Expensive Tolls Encourage New Ways of Commuting

Photo Source: http://www.thelakewoodscoop.com/
As we were welcoming the new year, busily unwrapping our presents, and making well-meaning new year’s resolutions last week, the New Jersey state government stuck to its own resolution – to increase highway tolls. On January 1, toll prices on New Jersey Turnpike and Garden State Parkway surged by 53 and 50 percent respectively. Not exactly festive good news for tens of thousands of drivers that take these routes to commute daily. 
Before fingers started pointing, NJ Governor Chris Christie immediately went on record to say that he had nothing to do with toll increases and that it was largely his predecessor Jon Corzine’s doing.  (Corzine was recently in the news when his company MF Global filed for bankruptcy protection.)  Governor Corzine had approved these rates in 2008, and they were impossible to roll back because the state had already sold bonds based on the expected revenue, said Christie, a budget hawk.  These toll hikes are supposed to help fund structural improvements and other infrastructure restoration projects.
After the new tolls went into effect on the New Year’s day, the New York Times published an assessment by two of its reporters, in which they compared cost and time of two transit routes.  Going to the same destination, one of the reporters took the toll-less route, while the other took the New Jersey Turnpike. The driver who skipped all the toll booths and took a slightly more circuitous route ended up saving money but lagged considerably in time, spending almost an hour traveling.  Meanwhile, the other reporter, who paid the new tolls on the Turnpike, took 37 minutes, saving almost 20 minutes  compared to the other driver. This of course is not a rigorous comparison, as the travel time depends on various factors, including traffic flow, congestion, speed, etc, but it gives a rough guide to  the tradeoff.  According to this experiment– “a driver could save about $3200 in tolls by avoiding the NJ turnpike all year, but would spend about 160 hours doing it, earning $20/ hr if driver’s time is really money."  quoted as in NYT 
While these toll hikes are a real kick in the teeth for car commuters, there might be an upside to the story. The expensive toll prices might influence drivers to seek alternative modes of transportation or carpool, which could save individuals money and time, especially if New Jersey dedicated certain access lanes for HOV only. While It may not be ideal to let budget deficits drive transportation policies, it seems to us like good sense to use the opportunity to encourage good commuting behavior. Doing so will raise money, decrease the wear and tear cars inflict on our built and inherited environments.