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.