Home MTA Politics How Cuomo sacrificed transit riders for ‘Verrazano Toll Relief’

How Cuomo sacrificed transit riders for ‘Verrazano Toll Relief’

by Benjamin Kabak

As Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced an election year giveaway to Staten Island drivers — at the expense of New York City’s subway and bus riders — yesterday, a few residents of the isolated borough accused me of harboring disdainful attitudes toward Staten Island. It is, after all, a equal among boroughs, as much a part of New York City as Brooklyn and Manhattan. I believe a borough of under 500,000 sometimes get more attention than it deserves in a city of eight million, but it certainly isn’t Staten Island’s fault that it has no subway connection to the rest of our extensive system. It would be a far different place with one.

It is, however, Staten Island’s fault that it’s such a car-heavy, transit-phobic place, and it is not appropriate for the Governor, even after a year of negotiating, to alleviate a toll burden just because it’s an election year. It’s also worth noting that Staten Islanders pay the least for their admittedly meager transit service with a free ferry and a railroad that charges fares only at a pair of stations. But that’s part of being an equal partner amidst the five boroughs that make up our city. Some will pay less; some more. It should generally balance out.

As you can see, from a transit perspective, I have decidedly mixed feelings about Staten Island. I don’t have these feelings about Gov. Cuomo. He has no transit policy for New York City, comprehensive, piece-meal or otherwise, and he seems more intent on governing for votes than on governing for policy.

The big news that came out of Thursday concerned toll relief. What was originally supposed to be a $14 million contribution from the state became a 50-50 split. Since the MTA has a shaky surplus, the agency will contribute $7 million and the state will fill the gap so that Staten Island residents in non-commercial vehicles will now pay just $5.50 to cross the Verrazano Bridge and, in order to combat commerce clause challenges, commercial vehicles that travel the bridge frequently enough will see a reduction in tolls. The Verrazano Bridge, for Staten Island residents, now costs half what, say, the Triborough Bridge does for Bronx residents.

The toll relief is likely to go into effect on April 1, though it may take longer to reprogram E-ZPasses. “The Verrazano-Narrows Bridge is a lifeline for Staten Island – for its residents, for its neighbors, for its businesses and for its economy,” Governor Cuomo said in a statement. “This toll relief will allow Staten Islanders to keep more of their money on the island and will make a real difference for companies that rely on the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge to keep their business thriving.”

Staten Islanders already enjoyed discounts rates on the toll, and that’s fine. I’m agnostic on toll relief by itself, but this move is a symptom of a bigger issue. As an editorial last week in the Staten Island Advance made perfectly clear, this is an election year move designed to help Cuomo shore up support in a more right-leaning area of the city, and it comes at the expense of everyone else. As Streetsblog notes, this is robbing a lot of Peters to pay off a few Pauls:

Make no mistake, though, the governor is undermining the MTA. For one thing, revenue from tolls is the only raid-proof source of funds for the MTA. The money goes straight into the agency’s accounts instead of passing through the state first, so Albany can’t pocket it. Cuomo may commit to “making the MTA whole” at his press conference, but any general funds spent this year won’t necessarily be there in the future. Albany’s support for transit has a way of shriveling up over time…

Other likely effects of the Verrazano toll cut: Tougher negotiations with the TWU, which can now point to what appears to be slack in the MTA budget (but isn’t really), and a slightly less compelling case for the Move NY toll reform plan, which swaps higher tolls on crossings into Manhattan for lower tolls on outlying bridges like the Verrazano.

Ultimately, $7 million in the grand scheme of things isn’t going to bankrupt the MTA, but it whittles away at the money that’s there. Cuomo claimed that the toll relief would disappear if the MTA’s finances declined, but that’s a political fight for another era. Meanwhile, with the MTA’s tenuous financial picture driven by debt, using surplus funds to cut a deal simply weakens that surplus.

Sam Schwartz has floated a plan that lowers preexisting bridge tolls and raises others to create a more balanced transit policy. It has its flaws, but it supports modes of travel that are better for the city and should reduce congestion. What Cuomo did yesterday contained no elements of that plan or any sense that he had a plan in the first place. It was a giveaway for drivers at the expense of subway and bus riders, and it sums up his approach to transit in a nutshell. How utterly disappointing.

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Brandon February 7, 2014 - 12:30 am

Unlike many people on the pro-transit/pro-bike side of things, I was rather happy with the Sam Schwartz plan to lower tolls on the Verrazano/Triboro/Whitestone/Throgs Neck bridges, which included (I would even say, predicated upon) tolling the East River bridges.

Bolwerk February 7, 2014 - 9:18 am

The Schwartz plan is a real reform that makes sense and is very fair. I don’t see much opposition to it in the pro-transit or pro-bike circles.

I do see objections to wholesale toll reductions with no other changes. Lowering tolls on the VB without tolling Manhattan bridges at best just means less money for the MTA and at worst means more Staten Islanders crossing the bridge by car to use already congested highways.

Eric F February 7, 2014 - 9:58 am

Doesn’t this hurt the plan though? Before you cave on this you could have dangled a toll discount to S.I. residents in exchange for the cordon charge. Might be good for votes from the entire S.I. delegation. Now you lost that angle.

Bolwerk February 7, 2014 - 12:02 pm

Hmm, maybe that’s the intent. I don’t think he ever was for any sort of toll/pricing reform (Schwartz toll modifications or Bloomberg CP), but he could be trying to make it harder to implement the Schwartz plan in the future.

I never see him explain his actions beyond vague, self-congratulatory platitudes about helping New Yorkers. And it’s not like he needs to win SI to win the next election. It doesn’t seem like he has any meaningful competition in either major party.

Frank February 7, 2014 - 6:16 pm

I doubt he’s given a moment of thought to the Schwartz plan, much less the relationship of this toll break to that plan.

Alex February 7, 2014 - 11:17 am

Generally, it’s the massive highway widening that is part of his plan that transit advocates oppose. I could maybe see it on the SI Expressway if you really want to divert a lot of traffic there, but not the Belt Parkway.

Chris February 7, 2014 - 1:02 am

In fairness, NYS broke its deal with Staten Island years ago (over 100), when the deal was cut to become one of the 5 boroughs. It was promised ferries AND a direct connection to the NYC subway system via a tunnel to Brooklyn. NYS never delivered on the full bargain, so why should Staten Island not get preferential treatment from the TBTA – especially when it funds the subway system?

Please note that I live in Westchester, and have almost no skin in this game. (I do regularly visit Staten Island, and it costs me more to visit my friend than it does for her to visit me.) So if I cite a deal that almost no one remembers, it is still a deal – just like the ones the US Govt. signed with the aboriginal tribes that were here prior to European colonization.

afk February 7, 2014 - 2:27 am

Current tolls on the Verrazano for cars: $10.66 EZPass, $15 cash.

Unless you are an SI resident in a non commercial vehicle, then $6.36 per trip if you use the bridge once or twice a month, three times or more and it’s $6.00 per trip, both with EZPass. Or tokens at $8.53 per trip if they don’t have an EZPass. If they carpool, it’s only $2.96 per trip.


