Earlier this year, transportation coalition MoveNY released their full proposal to introduce tolls on East River bridges and Manhattan below 60th Street, in an effort to drum up more transit revenue and ease the toll burden for drivers on the other outer-borough bridges. The plan has garnered support from a number of local elected officials and the Times' editorial board, and today, the coalition has released a new animated video hoping to educate the public on the plan.
As outlined in February, the plan would, among other things, instate $5.54 cashless tolls on the Manhattan, Brooklyn, Williamsburg and Queensboro bridges in both directions, along with a toll of the same cost on roads crossing 60th Street in Manhattan. Taxis would be exempt from the tolls but would have to pay a surchage on trips below 96th street; trucks and commercial vehicles would pay only one toll per day.
If that sounds financially harsh, the plan also calls for lowering the tolls on bridges like the Triborough, Whitestone, Verrazano Narrows and Throgs Neck, which, unlike the East River bridges, do not connect public transportation-heavy areas, and have been costing drivers significant cash over the years. It would also relieve the heavy traffic currently plaguing the toll-less bridges, speed up commercial deliveries, and help replete a severely struggling MTA pot, potentially saving the rest of us from future spiking subway fares:
The plan's design was spearheaded by "Gridlock" Sam Schwartz, one of the country's leading transportation engineers and one of the city's head transportation commissioners from 1982 to 1990. He worked on the 1970 plan to toll the East Harlem River bridges under Mayor John Lindsay, as well as Mayor Ed Koch's 1980 and 1987 plans that aimed to charge a toll for individuals coming into the central business district. And he was an advisor to Mike Bloomberg during his first mayoral run.
Schwartz says that though opponents of the plan may cringe at the $5+ tolls, it's the fairest way to distribute the toll burden citywide. "Everyone pays the same amount of money where they have good transit access, and where they have bad transit access, they're paying a fraction of what they pay today," he told us. MoveNY's proposal would distribute toll revenue among the MTA and the city and state Departments of Transportation, —Schwartz predicts the plan would funnel over $1 billion into the MTA annually.
"We could extend the 2nd Avenue to Harlem, we could rebuild the tracks from Co-op City in the South Bronx into Penn Station, we could build other transit extensions, complete the access to Grand Central for the Long Island Rail Road," Schwartz said. "We could modernize our signal system, which in many cases in the subways is 1920 vintage. We could have more frequent trains."
A number of elected officials have voiced support for the plan, including Council Members Stephen Levin and Antonio Reynoso, but last week Queens Borough President Melinda Katz and others came out against it, arguing that Queens, which is largely devoid of good public transportation, would be overcharged unfairly, and that the proposal would toll all routes into Manhattan.
"The ideas in the proposal for mass transit improvements are great. But without any direct connection between the revenues generated from the proposed tolls to those very improvements, there is simply no guarantee that this proposal will actually yield anything tangible or amount to anything more than just that: an interesting idea," the officials said, claiming the plan "would landlock our Borough."
MoveNY campaign director Alex Matthiessen responded to the Queens officials' rebuttal, arguing that opposing the plan would "condemn their Queens constituents and the rest of the region’s drivers and transit riders to another decade or more of crowded and delayed subway and bus service, lousy roads, transit deserts and skyrocketing tolls and transit fares." Indeed, Matthiessen says Queens residents have high tolls on five of their six bridges, like the Triborough and Throgs Neck, and that the plan would lower tolls on those routes.
"We were totally confused," Schwartz said, regarding Katz's response. "She was actually the first borough president I met with about this plan. She gave us some advice and seemed to be helpful. I don't know what happened." The coalition fears the borough officials may be reacting to more extreme plans, like Bloomberg's bygone congestion pricing, and hope to gain support with constituents and officials alike in the future
Though Mayor de Blasio recently told reporters he hadn't reviewed the plan, the coalition says the Department of Transportation has looked at it and has proved supportive, and they're hoping the DOT and MTA will sit down together to figure out all the mechanics. For now, MoveNY is looking to get a bill introduced, and they're circulating a petition on their website in hopes of garnering public support.