Home MTA EconomicsDoomsday Budget Three state senators in line to block toll plan

Three state senators in line to block toll plan

by Benjamin Kabak


Carl Kruger (left), Pedro Espada, Jr. (center) and Ruben Diaz, Sr. refuse to budge on the issue of East River tolls.

When the MTA starts cutting service and raising fares in less than three weeks, remember the faces of the men up there for they will be the reason why. Democratic State Senators Pedro Espada and Ruben Diaz, both representatives from the Bronx, and Carl Kruger from Brooklyn are hell-bent on avoiding tolls for no good reason.

Never mind that the overwhelming majority of their constituents don’t have cars and those that do, don’t use them on a daily basis. Never mind the role of transit trumps the use of cars. Reality has no place in this debate apparently.

In Brooklyn, only around five percent of commuters rely on the East River bridges for their daily commutes. In the Bronx, the numbers are similar: 5.7 percent of Bronx drivers commute alone to Manhattan via the Harlem River bridges while another 2.1 percent carpool. Of the remaining 92 percent, 29.9 percent rely on transit to get them into Manhattan while another 30 percent rely on transit for non-Manhattan-bound commutes.

So what do the Bronx politicians say? No tolls. Not now. Not ever. Elizabeth Benjamin, writing about a triumvirate she calls the Three Amigos and I call the Three Stooges, has news of this disloyal opposition:

The Three Amigos – Sens. Carl Kruger, Pedro Espada Jr. and Rubuen Diaz Sr. – who recently reaffirmed their relationship and started strategizing again as a team, today issued a joint statement demanding that the MTA go “back to the drawing board” and do everything possible to avoid tolling the East and Harlem river bridges.

The three senators are “demanding” that the MTA agree to a forensic audit conducted by an outside entity and a complete accounting of all its assets – including real estate holdings, which is an issue other lawmakers have been hammering on for a while now.

The trio is open to the idea of a payroll tax, which is the other revenue-generating proposal made by the Ravitch Commission, but called the tolls a “non-starter.” “The Ravitch plan, and the attempt to foist it on the Legislature during budget negotiations, is ill-conceived and misguided,” the senators said in a press release…”Tolls hurt the ridership of our city, hurt the general public, and hurt the small business community. It is our shared belief that no plan should annex the boroughs. That is what tolls on the bridges would accomplish.”

I already pay $4 a day to go from Brooklyn to Manhattan. If I lived in Manhattan as my parents do, I’d pay $4 a day to go from Point A in Manhattan to Point B. Why people who live in the outer boroughs and drive — often unnecessarily — should get a free ride at the expense of my subway system is well beyond me. I don’t expect the Three Stooges to offer a coherent argument on that point though.

Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith can’t get any Republicans to cross the aisle to support taxes yet. He is stuck with a 29-30 vote and needs these three — rogue opponents with the Democratic party to his own position as Majority Leader — to fall into line. While Diaz has two half-cooked plans to fund the MTA, they are laughable and impractical 11th Hour solutions. Explains Benjamin, “One that would require the state to buy prescription drugs from Canada and another that would force ConEd to pay taxes.”

In their press release — ridiculed by Streetsblog commenters — they urge the MTA to “go back to the drawing board.” Start over from scratch three weeks before an era-defining moment in New York City history, they urge.

“Why should I be punishing my state and the people from my district?” Diaz Sr. asks. Well, Mr. Senator, by not supporting transit that is exactly what you’re doing. If the MTA fails, if Diaz’s precious drivers maintain their free rides while everyone else pays, I wonder who exactly will be punished.

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kynes March 6, 2009 - 7:28 am

People who drive don’t get a free ride. We pay very high gas taxes, license fees and other fees. Also when we pump gas or do any sort of maintenance we support local business who pay taxes also. To say drivers are getting a free ride is really silly. I can understand putting a toll on the Queensboro, WB, Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridge ok fine… but the Third Ave Bridge? The Willis Ave bridge? These bridges are barely 25 feet long it seems. Would you like to toll the Kosciousco as well?

rhywun March 6, 2009 - 12:45 pm

We pay very high gas taxes, license fees and other fees.

And all of that together /still/ does not cover the cost maintaining these bridges (not to mention the construction and maintenance of all local streets). And BTW, your “very high” gas taxes and license fees are laughably low compared to what people pay in countries that value all forms of transportation equally.

Jason March 6, 2009 - 12:49 pm

and isnt it true that we who don’t even use these bridges and highways still are taxed for their upkeep? how is it that drivers feel thats fair, but won’t budge when the vast majority of citizens who use transit ask for the same are met with such hostility?

The selfish interests of the few will be the undoing of the many

Arul Sundaram March 6, 2009 - 3:05 pm

Ben – I’m a recent reader of your blog. I’m thrilled by your level of reporting and your rationality on the city’s transit needs.

However, I do think you’re missing something when it comes to tolling the bridges: the impact on local businesses. You may have covered this already (I didn’t see it in the last few pages of posts or in the comments), but I believe what the “Three Stooges” are really fighting against is the increased cost of doing business that would be pushed onto small businesses in the Outer Boroughs who need to deliver goods / services into Manhattan. Often these businesses need to cross the bridges multiple times a day. Putting a $15 / day tax on struggling small businesses would be a hard pill to swallow for those business owners.

Business owners are a powerful constituency: they employ borough residents, pay local taxes, and can launch an effective grassroots campaign against local elected officials by saying those officials supported policies that limited growth / jobs in the area. I have a feeling this issue holds more sway with these three than the thought of taxing a small number of commuters who work (and spend money: parking, meals, etc.) outside the borough anyway.

rhywun March 6, 2009 - 5:53 pm

I was an advocate of exempting commercial vehicles from bridge tolls for the very same reasons. And honestly I think there are better sources of income than tolling every single bridge in town. Such as higher registration fees, which require no additional infrastructure to collect. The costs will filter down to all of us no matter how it’s collected, so why not collect it in the cheapest manner possible. But… it seems that it has been determined that bridge tolls are the way to go, so… why fight it.

Alon Levy March 6, 2009 - 7:38 pm

As Eric Gioia explained, the current situation is that many outer borough businesses can’t deliver to Manhattan at all because of the congestion.

Angus Grieve-Smith March 6, 2009 - 5:47 pm

You may be right about their thought processes, Arui, but they’re wrong. These tolls would reduce congestion, just like congestion pricing would have. The business owners would save more than $15 a day (or however much) by simply not having employees sitting in traffic burning gas on their dime.

Anon March 6, 2009 - 9:10 pm

You guys need to make this not just NY Transportation issue but ALSO a “consumer” issue.
Sate your case for passing the Ravitch inspired Silver Plan to tips@consumerist.com
http://www.consumerist.com a not-for-profit subsidiary of Consumers Union.


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