They already get preferential treatment from the TBTA. I’d say the issue a lot of people have with Cuomo’s move isn’t that it helps Staten Island drivers, I think a lot of these same people would be happy to support the Move NY plan that would lower the toll on the Verrazano. It’s that Cuomo is taking money from transit users to do it. If the MTA’s finances weaken, will Cuomo have the political will to raise the tolls? Maybe he won’t want that fight, and will offer general fund revenues to make up for it. Until the next state budget and he needs to find a few million somewhere to balance the budget. The city’s transit system is in a sorry state. It needs a champion to right it. Cuomo controls the MTA. The governor could be that champion. But he’s not. This is one more way that he’s shown that.

Eric February 9, 2014 - 5:42 am

$10-15 toll per vehicle, 190,000 vehicles per day, adds up to a LOT of money. Like hundreds of millions of dollars per year. If the toll is raised rather than lowered, you could relatively quickly accumulate the money for a rail tunnel from Staten Island to Brooklyn or Manhattan.

Michael February 7, 2014 - 5:45 am

Regardless of one’s position of the Verrazano Bridge tolls or the changes that Gov. Cuomo is trying to institute, I just want to make one point in this debate.

Unlike car drivers or residents of the Bronx, Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens – Staten Islanders have no FREE access to any of the other boroughs by car. Car drivers in Bronx, Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens have either free bridges or “free streets” for travel from borough to borough. So there are options to deal with a toll that one does not like.

All of the bridges that connect to/from Staten Island are tolled. There is no “free path” by car to anywhere to/from Staten Island. There’s no pathway that does not involve a bridge, especially since cars can no longer travel over the Staten Island Ferry (whether that is a good policy or not), it just means fewer options. (Please note that when cars did use the ferry, they were charged a price that was reflective of the tolls for cars – it was not a “reduced cost option”, just an option not to use a bridge.)

Plus until 1997 with Mayor Rudy G.’s “One City One Fare” policy and the MTA’s Gold Metro-Card program – there was even a fare on the Staten Island Ferry. Meaning that there was no “free pathway” for folks who just wanted to walk to Staten Island before the Gold Metro-Card. Plenty of Brooklyn residents walk across the Brooklyn and Williamsburg Bridges both to/from Manhattan. And there are bridges for walking between Manhattan and the Bronx. In several Brooklyn and Queens neighborhoods – crossing over to the other borough is as simple as crossing the street. There are no bridges that connect to Staten Island that one can walk across.

There simply are not many options for Staten Island residents using their car to get around, or for those that use the available public transit. Every pathway for a car has a toll – meaning every trip for a car user traveling anywhere is tolled. That is a situation unlike the other boroughs.

Again, I am not right now debating the wisdom of Gov. Cuomo’s actions or his reasons, or the problems with what he plans to do. I just want to make the point about the very limited set of options for car users.


Tower18 February 7, 2014 - 11:09 am

This argument always seems to me to be similar to the people who move under the airport landing path and then complain about the noise. It’s always been this way on Staten Island, and everyone who lives there moved there knowing this.

Also, a house in South Beach, Dongan Hills, New Dorp, etc. is many hundreds of thousands of dollars cheaper than an equivalent house in Bay Ridge or Dyker Heights, right across the bridge. So I don’t feel a ton of sympathy for people who moved to Staten Island because of costs (let’s face it, that’s why EVERYONE moves there in the end) and didn’t factor in the tolls.

Michael February 7, 2014 - 12:53 pm

Just because something can be said: “It’s Always Been This Way”, does not mean that it can not be or should not be changed.

The words, “It’s Always Been This Way” is not an argument for the continuation of the status quo. There are so many examples that I could cite, without even breaking a sweat. LOL!

People move or grow up in a variety of places and situations. So what! The people, the situation or both can change over time, by their actions, the actions of others, etc. There are pluses and minuses to every neighborhood in NYC, and at the same time there are issues of fairness and equity. NYC residents generally have to come to accept a certain standard of living – so it is indeed fair for the various excluded segments to expect their fair share. Not to be told, “well, due to decisions 100-hundred years ago, we’re not gonna give you your fair share today!

This is not a case where a resident of Hoboken (a New Jersey city) is demanding their rights from the city of Yonkers (an another city). This is a case about New York City residents doing things that help the common good, as well as deal with particular situations.


VLM February 7, 2014 - 12:59 pm

The “common good” in NYC does not involve lowering tolls and encouraging more driving and more congestion at the expense of transit funding. Definitely not.

Michael February 7, 2014 - 8:02 pm

Pray tell, just where did I say that? I will agree that there several different ways to define “common good”. And that there can exist at times several very important goals that can conflict, as well as conflicting ways to complete those goals. Or that the evidence of past history can have an effect upon the current, and the future – which can manifest itself in the ways and means that the many of good faith attempt to resolve the complications of all of those important goals to create a better urban environment. Often times, as in many things, there has to be a balance. Admittedly extremely high tolls, extremely high levels of traffic congestion, and extremely low levels of transit funding are not good things, or helpful to the general welfare. Now adjusting the levers that control each of these elements (as well as other elements) is both an art and a science involving not only social policy, politics, urban planning, and other wells of knowledge. Of course it should be noted that the search for the common good, will also involve what has been built before, what has not been built, available resources and technologies, as well as competing interests and uses of money, manpower, and resources. So please do not infer something that I did not say.


Ed March 12, 2014 - 5:50 am

No You are wrong prove it

afk February 7, 2014 - 6:13 pm

Then we should leave the tolls as is, or even raise them, and built better transit infrastructure on SI, along with the added density to support it. The common good is reducing the number of cars on the road, not increasing them.

Jeff February 7, 2014 - 9:02 am

Staten Island, even with a population of only 470,000, is still bigger than every other city in New York State other than NYC, and in fact equivalent to cities like Atlanta and Sacramento in size, almost the same size as Buffalo+Rochester combined. Don’t make it seem like it is an insignificant part of the population like you always do, because it is not.

VLM February 7, 2014 - 9:24 am

I’ll take “Missing The Point,” for $300.

I’m not going to attempt to be as diplomatic as Ben here. Without Staten Island, New York City would be much better off, and it’s always hilarious/amazing to see how Staten Islanders get so upset when you point out this obvious truth to them.

Dr. Kenneth Noisewater February 7, 2014 - 10:10 am

And without NYC taxes being sucked out of middle-class SI, SI would be better off.

Don’t throw SI in that briar patch!

Tower18 February 7, 2014 - 11:16 am

LOL. Keep thinking that the city taxes on 470,000 people are anything more than a drop in the bucket to the city’s revenue. I would wager that Staten Island, from a tax perspective, is a pretty serious net recipient in the tax/spend equation. Yes all those middle class people pay taxes, but don’t forget about how it takes 20-30 city employee Staten Islanders to balance out one mid-level hedge fund guy elsewhere in the city.

I don’t say this with any disdain for Staten Island, I just want people to be realistic. There is a reason no major secessions have ever happened at this level (Upper Peninsula of Michigan, Staten Island, Long Island, suburban Cook County IL, Quebec, etc. etc.).

Bolwerk February 7, 2014 - 12:12 pm

Most of the work those people do is probably either in the city or New Jersey anyway.

Someone (Larry Littlefield?) put it well: the forgotten borough is The Bronx, not Staten Island. Staten Island gets far more attention relative to its size.

