Commuters won't be getting coal in their stockings from the Delaware Port Authority this Christmas, but they will be scrooged come July.
Tolls on the DRPA's four bridges will increase to $5 and fares for the PATCO commuter rail lines will increase by 10 percent on July 1. The bi-state board of commissioners finally voted on the issue yesterday after weeks of debate, hand wringing and stern warnings from financial advisers.
PATCO fares were set to increase on Jan. 1 but commissioners voted to delay that increase to July 1, the same day that bridge tolls will go up. The board voted not to delay the bridge-toll increase to 2012, a move that the advisers believed would have resulted in drastic measures from Wall Street.
"We have been clear and unified on one point: You have to do the toll increase in July," said Kim Whelan, of Acacia Financial Group. "This toll increase has been discussed over and over and over. There's no magic formula."
For weeks, Whelan and other advisers have spoken at DRPA meetings, saying it was very likely that Wall Street bond-rating agencies, already skittish about the beleaguered agency, would slash DRPA ratings further if the authority delayed tolls again.
Slashed ratings, the advisers said, could hamper the DRPA's ability to fund capital projects, and would make future toll increases even worse.
"I am troubled by this, but I think we have a responsibility to avoid tolls going to up to $8," board Vice Chairman Jeff Nash.
Some on the board bristled at the notion that merely talking about toll delays again, before July, might prompt Wall Street to slash. "We can't be bound by those kinds of handcuffs," said DRPA chairman John Estey.
The board voted down a resolution proposed by Pennsylvania Commissioner John Dougherty to study the sale or privatization of PATCO, which is subsidized by bridge tolls. At least one other Pennsylvania commissioner questioned whether PATCO was beneficial to Keystone State residents.
Earlier in the meeting, the board approved a $194 million contract to rebuild PATCO's fleet of railcars, which the DRPA said were the oldest in operation in the country.