Home Asides As Queensboro turns 100, a reminder of tolls gone by

As Queensboro turns 100, a reminder of tolls gone by

by Benjamin Kabak

Over the weekend, the Queensboro Bridge turned 100, and the city celebrated with a processional of old cars across the span and some East River fireworks. As part of the celebration, Gridlock Sam made light of the fact that cars had to pay three cents to cross the bridge in 1909. The audience reportedly chuckled. A toll — all of three cents — to cross an East River Bridge! Imagine that!

To those of us in favor of East River tolls as a way to fund the MTA, a toll 100 years ago is no laughing matter. It is a sign that free trips across the East River are not a God-given right. It is a sign that people 100 years ago had a better sense of transportation policies than we do now. Three cents in 1909 money would be a hair under 75 cents today, and all of a sudden, the idea of tolls across the East River to help fund the MTA seems more inevitable. After all, if 1909 New York could do it, why can’t the 2009 version do the same?

You may also like


Marc Shepherd June 1, 2009 - 12:24 pm

I am strongly in favor of tolling the bridges, but I must point out one thing:

My understanding is that the Queensboro Bridge was tolled only as long as necessary to pay off the construction bonds. So it wasn’t exactly enlightened transit policy. It was just paying off the cost of the bridge itself, after which it became free.

It was Robert Moses who introduced to New York the idea of tolling one structure to fund the construction of others. The idea of keeping tolls on the Triboro and other bridges long after their bonds had been paid off was considered an innovation at the time. Of course, he did this only for the bridges and tunnels he controlled, which of course did not include the Queensboro.

Benjamin Kabak June 1, 2009 - 1:35 pm

Fair enough, Marc. I was employing a bit of hyperbole to make my point. I believe all of the East River bridges were tolled in order to pay off the bonds, and I believe that riders were not too happy about it back then either.

Rhywun June 1, 2009 - 4:37 pm

I’ve never bought the “toll until the construction is paid off” excuse that anti-toll people like to use. What about maintenance? That doesn’t pay for itself.


Leave a Comment