BoerumHillScott February 7, 2014 - 12:36 pm

Don’t forget that Staten Island has a higher percentage of 1-3 family houses, which are taxed at an insanely lower rate compared to larger buildings.

lawhawk February 7, 2014 - 1:38 pm

Any attempt to increase zoning density on SI is met with opposition.

Any attempt to improve mass transit is likewise met with insane levels of opposition, including subway expansion, SBS or BRT. That’s despite the fact that mass transit is sorely needed on SI to improve the gridlock conditions in many parts of SI during the day.

What could $7 million (or $14 million in total) have done with SBS on Staten Island? Additional routings and improved service taking more people off the roads.

Ralfff February 8, 2014 - 1:36 am

It’s not that simple. http://www.nydailynews.com/new.....-1.1470735 It is the ritzy parts of Manhattan that are grossly underpaying property taxes.
Rates are nominally way lower but there are other important factors.
“A 17.5 to 25% abatement for co-op and condo owners, intended in 1996 to be temporary, has since since renewed twice, and is still in effect! The NYC Dept. f Finance reports that 75% of the savings from this abatement go to coop and condo owners in Manhattan, who have much higher-than-average incomes. (Note that there are condos in Class 1, as well.)”

That website is pro land-value tax, which is outside the scope of SAS, but obviously the citywide resistance to upzoning (leaving aside its negative effects for the moment) and legal obstacles to it is what is pushing home prices so high, which in turn is what has driven many people to Staten Island in the first place (over the last decade at least; it’s built-out under current zoning).

I agree with VLM when he says they should sleep in the bed they made. On the other hand, we’re talking about a borough more dense than the vast majority of America today. If transit can’t be made to work there, then we should consider throwing in the towel.

BoerumHillScott February 7, 2014 - 9:28 am

Comparing the population to Atlanta a totally an apples to oranges situation, since Atlanta is the center of a metro area with over 10 times the population of the city, and Staten Island is not.
A better comparison is Mesa, Arizona.

Duke February 7, 2014 - 9:04 am

I don’t particularly like the idea of “resident discounts”, period. EZPass discounts are great since they encourage more people to have EZPass which cuts costs for the tolling agency (although the fact that the MTA only offers those discounts to people with EZPass tags from New York is bogus), and thus in the long run they make the money back. But what do resident discounts accomplish? Encouraging more people to live on Staten Island?

Staten Island is a tough nut to crack since despite it being politically part of New York City, it’s for the most part very suburban and really might as well be part of New Jersey. It’s lacking in transit options but it’s also lacking in the population density necessary to support them to the degree that the other boroughs do. Access could be improved in several key ways but aside from north shore SIRR reactivation, all of them have sky high price tags (part of the problem of being an island separated from Manhattan by several miles of water.

Bolwerk February 7, 2014 - 9:34 am

I agree about resident discounts, but I don’t see the population density problem. Besides that such things are usually about land use policies, there is nothing wrong with building transit to stimulate more density.

Larry Littlefield February 7, 2014 - 9:49 am

If you push Cuomo on transit fairness, perhaps he’ll institute free buses on Staten Island too to go along with the free ferry.

Alternately, the MTA could just cut bus service on Staten Island by $7 million.

Staten Island is a strange place. A borough of government employees who don’t want to pay for government. Or perhaps that is a normal place. One with much in common with Upstate New York.

Nathanael February 7, 2014 - 3:22 pm

Mnost of Upstate is not like that at *all*.

Staten Island does seem to have a lot of cultural similarity with Nassau County or Albany.

*Not* with Buffalo or Rochester or Syracuse or Auburn or Ithaca or Corning or Binghamton or Jamestown, let alone the actual rural areas.

Josh February 7, 2014 - 4:52 pm

For that matter, it’s not really accurate to equate Ithaca or Corning with Rochester or Binghamton.

Eric F February 7, 2014 - 10:01 am

The MTA does have resident discounts in other areas. I believe they give residents of places like the Rockaways discounts on the bridges over the intercoastal that they need to get off the peninsulas.

Bolwerk February 7, 2014 - 12:06 pm

Yeah, though that’s a bridge that shouldn’t even have a toll (unless beach traffic is really high or something).

Herb Lehman February 7, 2014 - 10:03 am

The worst part of it is that Staten Islanders, including myself, are not even impressed and see it for what it is — an election-year stunt. A matter of cents off a ludicrously expensive toll is seen as a slap in the face here, and the commercial discount, though I’m no economist, probably isn’t enough to help the businesses much.

I agree with Ben that the money WOULD have been much better spent on some sort of transit initiative here, which might have done something to get all the cars off the road. $14 million would not have gone far, but still.

Nathanael February 7, 2014 - 3:22 pm

HBLR over Bayonne. (Sigh.)

Dr. Kenneth Noisewater February 7, 2014 - 10:17 am

Extend the R(arely) across 2 lower-deck lanes of the V-N bridge to a transfer station with SIRTOA (which can’t be integrated with the subway system unless it’s eminent-domained and regauged), and then you can justify reducing or eliminating V-N toll discounts for SI residents.

g February 7, 2014 - 10:46 am

Probably 45+ minute ride into Manhattan with (currently) low frequency that doesn’t even go to the transport hub on the island (St. George) where increased density would be possible. Not worth the expenditure.

If subway is going to Staten Island it has to go to St. George. That will mean tunneling under a wider swath of harbor but if the money is ever going to be spent that’s how. Such a project should also be chained to substantial up-zoning around the three northernmost SIR stations and the terminus.

Ryan February 7, 2014 - 12:19 pm

Or, you could cross underneath the shadow of the bridge and then just turn north to hit St. George instead of south to hit “not St. George.”

But since it’s the same rolling stock running over tracks with the same gauge and the same electrification, cutting off the rest of SIR because “it has to go to St. George” seems kind of silly when you can augment bad R frequencies with the SIR, now rebranded the S or the I or whatever letter you want to give it.

ajedrez February 7, 2014 - 1:45 pm

The problem with going to St. George through Brooklyn is that you really don’t save that much time compared to the current ferry service. Even as an extension of the current SIR, the R from 59th Street to Whitehall Street (of course, once the repairs are finished) is about 20-25 minutes or so. Add in a 5-10 minute ride to St. George, and you’re at 25-35 minutes, which is actually slower than the ferry. Of course, the R runs more frequently than the ferry, and makes it easier to get further north in Manhattan, but I think the best bang for the buck would still be to tunnel straight from Lower Manhattan.

ajedrez February 7, 2014 - 1:47 pm

Of course, going directly to Brooklyn does benefit those who need to travel to Brooklyn, but there’s still significantly more people going to Manhattan.

Ryan February 7, 2014 - 2:18 pm

I don’t believe that “significantly more people going to Manhattan” justifies the massive, massive expense of a direct super-tunnel that benefits nobody except for Staten Island.

For a comparable cost, we could expand the BMT Fourth Avenue subway to four tracks south of Bay Ridge Avenue, shift the R to running express at all times (and the N to running local at all times), restore the W and extend it along the current R routing (but have it still terminate in Bay Ridge) and thereby give Staten Island an express option to Manhattan (via the new express-running R) plus a local option to Brooklyn via a cross-platform transfer at 95th Street to the restored and extended local-running W.

Phantom February 8, 2014 - 1:25 pm

I don’t know if it would be practically posssible to expand the Fourth Avenue subway to four tracks south of 59th St.

