According to Move NY director Alex Matthiessen, their plan to add additional tolls would create enough revenue to reduce five out of six tolls to the central business district (CBD) by 50 percent, increase express bus service and provide discounts to LIRR commuters.
“We think you have a number of things to create a fair equitable tolling system and to raise badly needed money, not just for our mass transit system, but for our roads and bridges,” Matthiessen said. “I’m surprised that a few representatives of Queens would be opposed to a plan that lowers, by half, the tolls on five out of six of Queens’ bridges.”
The plan, however, is facing opposition from local elected officials.
State Senator Tony Avella and Assemblyman David Weprin joined the Queens Chamber of Commerce and Keep NYC Free at the foot of the Ed Koch Queensborough Bridge in Long Island City last week to oppose the proposal.
While Avella said he agrees there is a need for revenue to support mass transit and to improve roads and bridges, he is worried that a new City Council could take advantage of new tolls to raise revenue.
“You can’t guarantee that that ratio would continue,” Avella said. “What would happen is, the mayor, the governor, the legislature or whomever would say, ