In one more indication of the economy’s downward slope, traffic on the bridges and tunnels into Manhattan dropped precipitously last month — a decline that officials said appeared to be tied to job losses.
The number of drivers during the morning peak period who crossed the four Manhattan bridges and tunnels controlled by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority was down more than 7 percent in October, compared with the same period the previous year, according to data compiled by M.T.A. Bridges and Tunnels. Morning peak traffic at the authority’s other toll bridges, including the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, fell less than 2 percent during the period.
“Less Manhattan employment means less traffic across our facilities,” said David Moretti, acting president of Bridges and Tunnels (also known as the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority), who spoke on Wednesday at a meeting of a committee of the authority’s board.
After the meeting, he said that the drop at the Manhattan crossings “seems to coincide with the decline in employment base, and therefore traffic is down for that reason.”
Mr. Moretti said the declines appeared to be continuing this month at the Manhattan crossings, which are the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel, the Queens-Midtown Tunnel, the Henry Hudson Bridge and the Manhattan portion of the Triborough Bridge.
H. Dale Hemmerdinger, the authority’s chairman, said that the drop might reflect the recent failure of Lehman Brothers and the impact of the economic crisis at other financial-sector companies, whose top executives often live in the suburbs.
“They would be the highest paid guys and gals who probably would drive and not take the train,” he said.
Data from the State Labor Department shows that in September there were 10,000 fewer financial-sector jobs in New York City than there were in the same month a year ago. But the number is expected to rise as the fiscal crisis spreads.
The traffic falloff is part of a yearlong trend at all the authority’s bridges and tunnels, which taken together have seen a drop in average weekday traffic during each of the last 12 months, when compared with the previous year.
Earlier in the year, Mr. Moretti said the change appeared to be a result of skyrocketing gas prices and higher tolls, which were discouraging people from taking car trips. But while gas prices have fallen considerably since the summer, traffic levels have continued to shrink.
The authority’s data showed that since the yearlong decline began, October saw the largest percentage drop in weekday crossings during the morning peak period, from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m.
Mr. Moretti said that toll collections remained slightly above forecasts for this year. But officials at the authority are concerned that accelerating declines in traffic could hurt toll revenue, which is used to help pay for mass transit.
The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey has seen similar declines in traffic, with a greater drop at its Manhattan tunnel crossings over the last two months.
Total traffic at the Lincoln and Holland Tunnels dropped 6.4 percent in October, compared with last year, according to Steve Coleman, a Port Authority spokesman. At the same time, traffic dropped 4.4 percent at the bridges between New Jersey and Staten Island and just 2.5 percent at the George Washington Bridge.
Mr. Coleman said that many people taking the George Washington Bridge were headed to areas beyond Manhattan, while the Lincoln and Holland Tunnels were used heavily by commuters.
Traffic on the Holland and Lincoln Tunnels fell 6.3 percent in September, compared with 2007. But September traffic at the Staten Island bridges was down 6.0 percent.
The year-to-year drop in traffic at the tunnels was much greater in September and October than it was in any of the previous 12 months.
“Tunnel and bridge traffic at the Port Authority’s crossings is down this year due to record high gas prices and the economic slowdown,” Mr. Coleman said in a written statement. “We also implemented a toll increase last year with mass transit in mind. While there is a decline in tunnel and bridge traffic, our PATH system has seen a significant increase in ridership this year.”
Ridership has also been higher on the transportation authority’s trains and buses.