A trucking executive told members of the U.S. House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure on Friday that congestion and tolls are major challenges to truck operators in the New York area and causing cargo diversion to other ports.
Gerard J. Coyle, vice president of environmental and sustainable operations for Evans Delivery Co., said at a field hearing of the committee that “the New York City Metropolitan area has some of the worst traffic congestion in the nation, and New York has the
worst freight congestion. Congestion in the region increases freight transportation costs by more than $2.5 billion annually and slows down the delivery of nearly half a trillion dollars’ worth of goods.”
Coyle warned “tolls may pose an even greater challenge to the efficient movement of freight in the region.”
He said congestion pricing is not a viable option for influencing truck travel patterns, noting ports normally operate from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m, hours that “prevent drayage trucks from operating at night and taking advantage of lower toll rates that apply during off-peak periods.”
He also said “carriers with significant toll expenses often cannot afford the 'float' between payment of toll charges and the time it takes to be reimbursed by customers.”
As a result, he said “there is significant incentive for carriers to avoid tolls in order to remain competitive.”
Coyle highlighted a recent study by a group including David A. King
, a professor of urban planning at Columbia University, which found “toll costs for port traffic in New York City represent such a significant portion of the cost of moving freight that tolls distort trucks’ route choices, with negative impacts on the region’s economic competitiveness and the environment.”
Adding that “the toll burden imposed on trucks in the New York City area is significantly greater than in any other urban region in the country,” Coyle said the Port of New York and New Jersey is “at a competitive disadvantage relative to other ports such as Norfolk and Baltimore, where the operating costs for trucks were less than half those of trucks serving New York ports.”
Coyle, who testified on behalf of the American Trucking Associations, said revenue from recent rate increases on bridges and tunnels controlled by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey is subsidizing construction of the World Trade Center, airport security measures and the construction of a new Bayonne Bridge with higher clearances for the purpose of accommodating larger ships, among other investments unrelated to the improvement of tolled facilities. The New York Thruway dedicates approximately one-third of its budget to the New York canal system, which artificially inflates toll rates for Thruway customers.”
"Ohio Turnpike were recently increased in order to subsidize highway projects off the turnpike,” he added. “These are just a few examples of the abuses endured by toll users who are forced to subsidize programs and projects from which they may not receive a direct benefit.
He said Congress should “consider legislation that addresses the disconnect between toll-setting practices and their impacts on highway systems – and the associated environmental, social and economic effects – that are beyond the jurisdiction of agencies and authorities who determine toll rates.”
“We have witnessed a disturbing trend among some tolling authorities. Operating independently, or with the support of, or benign neglect from, state officials, these authorities seem to view their control over the distribution of toll revenue as an opportunity for personal enrichment or accumulation of power. Without federal oversight, such abuses may never be uncovered and cannot be curtailed,” he said.
“Toll facilities that serve significant volumes of interstate traffic are particularly in need of federal oversight. This is especially true of bridges and tunnels, which normally do not have toll-free alternatives.”
On another subject, Coyle said “efforts at the state level to effectively ban independent owner operators could also have a significant impact on the movement of freight across the country."
He said the New Jersey legislature recently passed a bill that would presume all drayage truck operators and parcel delivery operators contracted to motor carriers are employees unless the motor carrier can prove otherwise by meeting a three-prong test that would be virtually impossible to meet, but that Gov. Chris Christie is expected to veto the legislation. - Chris Dupin