Monthly discount suggested for DRPA bridges

The Ben Franklin Bridge and Philadelphia skyline. ( Clem Murray / Staff Photographer)
The Ben Franklin Bridge and Philadelphia skyline. ( Clem Murray / Staff Photographer)
Posted: June 22, 2013

Could commuters once again get a monthly discount on the Ben Franklin, Walt Whitman, Betsy Ross, and Commodore Barry Bridges?

The Delaware River Port Authority ended commuter discounts in 2010, after gradually reducing what had once been an $18-per-month break for motorists who made at least 18 trips a month across a bridge.

With tolls now at $5 for every westbound trip, Jonathan Latko, chairman of the DRPA's Citizens Advisory Committee, urged DRPA officials this week to revive the discount, and the chairman and vice chairman of the DRPA board immediately embraced the idea. Sort of.

"It sounds like a great idea," said Chairman David Simon, although he quickly noted that too big a discount would put a hole in the DRPA budget, which gets 88 percent of its $330 million in annual revenue from bridge tolls.

"We should immediately look to explore a commuter discount," said Vice Chairman Jeffrey Nash, but he cautioned that traffic studies might be necessary and that any break should be fair to both Pennsylvania and New Jersey drivers.

Many other bridge and highway toll agencies give discounts to commuters, E-ZPass users, or both. The DRPA once gave discounts to E-ZPass users, commuters, drivers of fuel-efficient vehicles, and senior citizens.

Now, the only discount is 50 percent off for senior citizens who use a New Jersey-issued E-ZPass and provide proof of age.

Instead of getting a discount, E-ZPass users now pay more: $12 a year for a New Jersey-issued transponder and $3 a year for a Pennsylvania Turnpike-issued transponder.

"For working families . . . this is a point of contention," said Latko. "They're looking for something back."

Latko suggested using money from a $1 million loan repayment to offset revenue losses caused by a commuter discount. The DRPA hopes to collect $1 million this year from a loan it made in 2001 to prospective developers of the Blue Horizon, a now-shuttered boxing venue on North Broad Street.

DRPA officials said that would only provide a one-time infusion of cash, not enough to offset a continuing discount program.

Other area toll agencies that provide discounts include the Delaware River and Bay Authority, which operates the Delaware Memorial Bridge; the Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission, which operates the I-78 bridge over the Delaware, among others; the Pennsylvania Turnpike; the New Jersey Turnpike Authority, which operates the turnpike and the Garden State Parkway; and the South Jersey Transportation Authority, which operates the Atlantic City Expressway.


Contact Paul Nussbaum at 215-854-4587 or pnussbaum@phillynews.com

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