Even if it were, it would cause devastation and disruption a second time to Bay Ridge for a harebrain scheme that would hurt this area and not help it

Bay Ridge was nearly destroyed by the criminal Moses and NYC when many homes were condemned, then demolished, to make way for the access road to that rotten bridge that should never have been built.

You won’t do it to us again. Sorry.

Ryan February 8, 2014 - 4:56 pm

Expanding an already existing tunnel beneath a wide, wide avenue from two tracks to four is not just practically possible – it’s quite viable, and not nearly as impactful to the neighborhood as bulldozing a freeway through might be. To suggest it even comes close is the exact kind of hysterical hyperbole that paralyzes the city, the region and the country any time anybody dares to suggest improvements or expansions to transit infrastructure.

Read your comment again, and embrace it as the exact same kind of NIMBY fear-mongering that kills good transit expansion and creates failed projects. It’s comments like yours. You’re contributing to the problem.

So… prepare to get [sarcasm]”devastated and disrupted a second time”[/sarcasm] if four-tracking south of 59th St emerges as the preferred alternative for extending subway service to Staten Island, then.

That’s all I can say to you. Sorry. (I’m actually not sorry. The fear-mongering needs to stop.)

Phantom February 10, 2014 - 12:31 pm

Building two new tracks over 36 blocks and four stations would be the equivalent of the Second Avenue subway tunnel, which covered all of three stations and which caused great disruption for years on the East Side.

Except that the Second Avenue Stubway is of great benefit to the entire east side of Manhattan, while an extension to of R service to SI would not benefit Brooklyn at all. The S53 and S79 provide an adequate service right now IMO if anyone should desire to go to the Mall or whatever.

Even if it was seen as desirable to punch a tunnel across the narrows, it could work with two tracks – which actually is all that the fancy Second Avenue Subway will ever have, in high rise Manhattan yet.

Ryan February 10, 2014 - 1:39 pm

“I don’t think this thing that benefits me actually benefits me!”

Actually, Brooklyn is just as much of a beneficiary of four-tracking as SI is. You, who insists on framing this only in terms of travel to and from SI, continue to ignore the benefits of express running on travel between Bay Ridge and Manhattan, in the other direction. You also ignore the fact that adding express tracks will allow for the W to be restored and extended all the way to Bay Ridge, doubling your frequencies and maintaining the local-local option alongside the new express-express R option. Without those extra tracks, the W has to be cut at South Ferry – or the R and the W both have to operate at half their potential frequencies because of the Bay Ridge choke point.

“We underbuilt a subway somewhere else in the city, therefore, we should underbuild everywhere else too!”

Actually, building the Second Avenue Subway with only two tracks was a tremendous mistake that we’ll be paying for well into the 2020s and probably the 2030s as well. It absolutely needed four, and we’re going to have to expand it to four at some point in the distant future.

Fortunately, digging out an expansion to an existing tunnel is comparatively easier than digging out a brand new tunnel – as you’ll come to see if and when we start talking capacity expansion on a serious basis.

“Two tracks is more than enough to cross the narrows!”

You’re right! It’s only on the Brooklyn side where I think we should add express tracks, not on the SI side or in the tunnel.

In fact, as long as you agree that having the ability to make local trips intra-Brooklyn is less important than ensuring no new subterranean construction in your backyard, I’ll even stop pressing for the express tracks in Bay Ridge! You’re going to be stuck transferring to a local train at 59th, but hey, no new construction! Not in your backyard.

johndmuller February 7, 2014 - 8:44 pm

First, it’s not only about time anyway. You get on a train and it goes to Manhattan in about the same time. Think about rain and sleet and gloom of night and all the other things the letter carriers endure – you don’t have to deal with them on both ends of a partly outside boat ride.

Personally, the boat ride sounds like fun, once in a while; the rest of the time, it adds a couple of more lines to stand on and seats to change.

There wouldn’t necessarily be that many stops in Brooklyn and if the crossing were south of St George, near as many people might benefit (coming from that direction already) as would lose (coming from the north).

If it just connects to existing stuff at both ends, there is not that much to reasonably complain about.

There are some interesting higher end possibilities, but as far as the basic Brooklyn to Staten Island thing, just do it already.

g February 7, 2014 - 2:57 pm

I’d probably just slightly modify the original plan to run a tunnel off BMT Fourth Ave at 65th but realign to the north so it can run direct into St. George to connect with SIR.

Going from the end of the line and across the narrows then running back north to St. George would add an unacceptable time penalty. That could be mitigated by 4 tracking south of 59th but that’s going to also run the cost up a lot. The super direct tunnel to Manhattan is also out of the question due to enormous cost.

Ryan February 7, 2014 - 4:05 pm

Why is serving St. George with a direct trip so absolutely imperative that we have to lock ourselves into a number of not-great options that just so happen to connect St. George and Brooklyn instead of connecting everything into the network at a junction just north of Grasmere, even though this means four stations have a “less efficient” ride into Manhattan or Brooklyn? It’s still better than nothing and adding express tracks provides far more bang for our buck than a super direct tunnel.

St. George is really in a terrible position anyway unless it continues to be a terminal – there’s no good through-routing options available because of its positioning. The more I look at it, the more I really do believe you’re better off setting this up with branching service – transfer at Hylan Blvd between two branches of service pointing towards either St. George or Tottenville Perth Amboy.

Because the line splits in two at Hylan Blvd, there’s enough excess capacity to maintain full intra-SI service as the I train, and everyone remains happy and much better off than they were before.

Ralfff February 8, 2014 - 12:21 am

Agreed. St. George is the one part of Staten Island that is already well-served by transit. If Staten Islanders could all get there so quickly things would not be so bad.

Ralfff February 8, 2014 - 12:46 am

To clarify my comment: from a Staten Island transit perspective, getting to Manhattan is not that bad. At least the ferry is direct and many bus routes go to the ferry. And then when you get off you’re in walking distance of the 1,R,4/5, or even, lord help you, the J.

If you’ve already got a walk to the SIR you’re in even better shape. These people have nothing to complain about in that they have a grade-separated train that goes at a decent clip in a straight line.

The issue is (and this is not unique to SI but combined with other transit factors it really sucks) is getting to Brooklyn except for Bay Ridge. It’s simply awful. Now we’re talking a transfer just to get to Bay Ridge from many places and you aren’t anywhere in Brooklyn yet. And the only train you have is a desperately slow, infrequent R which you’ll likely have to transfer from.

Compare this to the supposedly forgotten Bronx. If you want to go direct from the Bronx to Queens via transit, you’ve got the Q44 and Bx50 which travel deep into both boroughs through many transit connections. They’re no one’s favorite buses but they don’t just dead-end in Whitestone, and that’s what makes them work.

Extend the S53 to add on most of the B16’s route and the S79 to assimilate the B1 and we can talk about fairness again.

ajedrez February 9, 2014 - 1:24 am

Well, considering that both the SIR & ferry have crummy frequencies, I’d still say that they have a right to complain. Not to mention the speed of the ferry. If the SIR had subway-like frequencies and connected to a fast ferry that also had subway-like frequencies, then I’d be more inclined to agree with you.

