GWB Carpoolers Seek Clarification From Port Authority, Dismissed Tickets
On the same day a newspaper report came out saying Gov. Christie told the Port Authority to end its crackdown on carpooling at the bridge, Fort Lee resident Leonor Javier said she’s eager to see how the agency responds.
The de facto leader of a grassroots group of Fort Lee residents and fellow commuters from neighboring towns who took on the Port Authority over what they saw as a crackdown on the longstanding practice of carpooling at the George Washington Bridge, and apparently won, says she’s pleased with a news report indicating the crackdown is no more.
But Leonor Javier of Fort Lee also says she’s not done fighting until tickets she believes were issued “illegally” are dismissed and the Port Authority provides her group with an explanation of how the agency is going to proceed from here on out.
Northjersey.com, citing a senior Port Authority official, reported Wednesday that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie recently ordered an end to the crackdown after several national media outlets, including the Wall Street Journal, picked up the story.
As Patch reported in October, the group originally mobilized to demand a place to legally pick up passengers after the Port Authority—shortly after toll hikes went into effect—started ticketing drivers heading for the tollbooths in Fort Lee for violations like illegally taking on passengers or stopping at a bus stop in what some described at the time as a “crackdown” and others called “harassment.”
They also said enforcement was inconsistent and seemingly arbitrary, pointing out that police were not ticketing drivers for picking up passengers at the bus stop on the north side of Bridge Plaza heading away from the bridge.
In April the group started an online campaign, calling the Port Authority’s crackdown “unfair” and saying they were suddenly being “illegally targeted” for something they’ve been doing for many years simply to save a few bucks on tolls—the agency’s Carpool Plan allows commuters to get across the bridge for just $3.50 if they have an E-ZPass account and are registered for the plan, have three or more people in their non-commercial vehicle and use a staffed “Cash-E-ZPass” lane so a toll collector can verify the number of people in the car.
Shortly after Javier’s group launched the online petition, a Port Authority official, citing safety, defended the practice, acknowledging that Port Authority police had been issuing summonses for unsafe lane changes—sometimes drivers coming up the center ramp have to cut across four lanes of traffic to get to the bus lane, agency spokesman Al Della Fave told Patch, “with total disregard of other folks who are coming up that outer ramp”—and for picking up passengers at the bus stop, which he said can cause a backup into traffic lanes.
“Besides breaking whatever law it might be, the unsafe lane change or the bus stop, just note too that we don’t condone picking up complete and utter strangers into your vehicle,” Della Fave said at the time. “You may be putting yourself in danger.”
But he also said that if the petition helped “move things forward on the local level,” then he saw it as a positive.
“We want to resolve the issue too,” Della Fave said.
Javier was in attendance at Thursday’s Mayor and Council executive session; she’s been meeting with Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich to try and get the issue resolved once and for all.
“Leonor has been the person at the forefront of it,” Sokolich said of the news that Christie had requested an end to the crackdown. “We’re hopeful that we’re going to be able to put something somewhere that we can maybe have a drop off that’s safe.”
He suggested the possibility of “getting some of the property back that we’ve given to the Port Authority for that purpose.”
Javier, however, told Sokolich that since the agency is saying it is no longer going to be ticketing carpoolers, it might be best left alone.
But Sokolich said he believes having an “alternative” is something the carpoolers should seriously consider.
“Because what’s going to happen, God forbid, there’s going to be a triggering event that’s going to make everybody revisit it, and I’d rather have some sort of plan available,” he said.
Speaking after the meeting, Javier described her reaction to the news report as “very excited,” but said she still wants to meet with Port Authority officials, perhaps with Sokolich.
“This is exactly what we wanted,” she said. “We wanted them to stop ticketing and to leave us alone so we can pick up passengers there.”
Javier also said her main concern now is finding out what’s going to happen next.
“I want to meet with the Port Authority so I can know exactly what to tell the carpoolers” she said. “The paper said Gov. Christie told the Port Authority to stop ticketing and leave us alone, but we don’t know what their plan is.”
She said the next step, once that’s been clarified to her satisfaction, is to “get all those tickets reversed—all those tickets that were issued illegally.”
“[The Record article] said it was 172; it was a lot more than that,” Javier said. “There’s got to be thousands of them. At this moment, I just want to hear from them exactly how it’s going to work so there’s no confusion.”