Transit Authority Exec Talks of Traffic, E-Z Pass, Airport

COLD SPRING – An early indication of the tourist season was given by Stephen Dougherty, executive director of South Jersey Transportation Authority (SJTA), to the Cape May County Chamber of Commerce July 20 at Harbor View Restaurant.

During the Fourth of July Weekend there was a 13 percent increase in traffic compared to 2016.

“Most of our customers are traveling through that Egg Harbor Toll Plaza on their way here (Cape May County),” Dougherty said. He noted as the authority reviews the data, it’s obvious “they’re coming here. They’re making their way south on the (Garden State) Parkway.”

Over 24.7 million vehicles have traveled the Atlantic City Expressway since Jan. 1, since then, there has been a 1.4 percent increase at the Egg Harbor Toll Plaza, where over 7.2 million have passed, Dougherty said.

Toll revenues for 2016 were $77.2 million, an increase of 1.4 percent compared to 2015.

He said the authority has reduced its employees to 273 from 334 in the past. Its budget is about $111 million, the same as it has been in the past two years.

At Atlantic City International Airport during 2016, over 1.2 million passengers used the facility. That was a slight increase over 2015.

The authority continues to seek additional airlines to the airport, “as well as cargo opportunities,” he noted.

Through cooperation with U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo, the airport has received $1.9 million in federal grants, “with the very strong possibility of additional funding in the near future,” Dougherty added.

E-Z Pass for Bridges

Dougherty said that the expressway has been using the E-Z Pass program for nearly 20 years.

E-Z Pass usage accounts for 74 percent of toll transactions on the roadway.

By partnering with the Cape May County Bridge Commission, all five Ocean Drive toll bridges will be capable of accepting E-Z Pass by year end, Dougherty said.

“We are in more than heavy work right now from an infrastructure standpoint and from a knowledge and experience-sharing standpoint,” he added.

Barbara Tomalino of Paramount Air Service asked Dougherty about the authority’s quest to bring other airlines to Atlantic City International Airport.

“There are a couple of challenges,” Dougherty replied.

”It’s a population issue first, conveniently and inconveniently. Atlantic City International has its own air space. At any one time, we can send planes up, we don’t have to worry about the congestion of Newark and Philadelphia, LaGuardia and JFK, which, by the way, those four are the four most congested in the entire country. LAX (Los Angeles) is number one. So we do have that alternative as well,” said Dougherty.

He cited flights that fly into those airports that often circle awaiting clearance to land. Then they taxi to the terminal where the passengers begin the trek to retrieve their baggage and then head to other transportation for reaching their destination.

That is reduced at Atlantic City International, he said.

“We have to break this mindset of ‘I’ve been going to Philadelphia for a hundred years.’

He cited October as one of the off-season times when ridership has increased.

“On a daily basis, we are having conversations with various airlines. We entered into a partnership with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey that assisted us with having conversations with some of those airlines,” said Dougherty.

“Unfortunately we haven’t had as much success as we’d like,” said Dougherty.

At the June board meeting, Dougherty said he was authorized to enter into cargo agreements with airlines.

Tomalino said SJTA had been “incentivizing” some airlines to fly into Atlantic City.

“We’ve gotten away from the subsidy some,” Dougherty replied.

He cited the most recent subsidy of AirTran, which had a two-deal agreement to fly into Atlantic City.

Due to Federal Aviation Administration regulations, an airport cannot favor one airline over another, he said. “There’s a lot of rules and regulations that come with that as well,” he added.

“We noticed that the minute that subsidy dried up with AirTran, they left,” he said.

He said during that period, AirTran provided two flights, morning and evening to Atlanta, Ga. That was beneficial for business travelers. During that time, some 250,000 passengers came through in that time. Spirit Airline picked up some of that business once AirTran left.

Freeholder E. Marie Hayes, the liaison with the county’s Fare Free Transportation, told Dougherty “We need to have a conversation.” He previously cited SJTA assistance to other southern counties of getting rides around the area for $1.

That is a long-standing complaint of Cape May County residents, especially those in rural areas, that no public transportation exists to serve their needs.

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