Presenting — and distorting — toll opponentsBy
Yesterday morning, as the MTA Finance Committee prepared to deliver a shocking vote on fare hikes and service cuts, The New York Times ran a story on the Ravitch Plan’s East River bridge toll package. This was not your typical article on East River tolls though. Rather, it highlighted the views of the few and promoted them as though they were accepted wisdom among straphangers.
In the article — headline “Unlikely Opponents of Bridge Tolls: Transit Riders” — Times transit beat writer William Neuman managed to find a few transit riders to were against tolls. Writes Neuman:
But interviews with residents in these districts revealed that the holdout legislators have tapped into a concern shared by many of their constituents, even among those where it might be least unexpected: transit riders. And while toll opponents made up a spirited minority among straphangers interviewed in recent days, their views stood out, because they were both unexpected and passionately held.
“I think it’s unfair to tax drivers to pay for those using public transportation,” Serena Burch, 37, said as she waited on a recent afternoon for a bus near Brooklyn College, where she is a full-time student. “Why should the bridge commuters pay for the subway commuters in Brooklyn?”
Ms. Burch, who lives near Kings Plaza, did not know who her senator was or what his position was on tolls. But as it turned out, they were in agreement. Her senator is Carl Kruger, who has been one of the staunchest opponents of new tolls…
In the Soundview section of the Bronx, John Garcia, 33, a plumber with a job in Manhattan, is represented by Senator Ruben Diaz Sr., another vocal toll opponent. Mr. Garcia said that even though he was a regular subway rider, he worried about the effect of tolls on the small businesses that frequently use the Harlem River bridges. “Tolling the bridges is going to hurt a lot of people that own plumbing companies, construction companies, cabs, deliverymen,” Mr. Garcia said, adding that he would prefer higher subway fares to new tolls.
Later on in the article — as Streetsblog excerpted — Neuman dropped in this tidbit:
While straphangers who opposed tolls were in the minority of those interviewed, far more common in the interviews last week were transit riders who feared the looming fare increases and supported bridge tolls.
Isn’t, then, Neuman’s piece a bit of disingenuous and dishonest reporting? Isn’t the tale here really that the vast majority of straphangers support bridge tolls because they rely on the subway far more than they drive? Isn’t the tale here one of a disconnect between New Yorkers who need the subways and the out-of-touch State Senators sitting in Albany?
Neuman’s story is helping no one and is simply distorting the truth. It’s another dismaying sign that the small minority of people who oppose bridge tolls and the Ravitch Plan have won the PR war at the worst of times.