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Several Queens politicians take a stand against potential tolls on Queensboro, East River bridges

Queens borough President Melinda Katz, Councilman Barry Grodenchik, and Assemblyman David Weprin gathered near the entrance of the Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge on Aug. 27 / Office of David Weprin

Aug. 28, 2017 By Nathaly Pesantez

Several Queens politicians voiced their opposition yesterday to a proposal that would charge commuters a toll for using the Queensboro bridge—and three bridges in Brooklyn–citing the effect on middle class New Yorkers and small businesses in the outer boroughs.

Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, Councilman Barry Grodenchik and Assemblyman David Weprin expressed their disproval of the proposal Sunday at a press conference near the entrance of the Queensboro Bridge, one of the free East River bridges that may see the introduction of tolling if legislation is passed in Albany.

Weprin said at the gathering that Assembly Democrats met with the MTA last week to discuss potential plans to solve the MTA crisis, but made very clear one thing—that regardless of what plans are laid out, he will not accept any type of toll on free bridges connecting Manhattan to the boroughs.

“It would be a very bad thing for small businesses,” Weprin said. “It’s the heart of the middle class.”

Weprin also noted that middle-class New Yorkers have been using the free bridges to cross into Manhattan since 1911.

Katz said that several plans to introduce tolling in the free bridges have been introduced in past decades, beginning in the 1970s, but have all failed because of their infeasibility.

“You should be able to travel, even if it’s a little more burdensome, for free from borough to borough,” Katz said at the gathering.

Councilman Grodenchik said that the addition of a fare on free bridges is actually a “tax by another name”, which would impose financial burdens on residents who are already experiencing rising costs of living.

“To me the tolls are a non-starter,” Grodenchik said. “I think it would place an unfair burden especially in my district, where its already difficult to get around.”

Grodenchik, like Katz, was there to lend political clout, since it’s Albany lawmakers who will determine whether the plan goes into effect.

The gathering comes two weeks after Governor Andrew Cuomo, in the midst of the MTA’s “summer of hell”, said congestion pricing—charging drivers tolls to enter traffic-packed, congested areas— in Manhattan is “an idea whose time has come,” according to The New York Times.

“We have been going through the problems with the old plan and trying to come up with an updated and frankly better congestion pricing plan,” Cuomo told the Times.

Mayor Bill de Blasio, however, has expressed his opposition to congestion pricing and believes the best way to raise funds for the MTA is by imposing a city tax on the very wealthy. He is advocating raising the city’s highest income tax rate by 0.534 percent to 4.41 percent for individuals making more than $500,000 and couples making more than $1 million. This tax increase, however, would require the approval of Albany too.

The concept of a wealth tax to raise funds for the MTA is backed by State Sen. Mike Gianaris, who represents western Queens and who has expressed skepticism for congestion pricing in the past.

While Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer said he backs any plan that would fairly produce the revenue needed to fix mass transit, he vouches more for de Blasio’s idea to raise funds for the MTA through a tax applied to the wealthiest residents of the city.

The congestion pricing plan does have its supporters in Albany. Earlier this year, State Sen. Andrew Lanza (R-Staten Island) introduced a bill to establish the “Move New York Fair Plan”, which calls for tolls on the East River bridges. The bill aims to reduce traffic congestion while raising revenue for the MTA. A similar bill was also introduced in the Assembly by Assemblyman Robert Rodriguez (D-East Harlem).

The Assembly bill would add a toll to East River bridges, including the Queensboro, of $5.54 with E-ZPass or $8.00 without. The amount is pegged to the tolls at the Queens-Midtown Tunnel and Hugh L. Carey, or Brooklyn Battery Tunnel. The Senate’s version, however, puts forth a a $5.00 toll with E-ZPass,

State Sen. Jose Peralta was the first state senator to endorse the Move NY Plan, expressing his support for congestion pricing in the past and reaffirming it in a statement today.

“As we are about to have survived the summer of hell, not without endless commuter nightmares, it is time we seek a permanent solution for our decaying public mass transit system,” Peralta said in a statement. “I understand some of my colleagues’ concerns, but the door should not be shut until all mass transit options…are thoroughly discussed.”

Calls to Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan, who represents Long Island City and Sunnyside (among other neighborhoods), as well as to Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas, who represents Astoria, for comment were not returned.

While no specific plans have been put in place, a blueprint has been provided by Move NY, a grassroots campaign that first laid out ideas “to make the city’s tolling system fairer” by reducing tolls on bridges that currently have them and adding and restoring tolls on other bridges.

Councilman Grodenchik said Governor Cuomo promised New York politicians that a more thorough and specific plan to fund the MTA would be introduced early next year.

