Home MTA EconomicsRavitch Commission Presenting — and distorting — toll opponents

Presenting — and distorting — toll opponents

by Benjamin Kabak

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.

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Rhywun March 24, 2009 - 12:08 pm

All the article is doing is pointing out, politely, that voters are stupid. I’m not getting this sinister motive from it that everyone else seems to be getting.

Benjamin Kabak March 24, 2009 - 6:00 pm

I don’t think it’s sinister per se, but I think it’s a bit misleading from The Times’ editors.

Duke87 March 24, 2009 - 1:01 pm

*sigh* That’s the Times for you…

Robert March 24, 2009 - 5:11 pm

This quote is my favorite:

“It shuts everyone out who can’t afford to get into the city or through the city,” said Ms. Groenveldt, a bookkeeper who works in Manhattan.

Anyone who can afford to own a car and uses it to drive into the city can afford to pay $2 to get in, just like the rest of us have to. Are they seriously saying that people who can afford to own cars can’t afford a $2 toll, but everyone who takes the subway can afford a 23% fare hike?

Lawrence Velazquez March 24, 2009 - 7:04 pm

This is one of the most perplexing arguments against bridge tolls. It makes zero sense, and I don’t see how anyone can really believe it. This idea that poor folk are being forced to take the Manhattan Bridge while well-to-doers are packing themselves onto the B train is absolutely absurd.

Troy March 26, 2009 - 10:30 pm

Are you saying people who drive to Manhattan don’t use AT LEAST $2 in gas to drive there, to park? And that a portion of that gas price is not a gas tax that goes to NY and the Federal Government?
And that the drivers didn’t pay for their vehicles nor sales tax for their vehicles? They don’t pay car insurance, as well as maintenance, registration and inspection fees? Is that what you’re saying?


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