This morning, at 9:30 a.m., the MTA’s Finance Committee will meet in a special session to update the MTA Board on revenue and expense projections for the agency’s operating budget. While the news out of this meeting will not be good for the MTA’s bottom line, help, in the form of the Ravitch Commission is less than a month away.
In a few short weeks, Richard Ravitch will unveil his recommendations the city and state could adopt to save the MTA. Yesterday, the Post broke the unsurprising story that Ravitch is going to strongly urge the city to toll the East River bridges with the proceeds heading into the MTA’s depleted coffers. David Seifman and Bill Sanderson broke the story:
A state commission is proposing slapping tolls on the Brooklyn, Manhattan, Williamsburg and 59th Street bridges to plug a gigantic, $1.5 billion hole in the MTA’s budget, sources told The Post. In a report expected on Gov. Paterson’s desk next month, members of the Ravitch Commission – a 13-member panel appointed in June to identify solutions to the agency’s financial crisis – will recommend collecting tolls at all or some of the city’s East River bridges.
All of those bridges are owned by the city and currently have no tolls. But motorists now pay $5 each way on the MTA-owned East River crossings, which include the Triborough Bridge and the Brooklyn-Battery and Queens-Midtown tunnels.
Higher subway, bus and train fares and a new payroll tax – to be imposed on employers – will also be suggested by the commission, which is led by former MTA chief Richard Ravitch, the sources said. Because the non-toll spans are owned by the city, and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority is a state agency, both City Hall and Albany would have to OK the controversial idea.
The Daily News reported that congestion pricing would also be included in the Ravitch report.
On the surface, supporters of mass transit are going to find it tough to object to this idea. The City has often floated the idea of tolling the East River crossings as a way to generate more revenue for the MTA, and if indeed this suggestion appears in the Ravitch report, it will be hard for Albany and City Hall to ignore it. As with congestion pricing, it would serve two needs: The plan would both generate more revenue for the MTA and encourage commuters to seek out more environmentally friendly means of travel within New York City.
Of course, the Post went straight to New Yorkers who could find some way to complain about this plan. Business owners who rely on inter-borough travel decry it as another form of taxation with some even claiming that they won’t be able to stay in business if they’re charged $400 more a month in tolls. These drivers should be able to pass off the costs to their customers in the form of higher delivery fees. That’s not the issue.
The real issue I have is with people such as Walter Winds, mentioned in this graphic, who drives his wife to work over the Williamsburg Bridge. I can’t side with him in this great debate because subway trains already cross the Williamsburg Bridge. If Winds and fellow commuters who view cars as a luxury don’t want to pay, then they can take the train.
Meanwhile, John Liu, the chair of the City Council’s Transportation Committee and the man supposedly in charge of advocating for mass transit, is already campaigning against the tolls. “The mayor tried to impose them during the dire fiscal straits in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, and even then it went over like a lead balloon,” Liu said to The Post This plan, he said, will wind up on “the bottom of the East River.”
Thanks, John. Way to take a good idea and toss it under the bus for a change. One day, the head of the Transportation Committee won’t hate the idea of funding transportation in the city. For now, we’ll just have to hope that something Ravitch suggests — tolls, congestion pricing, money laundering — provides the MTA with the relief it needs.