollcomments or by phone at 1-855-721-0444 from Feb. 10 to 4 p.m. Feb. 16. Further instructions for registering online or by phone will be published on www.drjtbc.org/tollcomments by Feb. 10.
Online commenters will need to provide their first name and last name, municipality and state of residence, and an email address (for confirmation purposes). Individuals planning to speak by phone through a teleconference phone number must provide their first name and last name, municipality and state of residence, and the last four digits of the phone number they will use to call into a selected hearing.
Individuals can provide comment for up to three minutes at one hearing. Registration is first-come, first-served until all available slots at each respective hearing are filled.
Under Commission policy, additional comment methods are available for the public:
- Online: Go to the toll-comment form portal posted at drjtbc.org/tollcomments
- US Mail: address to Director of Community Affairs Jodee Inscho, DRJTBC Administration Building, 1199 Woodside Road, Yardley, PA. 19067 (Must be postmarked by Feb. 26 to be part of the official record.)
- Phone (comment and pre-registration line): 1-855-721-0444
The webpage — www.drjtbc.org/tollcomments – provides additional guidance and links on the proposed toll adjustment. The page has a link for downloading Zoom onto a computer or mobile phone, an explanation of the toll hearing/comment process, key dates, frequently asked questions, and other information related to the proposed toll adjustments.
The public comment period officially begins Feb. 1, 2021 and shall end 4 p.m. Feb. 26, 2021. Comments received after the deadline will not be accepted. Anonymous comments will not be accepted. Eligible commenters’ names and municipalities/states of residence will be included with their respective comments as part of the public record for this proposed toll adjustment.
All eligible comments will be presented to DRJTBC Commissioners prior to taking action (approve, modify-approve, or reject) on the proposed toll adjustments at the Commission’s monthly virtual meeting scheduled for 10:30 a.m. March 29, 2021.