And combining the S53/B16 & S79/B1 is only going to get you to end up with some ridiculously long route that’s delay-prone for everybody on both sides of the bridge. You’re better off leaving them at 86th Street (maybe an extension up to 59th Street for the N express wouldn’t hurt, but no more), and work on improving service on both sides of the bridge.

For instance, with the S53, you have a bunch of people who get on north of the expressway, and then they have to sit through every stop in Grasmere & South Beach, which is made worse if the bus is at capacity and dwell times start to increase, further delaying the bus. Instead, there should be limited-stop service from Port Richmond that takes the same route as the S93, leaving the regular S53 to handle Grasmere & South Beach. There, you just improved Brooklyn access for an entire swath of the island. Add some more S93 service along Victory (outside of rush hour), and you improved it even more.

And then on the Brooklyn end, the B1 does connect with a decent chunk of southern Brooklyn, but it can be slow at times. Why not create a limited-stop service that runs on and off the Belt Parkway? Or at least some kind of limited that goes further into Brooklyn (maybe to Kings Plaza, or maybe all the way out to JFK Airport). Yeah, it may be a long route, but at least any delays won’t impact riders on other routes.

Ralfff February 9, 2014 - 2:41 am

The SIR really only has to match the ferry frequency in order for one to catch the ferry.

And I’m still not sympathetic to the ferry speed issue. The efforts at private St. George fast ferries have failed because the free ferry is good enough and shaving 10 minutes off one’s trip to/from South Ferry is not the thing that makes people give up on public transit. The key thing is getting to a frequent, fast train line and that is exactly what the ferry does for Staten Islanders.

Besides which, of the hundreds of times I took a trip to or from Port Richmond via the ferry,the ferry was the worst offender in my transit time perhaps a dozen times. Slow/nonexistent buses or an egregiously infrequent R train were far, far worse.

That said, I like your ideas about buses and we’re on the same page. Now all we have to do is convince car-addicted Staten Islanders to support a public transit thing that isn’t all about them.

Ryan February 9, 2014 - 10:42 am

With regards to the R train proposals, I don’t think that a combination of an extension and new express tracks is “all about Staten Island” any more than any other proposal would be.

The capacity limiter on the R is always going to be the fact that it has to split the bill with at least one and as many as three other lines at most of the points along its route; a lot of express capacity goes unused on weekdays with N/Q/R all using local tracks at Times Square and north of it (except weekends, the Q terminates on the express tracks at 57th on weekends).

Restoring the W would create four BMT Broadway Line services and there’s enough slack everywhere except for Bay Ridge to rejigger the other three Broadway services as necessary to keep the Q and R as express trains and shift the N and W to being local trains. Capacity suddenly increases because now the R is only sharing its (express) track pair with one other line; capacity similarly increases because the N and the W are only sharing capacity with each other.

We can eke out 26 TPH on each track pair but even leaving an absurd amount of breathing room here gives us N/Q/R/W trains every 6 minutes each. Staten Island gets its subway connection to Brooklyn and its express option to Manhattan, Bay Ridge gets its frequencies doubled and now has a local and an express option out of 95 St, and – oh yeah, by the way, that cute little people mover we’re digging out under 2 Av would have its frequencies doubled on Day 1 with both the Q/R proceeding up it.

There’s really no actual losers in this proposal.

Ralfff February 9, 2014 - 2:50 am

just saw that you also accused the ferry of having crummy frequencies. It’s comparable to an express bus or the R train, no? I’d take the SIR over a limited-stop bus any day.

ajedrez February 9, 2014 - 9:58 pm

The R train runs every half hour? That’s news to me.

And the SIR has a little too much slack in the schedule to meet the ferry off-peak, at least IMO. The SIR arrives on the :13s and :43s, while the ferry leaves on the :00s and :30s. I think they should move the trains back 5-7 minutes.

BrooklynBus February 9, 2014 - 9:48 am

I took the B1 to the S79 to Staten Island the other day and the same thoughts were going through my head. The worst part of the trip was definitely the B1. It was just incredibly slow. Not counting any wait, the trip to 4th Avenue took nearly an hour, 10 to 15 minutes longer than it should have taken. Then I had to wait 20 minutes to change for the S78. While I was waiting I saw two pairs of S79s in the other direction as well as three S78s behind each other. That means someone was waiting 45 minutes for one somewhere. (I thought they were using BusTrek to help bunching.)

Back to the B1, I was wondering if there is enough demand for some B1s to pick up between 4th Avenue and Fort Hamilton Parkway and then take the Belt Parkway at Bay Parkway and then resume its regular route during the midday when 86th Street traffic is heavy. I have already recommended a separate route for JFK.

ajedrez February 10, 2014 - 11:41 pm

Which relates to a plan I had to add a local to the S79. (It would run the same route from Bay Ridge to the SI Mall, but instead of running along Richmond Avenue, it would serve Great Kills, providing 7-day service and direct access to more popular destinations than the current S54). Not only would it have given you a direct local ride from Brooklyn, but it would also supplement the S78 as a local.

Jeff360 February 7, 2014 - 11:46 am

You can’t. It’s too steep for a train to run on VZ bridge

g February 7, 2014 - 2:32 pm

Grade on the VZ is 4% max. It is not too steep.

Ryan February 7, 2014 - 12:14 pm

You’re wrong, actually. SIRTOA uses standard B Division rolling stock, same gauge, same voltage, same everything.

All it needs is a track connection to the R. There’s no other technical barrier to integration – all actual barriers except for the lack of a Narrows crossing are political/organizational.

Tower18 February 7, 2014 - 11:19 am

There’s another possibility here. The MTA has to vote on this proposal, I think, and so what if they reject it? Cuomo gets to appear a frustrated hero of the working man, and the good ol’ MTA takes the bullet, again. This way, Cuomo gets ~50% of what he wanted anyway (the image) without needing to spend a dime, and some other agency that people already hate anyway gets to take the heat.

Jeff360 February 7, 2014 - 11:48 am

They not going to reject, There is one board member in SI will get his wish for EZ pass discounts. That guy fought for many years.

pete February 8, 2014 - 2:07 pm

Cuomo appoints 1/3rd of the board anyway and knows everyone on it anyway. They will do whatever they are told.

Eric Brasure February 7, 2014 - 1:26 pm

Staten Island is the result of 50 years of poor transit policy, full stop. One need only compare the population of SI pre and post Verrazano to see why.

We can’t go back in time and fix the mistakes that were made. It’s better to look forward. Frankly, I think the toll on the Verrazano should be increased and earmarked to help pay for an extension of the subway to SI.

Nathanael February 7, 2014 - 3:25 pm

This sort of stuff is unfortunately typical for Cuomo, who (to the eternal fury of upstate Democrats) signed the Republican gerrymander of the State Senate.

And to the fury of anyone upstate who cares about clean water, he will not commit to banning fracking.

He inhaled too much lead as a youngster playing with cars I suppose.

Phantom February 7, 2014 - 4:41 pm

The subway should never be extended to SI. The idea has zero merit.

It would cost a fortune, and it would demolish the low rise environment that most people there like.

A huge chunk of the population there, or their parents, moved from Brooklyn where they had subways. They moved there precisely to get away from the subways and a Queens Boulevard lifestyle.

Ryan February 7, 2014 - 4:47 pm

Yes, because no subways ever run in low-rise environments and extending the subway to SI would instantly demolish everything surrounding it in favor of a “Queens Boulevard lifestyle.”

