Taking its toll
New York Thruway toll increase reaches far beyond the roadway itself

By Aaron Ladage
Land Line staff

Jim Schreiner hasn’t paid an extra penny since the New York Thruway increased its tolls on trucks by more than 35 percent.

In fact, his toll costs have actually dropped to nothing – since the hike went into effect on May 15, the Farmington, NY, resident and OOIDA member has completely stopped using the 641-mile Thruway system.

Instead, he’s taking the back roads – stretches of state and county highway that throttle his speed and shave his fuel mileage. This is more than a few extra minutes tacked onto his workday. Instead of a four-hour jaunt from Rochester to Albany, he’s spending six and a half hours – more than two extra hours a day – on the road.

“Even at a standard 35 percent increase across the board, that’s going to cost me an extra $2,000 a year,” Schreiner said. “It’s a tradeoff. We run slower, and the fuel mileage doesn’t vary that much … but it’s still cheaper than running on the toll road.”

Schreiner said the number of extra trucks he started seeing on side roads, just weeks after the increase, was noticeable. And he’s not alone.

Michael Rosen, vice president of government relations for the Food Industry Alliance of New York, said the high daily demands and low profit margins of grocers could push more trucks off the Thruway.

“We understand that the Thruway has a capital program they want to pursue, but nonetheless, it will affect business, and some businesses will respond by driving on alternate routes,” Rosen said.

Rosen said the end result of trucks and companies using alternate routes could be higher prices for consumers.

“I think retailers are going to start looking at what it costs to transport those products in, and it very well could have an inflationary impact,” Rosen said. “We already have the high cost of motor fuel, so this added to the already increased cost is going to have to be reflected somewhere.”

Indeed, some retailers are looking into moving their entire operations off the Thruway.

David Barth, transportation team leader for Wegmans Food Markets, which operates 51 stores in New York, said his company would consider alternate routes for all of its drivers.

“We will look at other opportunities should the rates go through as proposed,” said Barth at a public hearing for the toll increase held in Rochester on April 21. “As a rule, we don’t pass additional charges on to our customers. But we feel very strongly with the amount of increase of the tolls, the amount of trucks that we run on the Thruway on a daily basis, will probably force us to use alternate routes.”

Barth said Wegmans has about 65 to 75 drivers pulling tandem 48-foot trailers – a length only allowed on the Thruway – each day through New York. If the grocery chain does decide to use alternate routes, each of these tandem trucks would have to be broken down into single rigs, doubling the number of drivers needed to approximately 150.

And still, it’s an option that might be cheaper than paying higher tolls on the Thruway.

Even though Schreiner is part of the crowd moving off the Thruway, he’s aware of the dent it will make on the more rural parts of his state.

“The impact isn’t just on the trucking industry and the people that use the Thruway,” Schreiner said. “The real impact is on the little towns – those people don’t even know where the Thruway is. They live 50 or 60 miles away, and they’re the ones who are going to suffer.”