Based on news coverage of the Ravitch Commission’s report, you could be forgiven for believing that most of Brooklyn commutes into Manhattan via automobile over the East River bridges. After all, reporters and sources act as though tolling the East River bridges represents a direct challenge to our American way of life.
But it’s simply not true. In a survey a long time coming, the Tri-State Transportation Campaign noted the grave inequities among the numbers of commuters who drive and those who ride the subway. The report — released on Friday — is telling. “For example, according to the 2000 Census, only 3.1% of Brooklyn workers, 3.5% of Nassau County workers, and 4.4% of Westchester County workers drive alone to Manhattan to work,” Steven Higashide wrote on the TSC’s Mobilizing the Region.
The fact sheets are just as telling. In Brooklyn, the borough potentially hardest hit by the tolls, 37.9 percent of all commuters head into Manhattan each day. In total, 4.6 percent of Brooklyn residents drive into Manhattan each day either alone (3.1 percent) or via carpool (1.5 percent). On the flip side, 32.6 percent of borough residents rely on the subway. That’s 86 percent of all Manhattan-bound commuters on the train as opposed to 14 percent on the road. The numbers are rather similar across the entirety of the MTA’s Metropolitan Commuter Transportation District.
Furthermore, those who drive make, on average, over $30,000 a year more than those who take the train. So not only do few people commute via car each day, but they do as a luxury. They should be, in other words, the people paying the tolls. It would be regressive, as always, to tax the straphanging public and not the driving few.
This whole debate, then, is fairly ridiculous. It would be far, far better to raise the bridge tolls and avoid service cuts and huge fare hikes than it would be to keep the sacred East River bridges free while the vast majority of commuters would be stuck with longer wait times and more crowded trains. Streetsblog called the gap between those who drive and those who straphang “cavernous” and noted that “the populist ‘defense’ of the driving public is a bunch of hokum that no reporter should let go unchallenged.”
Now, if only the politicians who control the fate of transportation in New York would awake to these realities, we could have hope yet. For some reason, though, I get the feeling that the fare hikes and service cuts will stay while the East River bridge tolls will remain free for the small percentage of people who use the bridges each day. That is backwards indeed.