This is absolutely a thing that is preordained.

Benjamin Kabak February 7, 2014 - 4:54 pm

I totally see what you’re saying, and this is where I have a bone to pick with SI attitude. Many choose voluntarily to do this but then spend a lot of energy complaining about tolls or how hard is to get to Manhattan. No one made them move to SI, with these tolls and the poor transit long a factor, in the first place!

Phantom February 7, 2014 - 8:28 pm

I don’t even accept that they have poor transit. They have an endless stream of heavily subsidized and often half empty luxury express buses, more than any other borough. These often empty buses choke the Gowanus , the SI Expeessway and the streets of Manhattan.

My SI co workers have a shorter commute to Manhattan than I do in Brooklyn.

There is a culture of endless whining from some on SI, and much of it is based on falsehood and wild exaggeration.

Ralfff February 8, 2014 - 12:53 am

I concur with this. The whiny victimhood culture is real and it lies with the Staten Island Advance which simultaneously demands more car accommodation but also more mass transit options, and luxury ones at that. See: their decade-plus-long campaign for a fast ferry service to help the supposedly underserved South Shore; after Sandy, New York Waterways offered 500 free tickets for just such a ferry and there were not nearly as many takers. And why should there be? Those people already have a train to the oh-so-awful ferry that exists.

There is a crisis in Staten Island transit but it is TO Brooklyn and through it to Long Island and Queens, and not through it to Manhattan. This is the kernel of truth in the never-ending calls to lower the toll on the V-N bridge (and make no mistake, those calls will continue loud as ever).

ajedrez February 9, 2014 - 1:42 am

I will agree that Staten Islanders do whine more than those from other boroughs, but at least some of their concerns are valid. Do you think any of us enjoy sitting in traffic (whether it’s on the BQE or Lincoln Tunnel)? The lack of a rail connection to Manhattan is a very serious and valid issue.

And our express buses aren’t that heavily subsidized. Their subsidies are comparable to lower-used local routes in outlying parts of the city. On the weekends, the lower peak:base ratio actually improves efficiency close to the point of the typical local bus route.

Phantom February 10, 2014 - 2:04 pm

I see very many empty or near empty buses going in both directions from SI and especially from Brooklyn.

Service should be cut back significantly. Much of it is a pollution causing, highway clogging, money wasting scam.

BrooklynBus February 10, 2014 - 2:22 pm

I don’t know when you ride, but the buses I see leaving Brooklyn during midday always have many standees or at least a seated load

afk February 10, 2014 - 8:58 pm

Fares cover some 23% of local bus costs on SI, about half the city wide average. Express buses cover about the same percent of costs as locals citywide yes, but still require a much larger per rider subsidy. SI resident tolls on VZ bridge cover your share of bridge costs and not much more than that. If you want a rail line out of the boro, get rid of that exemption, raise the toll a couple bucks, upzone throughout the boro and there might be enough for a rail line over the VZ bridge.

ajedrez February 10, 2014 - 11:52 pm

And what about the LIRR & MNRR? In terms of absolute subsidy, they cost substantially more per passenger than express buses.

afk February 11, 2014 - 10:54 am

Something north of 10$ subsidy per ride on SI express buses. About $9 for SI railway I believe. Metro north averages about $8. Remember though, Connecticut gives a fair bit of cash to cover that. LIRR is about $12, but again the payroll mobility tax covers some of that.

Andrew February 8, 2014 - 1:58 am

“No one made them move to SI…”

Did it ever occur to you that many of us were BORN here? My family has been on the Island since the 1740s (with a few stops in Jersey and Maryland) and we really like it here. And as NYC was hemorrhaging population in the 1960s and ’70s, Staten Island’s was booming. And as you know Ben, the squeaky wheel gets the oil. Staten Island got shat on for so many years (garbage dumps, crappy transit, buses that were whipped for 15 years in Manhattan or Brooklyn, then sent to SI for their last 5 years of life before Senator Marchi had to force the MTA to set aside 5% of new buses for SI service).

Please spare us the complaints that SI has “attitude” when it asks for basic services that the other four boros take for granted. It’s demeaning and frankly silly to complain about New Yorkers opening their mouths with “attitude.”

BrooklynBus February 8, 2014 - 10:44 am

Does it seem fair to you that Staten island drivers who work in Brooklyn will be paying half of what Brooklyn drivers will be paying who work in Staten Island. Guess considering someone making three trips a month to be a regular commuter and eligible for a huge discount was too great for Staten Islanders, so they had to reduce that number to zero. Meanwhile five day a week Brooklyn commuters get no such break. Yes. Very fair.

Here you are defending the toll reduction by saying it’s just asking for basic services, but when I stick up for drivers, you accuse me of being anti-mass transit. How hypocritical of you!

Benjamin Kabak February 8, 2014 - 10:45 am

Just FYI sine it’s not clear: That’s a different Andrew than the one you frequently debate with.

Andrew February 8, 2014 - 11:53 am

Sorry, didn’t realize there was another Andrew. I’ll go by Andrew2 from now on so you can disperse your anger toward the right person 😉

BrooklynBus February 8, 2014 - 3:19 pm

Sorry, he must be Andrew JC here. I will try to remember. You can stay Andrew if you want. I will try to remember.

BrooklynBus February 10, 2014 - 2:21 pm

Then Andrew, you should call yourself Andrew2 or something else to avoid confusion.

Andrew2 February 8, 2014 - 11:56 am

As for Brooklyn Bus, well, cry us Islanders a river. You get free East River Bridges, didn’t have to host the world’s largest garbage dump for 60 years, and have numerous public transit options to get to/from Manhattan and Queens. Staten Islander no get a whopping 50 cent reduction on their VN Bridge toll, which basically brings the toll back to what it was two years ago. And the PA bridges to NJ are still 500% more expensive than they were twenty years ago. If Brooklyn wants a discount on the VN, start writing your BP or Congressman and make it happen.

Andrew2 February 8, 2014 - 11:57 am

Typo: Staten Islanders now get a whopping…

Phantom February 8, 2014 - 1:29 pm

Only an idiot drives into Manhattan.

Many Brooklyn people drive to SI, and vice versa.

The toll should not be different.

BrooklynBus February 8, 2014 - 3:10 pm

A whopping 50 cent reduction on top of the great reduction you already had. Bottom line Brooklyn to Staten Island without EasyPass for Brooklynites $15. (with EasyPass, I believe $10.50. For Staten Islanders, $5. Yes defend it. Very fair.

And most Staten Islanders were not affected by the garbage dump.

ajedrez February 9, 2014 - 1:46 am

Well, just a little background on the dump: It was placed in an area that was vacant to begin with, but at the same time, it was across the street from the main mall on the island. I moved here after the dump closed, but people told me that they would walk out of the mall and the stench would hit them like a ton of bricks. (For that matter, I once made the mistake of walking on the side of Richmond Avenue bordering the dump, and even though it was closed, it still stunk like anything)

BrooklynBus February 9, 2014 - 9:56 am

I am quite familiar with the stench. When I worked I few summers at Environmental Protection for a few summers in the early 70s, I stood atop the other three open landfills at the time. The smell was horrible. I will never forget it.

