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PATCO offers free rides on New Year's Eve

New Year's Eve revelers can ride the PATCO High-Speed Line for free from 8 p.m. Saturday to 4 a.m. Sunday.

New Year's Eve revelers can ride the PATCO High-Speed Line for free from 8 p.m. Saturday to 4 a.m. Sunday.

This is the first time in its 50-year history that the agency has offered free rides. PATCO estimates the cost at about $20,000.

Up to 7,000 passengers are expected to use the trains between Lindenwold and Philadelphia, Delaware River Port Authority officials said. About 3,500 passengers ride the rails on a typical weekend.

CEO John Hanson said the agency hoped to promote safety by keeping as many partygoers off the highways as possible.

"There's no better way to get to and from Philadelphia than PATCO," said Jeffrey L. Nash, DRPA vice chairman.

Last year, there were 10 traffic fatalities in New Jersey during the New Year's holiday, and seven were alcohol- or drug-related, state officials said. Five of the deaths were pedestrians, three were drivers, and two were passengers.

"We would love to see this be the safest holiday season on record," New Jersey Attorney General Christopher S. Porrino said in a statement. "So we're advising motorists and pedestrians to think ahead when drinking and make alternative traveling plans when impaired."

Beginning at 8 p.m. Saturday, PATCO fare gates will be open for passengers at all stations. The gates will close at 4 a.m., but riders who board before 4 will still get a free ride.

SEPTA is not offering free rides but will have added late-night service available on New Year's Eve for revelers traveling home from Center City, Penn's Landing, Times Square, and elsewhere, spokesman Andrew Busch said.

The Broad Street and Market-Frankford Lines also operate round-the-clock on weekends and holidays, offering safe options for getting around in Center City and the neighborhoods, Busch said.

At a year-end DRPA media briefing, Hanson also announced that since October, the authority has reached agreements with its three labor unions representing about 375 employees. Many had been without contracts for four years.

Union employees are represented by the Teamsters, the Operating Engineers, and the Electricians.

For the first time, union members will pay for a portion of health-insurance premiums. The agreements give workers a 1.9 percent annual raise.

In June, Gov. Christie vetoed an agreement on economic terms that called for the DRPA to pay health and welfare costs increases up to 6.5 percent. The state said it wanted the premiums to be in line with those of the rest of New Jersey's public employees.

The DRPA is a bistate agency overseen by the governors of New Jersey and Pennsylvania, but only New Jersey's governor has veto power over board resolutions.

The authority also has nearly 300 nonunion employees. They received raises last year after going six years without one.

Nash said the DRPA plans to hold the line on tolls on the Walt Whitman, Ben Franklin, Commodore Barry, and Betsy Ross Bridges spanning the Delaware River and on PATCO fares, and there are no plans for increases "in the foreseeable future."

The authority also announced plans to renovate its three oldest PATCO stations: Ferry Avenue, Lindenwold, and Woodcrest, which were built in the 1960s and '70s.

The DRPA has put out a request for proposals, so details of the renovations are not yet available, officials said. The projects are expected to cost about $4 million.

856-779-3814 @mlburney