MTAB&T's Henry Hudson Bridge set to go cashless late Saturday night Nov 11

October 18, 2012

2012-10-18: America's biggest toller New York's MTA Bridges & Tunnels will do their first conversion to all electronic tolling (AET) Saturday November 10 at 11pm. That's at the Henry Hudson Bridge (HHB) a cars-only commuter parkway-connected crossing over the Harlem River at the very northern tip of Manhattan Island to the Spuyten Duyvil/Riverdale section of the Bronx and to Westchester County.

The conversion at the Henry Hudson is described as a "pilot program" to "test" all-electronic tolling. It is designed to test the video tolling or license plate read and owner lookup needed to replace cash and the adequacy of back office systems, and to assess violation rates and collections, and the net effect on revenues.

It is seen as a prudent and cautious approach designed to do the easiest toll point first, and learn lessons and make fixes, before moving to go cashless at the higher volume crossings.

But the chances of any rollback to cash collection seem slight.

MTA Chairman and CEO Joseph Lhota was quoted in the announcement of the date for the HHB going cashless: "By upgrading to 21st century technology, the MTA is catching up with the best tolling practices used by other agencies around the world."

And MTAB&T president Jim Ferrara: "We're excited about the cashless tolling pilot. It's good for the MTA because it's the most efficient way to collect tolls; good for drivers because it provides for seamless travel, and good for the environment because it reduces vehicle emissions."

Those don't sound like officials with any fear they'll have to call off the conversion as a failure.

MTAB&T are describing to customers how AET will work this way and we quote at length:

"Here's how it works: If you have an E-ZPass, you'll continue to use it as you always have. If you don't, a photograph will be taken of your license plate and the registered driver will get a bill in the mail.

"Drivers who get mailed bills will be charged the current cash rate of $4 while E-ZPass users pay $2.20, a savings of $1.80 per trip. So far this year, 87.5 percent of drivers who use the Henry Hudson use E-ZPass.

"Tolls by Mail customers can pay bills in a variety of ways, including mail, Internet, in person at E-ZPass walk-in centers and at select retail stores. Unpaid tolls will be subject to late fees and violation charges.

"But drivers who prefer paying for tolls with cash can continue doing this and save money by using the MTA Cash Reload Card with a registered MTA E-ZPass account."

"Cash reload" is a way of getting drivers without bank accounts or credit cards to set up an electronic toll account and get a transponder kit via hundreds of gas stations, convenience stores, supermarkets, VisaReadyLink, Moneygram and the like.

Removing gates in E-ZPass lanes was described as the first phase of the conversion to cashless. That was done in January 2011. It improved throughput in single E-ZPass Only lanes from 800 to 1,000 vehicles per hour. Multi-lane free flow will probably increase traffic capacity to 1,600 to 2,000 vehicles/hr.

Henry Hudson Bridge

Traffic at the HHB has been declining slowly since the peak of 24.7m (67.7k AADT) in 2004. 2011 traffic was 22.2m (60.8 AADT), a drop over seven years of 10.2%.

Toll revenue was $59.25m in 2011 versus $40.15m in 2004. Average toll per trip has gone from $1.63 to $2.67, a 64% increase.

Tolls are currently cash $4.00 and E-ZPass $2.20 with 86% paying their toll by E-ZPass transponder.

Stantec the traffic and revenue forecaster assumes a relatively high toll elasticity of demand (-0.28) at the HHB compared to most other MTAB&T crossings (-0.11 to -0.19 with the exception of the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel (-0.36).

Tolls raised 10% should depress traffic 2.8%. (Other factors - the economy, gas prices, development patterns, jobs, employment rehab work etc obviously play into traffic so this is just the influence of toll rates.)

Stantec's forecast is for continued very slow decline in traffic at the HHB  to 21.6m (AADT 59.1k) in 2020 - a 2.8% decline - with the average toll $3.06. That's a 14.6% increase in the average toll over 9 years. Toll rates alone should reduce traffic 4.1% so other factors favorable to traffic growth are assumed to be offsetting the toll rate effects.

The Henry Hudson Bridge is a steel arch bridge supporting a double deck roadway - 3 lanes atop 4 lanes.  It opened in 1936 as part of the cars-only Henry Hudson Parkway then the only limited access highway down the Hudson River valley on the New York side of the river. 2210ft long in total it has a main span of 840ft and clearance underneath of 140 to 145ft.

The bridge is named after one of the late 16th/early 17th century British explorers who opened North America to European settlement and civilization - Henry Hudson whose ship anchored in the Hudson River near here in 1609. The waters under the bridge have the Dutch name Spuyten Duyvil, which locals translate to the Spite of the Devil. Early Dutch mariners found the currents at the confluence of the tidal Harlem and Hudson rivers here the spite of the Devil.

longer report in August on MTAB&T's program to go cashless:

TOLLROADSnews 2012-10-18

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