You know rail fans? Well there was this one guy who got all excited about landfills and asked me while i was atop the landfill at Pelham Bay Park, if I ever was at Fresh Kills. I said No. He told me I just had to go. He said,”Just imagine. Garbage all around in all directions. Nothing but garbage as far as the eye can see.” He probably loved going to the Mall at that time.

Bolwerk February 8, 2014 - 12:07 pm

I feel for you, as I had family in New York State before whitey came and fucked everything up. 🙁

I gotta say, though, I don’t really see what services SI is being screwed on. More transit isn’t worth paying for there if it doesn’t have more intensive land use. I’m fine with seeing public investment in that, but SIers need to accept the flip side of at least some more density before it’s feasible.

Ryan February 8, 2014 - 12:51 pm

No, they don’t.

If you extend the subway onto SI and extend other mass transit options from NJ, density will increase naturally as a consequence of the improved access.

Conversely, if you say things like “increase your density first and then we’ll talk,” or try and pair the subway with a mandate to upzone, you’ve disrupted the natural process that was going to deliver unto you everything you wanted anyway – and created a conflict where there didn’t have to be one.

In other words, you’ve shot yourself in the foot.

Patience in all things is a virtue. Allow density to happen naturally, over time, as an effect of the subway. Don’t force us into a narrative where cause and effect are reversed.

Bolwerk February 8, 2014 - 1:36 pm

Whether the density is proactive or reactive is beside the point. Right now, land use that allows density is illegal in SI and much of the rest of the city. Until that changes, there is little point in building for high density transit.

Hank February 7, 2014 - 5:42 pm

Toll relief goes much farther than just reducing the tolls for residents. The toll increases the cost of many goods sold on Staten Island; one national burger chain charges nearly $1 more for many of their menu items, because the transportation costs of the goods is so high. It affects the rest of the city, as well as Long Island, when these trucks need to travel through Staten Island and pay the usurious rates at both the MTA and Port Authority crossings.

And has been pointed out repeatedly, there is no ‘parity’ between Staten Island and the other boros as long as there are no tolls on the Brooklyn, Manhattan, Williamsburg, and Queensboro bridges.

Ralfff February 8, 2014 - 1:11 am

This doesn’t really affect national businesses on Staten Island, it affects Staten Island-based trucking and truck-dependent concerns. How much freight is destined for Staten Island via the V-N?

Andrew February 8, 2014 - 2:00 am

Enough to feed, clothe and house 500,000 people and Howland Hook container port, among others.

Ralfff February 8, 2014 - 1:24 pm

What I am saying is that it seems safe to say that much of that comes from New Jersey. And if something does come to Staten Island there is a financial incentive for truckers to enter the state via Staten Island and leave it by some other route to avoid as many tolls as possible.

Beebo February 7, 2014 - 6:21 pm

Just build a third platform, be it above or below the current auto-vehicular ones, and run an MTA line over it. Done. And we can adjust bridge & ferry fee structures on their own merits.

lawhawk February 8, 2014 - 9:54 am

And now Brooklyn politicians are getting in the act demanding their own discounts for the VZB. Oy.

Bolwerk February 8, 2014 - 12:18 pm

Just for themselves or their constituents too?

Phantom February 10, 2014 - 2:31 pm


( the thread will not expand more )

The express tracks from 36th St on are heavily used by the D and N now – trains that are painfully overcrowded during the rush now. If any new trains should be added down that tunnel, it should be from existing routes, which are not well served.

Feeding more ” Staten Island Express ” trains into the same tunnel won’t work. Unless you build two new tracks north of 36th Street. Why not.

No part of this makes any sense – to Brooklyn, Staten Island, to the MTA, NY state, anybody. Which is why no one else is proposing it.

Ryan February 10, 2014 - 7:20 pm

In what way is the R not an existing route? I’ll grant you the W, victim of service cuts, but the R?

But, I’m glad you mentioned the N train, indeed quite overcrowded. N trains run express over that – and ONLY that – section of track, which is counter-intuitive, confusing, and not the best use of capacity.

By shifting the N to run local-local instead of express-local, every express slot currently being inefficiently used by N trains can instead be run by the R. Both D and R trains can run 10 times per hour in each direction over that stretch of track without eating too much capacity on other segments of their respective runs. (In fact, they could actually manage 13 each before hitting the capacity cap.)

R trains would then continue along the express tracks (in place of the N) until DeKalb, where they would switch back to the local tracks into the Montague Street Tunnel. Here, the N train express slots instead default to the Q – which should be running express there and is not. 10 TPH each line, each direction, still no conflicts.

Once through the tunnel? R trains switch right back to running express up Broadway, alongside the Q (still 10 each, 20 total each way on the express tracks). Restored W service and maintained N service run local (again, 10 each, 20 total.)

The end result is that we’ve eked out more capacity than was previously possible by ensuring that every track pair over the entire existence of all of these lines are only used by two services, with 10 trains each. That gives you 40 trains per hour in each direction between Atlantic and 59th; 40 trains per hour in each direction on the Broadway Line in midtown; 20 trains per hour in each direction over each of the two relevant crossings (the tunnel and the Manhattan bridge.)

Strictly speaking, that doesn’t require four-tracking south of 59th – it was my initial error that lead me to believe R trains would not be sharing track with W trains anywhere except for here; they would actually be sharing through the Montague Street Tunnel (because there’s no other crossing option that doesn’t push too many trains over the Manhattan Bridge) and therefore I will apologize for gunning for four tracks under a faulty assumption. (I will not, however, apologize for my continued pursuit of the R being rerouted as an express train, for the reasons I mentioned above.)

Phantom February 10, 2014 - 10:47 pm

No apology necessary.

Unless NY state construction law and custom is reformed in a big way, none of us will see any revolutionary extensions of service in our lifetimes.

We should be ” grateful ” for small things like the 7, the very partial SAS, the new Goethals. There is so much more to be done, but it won’t be done because no one is watching the store on costs.

Ed February 12, 2014 - 6:31 am

This should not have happen anyway This a gaveway

Phantom February 10, 2014 - 3:14 pm

Also, I believe that the reason that a tunnel at the harbor opening was never seriously considered before was because the seabed was not ideal for a tunnel there – don’t ask me why.

I think that’s why the previous tunnel effort was at around 65th Street

Ralfff February 10, 2014 - 5:21 pm

Alon addressed this in a comment on a different post on SAS. The reason why is because currents and river flows generally have a scouring effect on the seabed on the narrowest part of the waterway. Thus, the Narrows are also the deepest part of the bay.

I don’t have a NOAA chart of NY harbor and their web site doesn’t seem to display one where it should be, but if someone could grab one and post it it would make some sense of the underwater tunneling situation.

Ryan February 10, 2014 - 7:23 pm

Ask and ye shall receive – click my name or download it here:


Flakker February 12, 2014 - 4:56 am

Thanks. I’m not an expert but I think y’all see what I’m referring to here. I’m sure these numbers jump out at a tunnel engineer, which I am not. That said, at a glance it looks like a tunnel might indeed be technically easiest at St. George or Stapleton.

afk February 12, 2014 - 10:55 pm

Any reason this can’t be a bridge instead? Especially if this is to connect with the existing SI railway that is not underground.