The “congestion pricing” model was first introduced by former Mayor Bloomberg in 2007. In a study conducted by Quinnipiac University Poll, New Yorkers by large were not in favor of congestion pricing, but said that traffic congestion is a “very serious” or “somewhat serious” problem.

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14 Comments

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Anonymous

I drive, they should put a toll. Who cares its only a few dollars, and charge bikes and pedestrians a dollar or two to cross.

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AAA

Obviously those of you in favor of the toll are not drivers and are probably new Yuppie residents who use Citibikes. Well as a native Astorian born and bred and a long time driver…. many people in NYC drive! Many in NYC would rather drive bc the subway is a urine ridden, homeless hangout filled with rats! But many people are not skilled enough as drivers to deal with tight spaces and aggressive nature that comes with driving in the city… mostly yuppies who probably think driving is too aggressive! Anyway, as a driver I already pay taxes for this city more than your ridiculous subway fare. My registration, license, my inspection, my insurance all have crazy taxes applied to it that must be paid every time I renew. Also my gas is taxed so we already pay our fair share. Queens to Manhattan should not be a luxury it is inter-city. Your precious cabby ride you use when you get drunk every weekend will also go up. Stop changing our town and making it into Manhattan. Enough is enough. Astoria was a homely place for families now it is a cesspool. And no…change is not always good!

Reply
Yesenia

It will be hard to pay the toll for using Queensboro bridge, most of the people are selfish thinking about their self, as a single mother of three kids if cheaper to cross that bridge instead paying $22.00 for the subway, life is unfair.

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Harry Ballsagana

I notice none of the politicians fighting against this are local to astoria. I’m tired of Astoria and LIC being used as pass-throughs by trucks and cars to get to free crossings. Stay on the LIE and GCP and pay for the midtown tunnel or triboro bridge.

YES for tolls.

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Smart 4 Ever

It would be a lot cheaper and more efficient to get rid of all tolls and charge a few dollars a more per month for all residents . You could do away with all the people managing the toll system .

Reply
Mike

Can someone explain why drivers should have the right to free river crossing when subway riders do not?

Reply
clint

Ride a bike or walk over the bridge if you feel taken advantage of or can not afford to pay the subway.

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Astoria Resident

1. You will pay for the subway whether you cross the river or not, so the analogy does not make sense.
2. For Staten Island it is the other way around, the MTA ferry is free and the train is free within the borough but the bridge costs an insane amount and yet more people want to live in Brooklyn/Queens/Bronx despite this fact (look at the population density of each borough). So the theory that people prefer bridge tolls in exchange for free public transportation is not supported.
3. Why should you have to pay a toll to move within one united city? There has to be at least one free way to get in an out of each borough, otherwise you may as well break the boroughs up into individuals cities.
4. There would be an added cost burden to inter-borough businesses. Deliveries, taxis, food trucks, etc. which use the free bridges. The costs would be passed onto the consumer or at the very least hurt smaller business more than large businesses that can afford a toll.
5. The subway system is not reliable, especially on the weekends. Also, you cannot haul large items on the subway. There are times when driving is just a necessity rather than a choice.

Not to say that there are no pros to having a toll as an alternative to an increase in income tax or an increase in the subway fare but hopefully this answers the question that you asked.

Reply
Mike

Yes but the point is that most people don’t own cars. As such, they have no way to go from borough to borough for free, aside from walking. Why should cars have a free crossing if regular commuters do not?

Where is it written that tolls have anything to do with “one united city”? I could just as easily ask, why are there tolls to cross within one united state of NY, or one united country.

The margins for a toll on a delivery truck would be minuscule. I don’t think that is a very strong argument.

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Astoria Resident

Although I agree with you about making it cheaper and more efficient to be able to use public transportation (I myself don’t drive and use the public transportation system exclusively with the occasional taxi ride), it seems like you are hung up on one principle and suggest that policy should be dictated on one subjective principle about fairness. As a matter of policy, you have to look at the overall impact on the city and its residents.

If you really think that there are absolutely no strong arguments for not having a toll and have the data to back it up, you should contact your local law maker and make your voice heard.

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Mike

I mean, yeah, fairness should always be the starting point for dictating policy. That seems like a pretty reasonable principle.

The pro-toll people have already presented their data. It is linked in the article. The anti-toll crowd has only presented hypothetical anecdotes. They are pandering to voters who would be inconvenienced by a new toll, but that’s all it seems it would be, an inconvenience. Genuinely wanted to know if anyone here could make a case against it.

Mike

If the train costs money, the roads and bridges can cost money too. Most people don’t drive.

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