Home MTA EconomicsRavitch Commission Silver endorses lesser tolls as Senate wavers

Silver endorses lesser tolls as Senate wavers

by Benjamin Kabak

Just a day after Albany promised fast action on the MTA’s financial situation, proposals are making their ways through the Senate and Assembly. While Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver is primed to endorse a modified East River Bridge toll plan in the Assembly, Senate leaders from the New York City area have yet to embrace the plan, leaving the MTA’s financial future in doubt.

Silver’s proposal, while a start, would set initial toll levels at $2 a ride, on par with subway fare but well below the figure set forward by Richard Ravitch. In other words, Silver’s plan would probably be the worst of all worlds. The MTA would still need to raise fares and cut services to cover its deficit, and politicians would be up in arms over tolling. If that’s all he thinks he can deliver, so be it. It is, as some opposing Assemblymen noted, far easier to raise the tolls later on than it is to get them implemented in the first place.

According to The Times, Silver is ready to combat outer borough pols who misguidedly do not believe the East River bridges should be tolled. He’ll also have to face down Senate leaders who won’t embrace the Ravitch Commission recommendations as well. Jeremy W. Peters reports:

But by proposing new tolls — albeit more modest ones than what a state commission proposed in December — Mr. Silver has put himself at odds with many legislators in Albany, particularly those from boroughs outside Manhattan and the suburbs who represent people who drive into the city regularly…

“I put forth a plan that I thought was fair and reasonable,” Mr. Silver said as he was leaving a meeting with the Assembly Democratic conference in the Capitol on Wednesday evening. “Obviously there are some who don’t like the toll. And I put that in the juxtaposition of, ‘Look, this is the only game in town.’ ”

Some Assembly Democrats were already resisting the speaker’s plan on Wednesday. “Tolling the bridges is just not acceptable to me,” said Rory I. Lancman, who represents Queens. “Once you cross the Rubicon on tolling bridges the future conversation is merely, ‘How much is the periodic increase going to be?’”

“No one wants to have to do any of this,” Assemblyman Micah Kellner, who proposed his own plan a few months ago, said. “But we’re going to have to pay for the M.T.A. one way or the other.”

Meanwhile, in the Senate, Outer Borough representatives are spinning the same old tired rhetoric as they oppose all tolling plans at the expense of the MTA. If that is in there, there’s no way I’m going to vote for it and you can take that to the bank,” Ruben Diaz, Sr., a State Senator from the Bronx, said.

Do these politicians not realize that far more of their constituents will suffer if the MTA enacts its Doomsday budget than if tolls arrive on East River crossings? As that chart at right shows, only about five percent of all Manhattna-bound commuters from Brooklyn cross the bridges each day while over 32 percent rely on the subway. The numbers are substantially similar for the Bronx and Queens. Yet politicians are willing to sacrifice the subways for their precious free bridges that should be tolled anyway.

Furthermore, nearly as many Manhattan-based commuters used the bridges too. While these politicians are claiming that this plan penalizes the Outer Boroughs, that cry is far from the truth.

In the end, Kellner’s point of view will have to win the day. One way or another, the Assembly and the Senate are going to have to pay for the MTA. How they do so remains to be seen.

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9 comments

kynes February 26, 2009 - 7:59 am

How about taxing people upstate and increase the thruway tolls. We fund their perfectly smooth roads with our tax dollars while we have potholes AND their moronic assemblymen/senators actively work against legislation thats good for the city often *cough* CONGESTION PRICING *cough*. Its time they payed for us.

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Ray February 26, 2009 - 8:28 am

Ben, seems to me that the choice presented between tolls and cuts in service was a strategic mistake. People don’t believe service will be cut until its actually cut. Had the MTA introduced the concept of zone pricing on buses and subways as an alternative to tolls it would be clear which was the lesser of two evils for Bronx, Queens and Brooklyn legislators.

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Marc Shepherd February 26, 2009 - 5:00 pm

There are several problems with zone pricing. The deficit is an acute problem that requires an immediate solution. The MTA does not have the technology to implement zone ricing, and the stations aren’t configured for it. That takes zone pricing out of the equation. Fare hikes and service cuts are the only levers that can make an immediate impact.

Beyond that, zone pricing basically means “making the outer boroughs pay more,” which would never fly in the legislature, especially given the huge technology investment required to implement it. If you think it’s hard to get bridge tolls approved, that’s child play compared to zone pricing.

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Niccolo Machiavelli February 26, 2009 - 9:12 pm

Actually we had zone pricing of sorts before 1994 and the “two-fare” zones ended. That period coincided with the Pataki administration borrowing for virtually all of the MTA needs. Now the opposition to bridge tolls comes almost exclusively from those former two-fare zones. Even though those areas of the “outer-boroughs” have the most heavily subsidized service, lowest capacity utilization and most transit problematic land use they continue to gripe that they are “under-served” by the MTA. The political representatives pay back the rest of the system by refusing to support the MTA budget by any means other than borrowing. The MTA could do worse than reverting to the two-fare zone system.

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Benjamin Kabak February 26, 2009 - 9:18 pm

What was this two-fare zone? I’m not quite sure what you mean by that. New York City’s never had any sort of zone pricing for subway fares.

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Cap'n Transit February 26, 2009 - 11:50 pm

Ben, this was before Metrocards allowed a free transfer from bus to subway and vice versa. The two-fare zones were places like Northeast Queens where you had to pay both a subway and a bus fare to get to Manhattan.

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Benjamin Kabak February 26, 2009 - 11:52 pm

Oh. Duh. Yeah. I remember those days. It never occurred to me to think of that as a two-fare zone, but that was the case even in Manhattan, say, going crosstown.

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Silver plan praised, but limits are questioned :: Second Ave. Sagas | A New York City Subway Blog February 27, 2009 - 2:08 am

[…] have to let congestion pricing bygones be bygones. The MTA needs this bailout, and based on the misguided opposition of State Senate Democrats and illogical rumblings from Marty Markowitz, Silver and his proponents have an uphill […]

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The Secret Conductor February 27, 2009 - 9:34 am

I am guessing that this is why we have not so far gotten the new schedule out for next pick. They are still trying to figure out what will be cut and what will be saved.

My question is since it will take at least a year to get these toll booths up, the signs and traffic flow figured out, when exactly is transit going to get this money?

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