Manhattan, NY - MTA's Toll Hike Will Hit Hard City Residents from Outer Boroughs
Manhattan, NY - Here we go again: The MTA is raising tolls for all the wrong people. Drivers from communities outside Manhattan like Bayside, Queens; Throgs Neck, the Bronx; Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, and Stapleton, S.I., will be asked to shell out another dollar to pay for a transit system they do not use and that doesn’t serve them very well.
For example, tolls will jump appreciably at the Throgs Neck Bridge - which connects Queens to the Bronx. Ever try to get from Little Neck, Queens, to Throgs Neck by bus? With the $223 million collected in tolls on the Throgs Neck Bridge each year and the bulk of that revenue going to mass transit, one would think we would have efficient Disney World-style monorails whisking people back and forth every few minutes. But, according to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority website, that trip by mass transit would require four buses, more than an hour of travel and a fare of $4.50.
On the other hand, drivers in Brooklyn Heights heading to Manhattan during the peak of rush hour pay nothing to cross the Manhattan or Brooklyn bridges, despite an alphabet soup of nearby subway lines including the A, B, C, D, F, M, N, Q, R, 2, 3, 4 and 5.
However, it’s not all good news for Brooklyn Heights residents, either. Already suffering through unbearable traffic, their wounds will be salted when the new toll sends thousands more drivers to clog Clinton, Henry, Adams and Tillary Sts. as they struggle to reach the approaches to the (free) bridges.
Another way to look at it is that the four free East River bridges into Manhattan generate $0 in revenue, although there are roughly 20 subway lines parallel to them. The six MTA bridges that serve transit-poor areas (the Verrazano, Whitestone, Throgs Neck, RFK, Marine Parkway and Cross Bay) generate more than $1 billion a year and are served by one lonely subway line, the A train’s Rockaway spur, which runs parallel to the Cross Bay Bridge.
What does this tell us? That we have tolls in all the wrong places. Yes, historically one set of bridges was built by the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority (now renamed MTA Bridges and Tunnels) with tolls and the others, which are older, by the city itself. But those East River bridges, now free, were all built with tolls. The tolls were removed by Mayor William Gaynor in the early 1900s. “I see no more reason for tollgates on the bridges than for tollgates on Fifth Ave. or Broadway,” he ominously said.
The easiest thing to do would be to remove toll plazas from MTA facilities and replace them with ones on the East River bridges. More than 500,000 vehicles use the four free East River bridges daily, and about 570,000 use the six tolled MTA bridges, so a slightly higher toll would be needed at the East River bridges than is now charged at MTA facilities to generate the same amount of revenue. Drivers would still shell out $1 billion in tolls, only instead of paying when going among the outer boroughs, they’d be charged when going to Manhattan’s central business district. Yes, a bevy of lawyers would have to sort out bondholder agreements along with state, city and federal laws. Environmental impact statements may have to be prepared and engineering plans drawn up. So what? That’s what they’re paid to do. We removed the tolls once in 1911 from the East River bridges. Let’s put them back in 2011!
Who wins and who loses if the above dream is realized? The transit-poor communities of Bay Ridge; Stapleton; Whitestone, Queens; Throgs Neck, and others win for sure. But at the same time, Brooklyn Heights; Williamsburg and Fort Greene, Brooklyn, and Long Island City, Queens, don’t come out as losers - not by a long shot. That’s because fewer drivers will be streaming toward the free East River bridges in order to avoid the heavy tolls at the Battery and Midtown tunnels and the RFK Bridge. Drivers who continue to use the East River bridges will pay more out of pocket but will get to their destination faster. Drivers on the currently tolled crossings to Manhattan will face more congestion as motorists no longer avoid them to shop for a free bridge.
If we don’t change the vicious cycle of stupidity, expect $20 round-trip tolls at the Whitestone, Throgs Neck, Verrazano and RFK bridges by the end of this decade. As Forrest Gump would say, “Stupid is as stupid does.”
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