A Pennsylvania commissioner of the Delaware River Port Authority is seeking to reduce commuting costs for the authority's Pennsylvania employees.
David Simon, who was appointed last year to the DRPA board by Gov. Corbett, has asked DRPA management to look for a way to cut the costs for Pennsylvania residents who now must pay the $5 bridge toll every work day.
In the meantime, he asked the DRPA to delay allowing all employees to participate in a federal program to reduce commuting costs.
Simon said he was not seeking a return to the free rides that all DRPA workers got on the agency's toll bridges until Gov. Christie banned them in 2010.
Until 2010, all DRPA and PATCO workers could avoid the bridge tolls on their daily commute by showing their employee identification at a toll booth.
(In addition, DRPA workers annually got 100 free non-commuting bridge trips, and PATCO employees got 10 free non-commuting bridge trips. PATCO employees got 100 free non-commuting rides on PATCO trains; DRPA employees got 10 free PATCO rides.)
Christie ordered an end to all free rides in August 2010, saying the workers should not get benefits not available to the toll-paying public.
The free rides were restored in January 2011 to about 500 DRPA workers represented by three unions, including toll collectors, train operators, mechanics, and police officers, when an arbitrator ruled they were entitled to the perks under the terms of their union contracts.
Nonunion workers continue to pay for their own commutes.
The end of the free rides has been most costly for Pennsylvania residents who work for the DRPA, because most DRPA facilities are in New Jersey. However, New Jersey residents who work at the Walt Whitman Bridge face the same commuting costs, as that bridge's toll plaza is in Philadelphia.
Simon, the senior vice president and general counsel of Jefferson Health System, said it seemed unfair for Pennsylvania employees to pay more than New Jersey employees to go to work for the bistate agency. And he said DRPA officials have said it has made it harder to retain and hire Pennsylvania residents.
Simon said he did not have a solution to the problem, but wanted DRPA management to look into it.
He acknowledged that many workers at other companies faced the same inequity because they lived across the Delaware River from their workplaces.
At a DRPA finance committee meeting last week, Simon asked DRPA officials to delay a program to give DRPA workers a break on the cost of commuting and parking, while DRPA officials examined the Pennsylvania commuting issue.
Federal law allows employers to give workers a pretax payroll deduction of up to $125 a month for using mass transit to get to work and up to $240 a month for parking.
DRPA management was preparing to offer that program to its workers.
DRPA spokesman Tim Ireland said Friday that DRPA chief administrative officer Toni Brown has been directed to "address Commissioner Simon's questions" and report to the finance committee on any potential commuting-cost reductions for Pennsylvania employees, as well as on the federal commuter-tax benefit for transit and parking.