Flakker February 13, 2014 - 2:52 am

I don’t know, but I do know that any fixed bridge would have to not limit marine traffic (have as much clearance as Verrazano, at least) and would present new security concerns and probably take up anchorage space that ships use now (a tunnel would limit some anchorage but could have a small footprint, in a bridge the fear would be a collision or explosion damaging a pillar). I assume but don’t know that it would be extremely expensive to do this (another fixed bridge the length of the Verrazano, whatever that costs).

That leaves some kind of causeway/drawbridge which would have to be pulled up for ship passage, so not what subways are accustomed to for sure. Tunnel is probably the way to go here.

I don’t know if it’s technically possible to confiscate traffic lanes on the Verrazano for this purpose, but I imagine that would be the cheapest solution. Hell, it probably wouldn’t even retard auto traffic given that there are only two offramps to/from the belt parkway which are constantly backed up, and four not as congested lanes to/from the BQE; reducing that to three is kind of a wash.

Ryan February 13, 2014 - 1:49 pm

You can’t just run rails through an existing traffic lane and call it ‘good enough’ for heavy rail (you can for light rail, but now you’re introducing an entirely different problem with regards to making sure your light rail vehicle is compatible with the subway…) on solid earth – never mind the fact that we’re talking about a bridge.

You would need to make extensive modifications to the bridge itself to add buffer space between the electrified tracks and the highway – you don’t need very much buffer space, as I-66 in Virginia shows us, but you need just enough that it becomes a problem.

Besides, the bridge is a historic landmark and an interstate highway to boot. Don’t underestimate the amount of issues and cost inflating concessions that would arise from tampering with it in any way. It will almost certainly be easier (although, indeed, probably more expensive) to just give up and build another fixed-span bridge if indeed we were going to bridge over the Narrows.

(Bridging over the Narrows creates an obnoxious mess on the Staten Island side, however.)

Ryan February 13, 2014 - 1:23 pm

It could be a bridge, but connecting it to the SIR tracks from the bridge elevation is, in technical terms, an extremely messy pain in the ass.

It’s almost certainly going to be easier to punch up from a tunnel into the SIR Main Line than it’s going to be trying to run down from the Expressway elevation.

I suppose you could theoretically have it follow the bridge and instead of leveling off once it reaches SI, keep diving into a new tunnel. Convert the bridge to Open Road Tolling and use all that space freed up by the obsoleted toll plaza for a new portal? That might work.

Steve Dietsch February 24, 2014 - 4:08 pm

To the author – did you actually just claim that Staten Island gets preferential treatment on transit, and on MTA discounts compared to the rest of the city? It is reasons like this that I question the benefits of having an internet, where anybody can voice an opinion on anything they want. Your uninformed thoughts will actually be read and believed by people, and that scares me.

Staten Island has a “free” train and a “free” ferry because back in 1997, our mayor implemented a “one price, one city” plan, using the premise that it should not cost anybody within New York City limits more than one local bus/subway price to get anywhere in the city – at least anywhere that you could take public transportation to. To make this work for Staten Island residents, they made the train and the ferry free individually – however, they are not free if you connect to one via the other. (Which is what the vast majority of Staten Islanders do.) Then, you pay the standard $2.50 (Today’s rate), and you are provided with one free transfer. So the only way you can take the ferry for free is to get dropped off there, unless you live right by it, which you can then walk. (Parking there costs $7, and taking a bus there costs $2.50) In the past, a Staten Islander would have paid the standard rate for the train, used a “transfer” at the ferry, and then to take a subway or bus elsewhere, would have paid another standard rate. So in today’s dollars it would have cost Staten Islanders $5 to get to midtown Manhattan, where from anywhere else in the city it would cost $2.50.

As far as bridge tolls go, the Verrazano Bridge is now $15 if paying cash. The other three access points to Staten Island – the Outerbridge Crossing, Goethals Bridge, and Bayonne Bridge, all cost $13, again if paying cash. (These bridges are governed by the Port Authority) So there are four ways to access Staten Island by car, and all four have tolls. And if you were not sure, the Verrazano toll is the highest bridge toll in the nation. And the other three are tied for second. So if a Staten Islander has to drive off of the island to work (which is a necessity if you work anywhere besides Manhattan and parts of Brooklyn) they have absolutely no choice but to pay to get back home – and without toll discounts, they would pay astronomical costs to drive back and forth each day. I am not sure you realize this, but there are free access points to each other borough by car. Staten Island is the only borough without one.

I should also mention, that due to the lack of a real train/subway system, Staten Island has a pretty extensive express bus system. This system complements the train/ferry/subway system, and while I don’t have numbers in front of me, may actually be used more (by workers) than the ferry system. They do work fairly well- but they are much pricier than riding subways – a month of express bus rides will cost you $240. And you are still at the mercy of day to day traffic. Did I mention that multiple studies, year after year, have shown that Staten Islanders have the longest average commute in the nation?

The last thing I want to mention is the negative effect the tolls have on commerce. This is the topic I know the least about, but its an important point to make. Doing business on Staten Island is expensive when business necessities such as 18 wheelers with supplies coming from New Jersey have to pay for those tolls every day. There was at least one port business that moved to NJ, citing increasing tolls as a reason for the move.

To your point, it really did seem like Cuomo waited until an election year to pass this toll relief bill. (He made sure to tack on every local politician’s name to the press release, so it looked like they had all been working long and hard on this.) While it is better late than never, the toll relief should have been part of the original toll increase plan, and should not have been a drawn out issue over the last few years.

Even with these relief plans, Staten Islanders still have unequal transportation options compared to the rest of the city. You cannot make everything truly equal – and we are an island, which naturally causes logistical issues, but there has to be some fairness involved. Author, please do a little more research if you are going to post an article discussing something that is a bit of a sore topic with Staten Islanders. (Although I suspect that your story was not meant to be some “down the middle” analysis)

BrooklynBus February 24, 2014 - 5:11 pm

That one price one city plan that no trips should cost more than one fare is pure fiction. Any bus-subway-bus trip still costs multiple fares, as does any trip requiring three or more buses.. It was just an excuse to lower the fare for SI residents because of thir political pull. Of course that does not mean that Staten Islanders enjoy superior transit. Of course that is not true. But TA is a separate issue.

BrooklynBus February 24, 2014 - 5:12 pm

Should have ended “but that is a separate issue.”

Steve Dietsch February 24, 2014 - 10:28 pm

There probably are certain trips that would cost more than one fare. I mean, there has to be a point where the system has to start charging again. But a three bus trip or a bus subway bus trip is probably a trip done by much fewer people than a trip from Staten Island to midtown, which 40-50 thousand Staten Islanders do every day. Before that one price one city plan was implemented, a trip to midtown cost any Staten Islander, no matter where they lived within SI, two trips, where from any other borough, you could catch a subway into the city and have paid one fare.

Allan Rosen February 24, 2014 - 11:26 pm

There are many trips that cost more than one fare. Many bus-subway-bus trips could be avoided by taking two buses instead and riding 20 minutes or a half hour extra. That’s why few people make three bus trips, because of the double fare. If there are at least two people and the trip is short you might be better off with a cab.

Anyway, that wasn’t meant as an argument that Staten Islanders shouldn’t have a one fare trip via the ferry. It was just to point out that in fact no such one fare one city policy exists. although it should exist.


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