Lawyers, unions, and elected officials are well represented on the 16-member board of the Delaware River Port Authority.
Now, toll-paying drivers and fare-paying PATCO riders want a seat at the table, too.
"The users are the ones that best know how the dollars should be spent," said Jim Lardear, spokesman for AAA MidAtlantic. "If they're the ones paying, ultimately they should have a say in how their money is spent."
Toll payers provided $242 million and PATCO train passengers provided $22 million for DRPA last year, 94 percent of the agency's revenue.
Commuters have complained for years about DRPA's use of toll money for economic-development spending on such projects as Lincoln Financial Field, the Kimmel Center, the National Constitution Center, the Camden Riversharks baseball stadium, the soccer stadium complex on the Chester waterfront, the National Museum of American Jewish History, the President's House memorial near Independence Hall, and moving the Barnes Foundation collection from Lower Merion to Philadelphia.
In the last 12 years, the authority has spent nearly $500 million on economic-development projects, contributing to a debt of $1.4 billion that now consumes 40 percent of its revenue.
The DRPA board voted Wednesday to stop using toll money for development projects that are not related to its core mission of operating its four toll bridges and the PATCO rail line. That measure was part of a package of reforms designed to reduce political influence and restore public trust in the troubled agency.
With a new governor in New Jersey this year and a new governor taking office in Pennsylvania in January, there may be more new faces on the DRPA board than at any time in recent years.
The two governors appoint 14 of the 16 board members. Two of the Pennsylvania members - the state treasurer and the state auditor general - are on the DRPA board by virtue of their elected positions.
Board Chairman John Estey, a Philadelphia lawyer who used to be Gov. Rendell's chief of staff, announced Wednesday he would resign from the board when Pennsylvania's new governor takes office. He suggested the other five Pennsylvania appointees offer their resignations as well, to permit the new governor to install his own team.
In New Jersey, Gov. Christie has his authorities team probing the workings of DRPA, but the New Jersey board members may be beyond his reach, because all were appointed or reappointed by Gov. Jon S. Corzine last year to five-year terms.
Most of the current members, from both sides of the Delaware River, are lawyers, union officials, or elected officials. Estey, vice chairman Jeffrey Nash, and Pennsylvania member Robin Wiessmann are lawyers; Pennsylvania members John J. "Johnny Doc" Dougherty and New Jersey members E. Frank DiAntonio, Albert F. Frattali, and Richard Sweeney are union officials; the elected officials are Nash, a Camden County freeholder; Philadelphia City Council members Frank DiCicco and Maria Quiñones Sánchez; Pennsauken Mayor Ricardo Taylor; and Pennsylvania Treasurer Robert McCord and Auditor General Jack Wagner.
For Frank Gilanelli, a daily commuter to Old City from Moorestown, those board members don't necessarily represent him.
"They all have ulterior motives that don't include the best interests of the commuter," said Gilanelli, who runs an advertising firm. "The unions' members are going to work on those bridges, and the lawyers are giving work to their friends.
"It's kind of a no-brainer that when you have those conflicts of interest, you should have someone looking out for the commuter," he said.
A local organization of railroad passengers supported a board seat for toll payers and called this week for a citizens advisory committee for PATCO, the port authority's commuter rail line that operates between Philadelphia and South Jersey.
SEPTA and NJ Transit have such citizen bodies, and many other transit agencies have similar groups, said Anthony DeSantis, president of the Delaware Valley Association of Rail Passengers.
A citizen advisory committee could review PATCO budgets and service, and ensure that passengers' interests were considered on such matters as scheduling of maintenance projects and design of new trains, DeSantis said.
He said a citizens panel could also act as a liaison between DRPA and South Jersey towns as the agency proceeds with a proposed light-rail line between Glassboro and Camden.
Nash, the board vice chairman, who is also a lawyer and Camden County freeholder, said, "I'm a commuter. I'm paying for three separate E-ZPasses - I pay $12 a day. I think the toll payers are represented on the Jersey side."
He said, "In concept, it would be a good idea to have someone who feels the pain of the average commuter." But, Nash said, all of the New Jersey board members have at least four years left in their terms.
He said a PATCO citizens advisory committee was "a great idea. . . . We should explore that."
Dan Onorato, the Democratic candidate for governor in Pennsylvania, would consider appointing a toll-payer representative to the DRPA board, spokesman Brian Herman said Thursday.
The office of Tom Corbett, the Republican candidate for Pennsylvania governor, did not respond to the question.
In New Jersey, a spokesman for Christie said the governor had not thought about it. "There's so much other stuff going on at the DRPA," spokesman Michael Drewniak said.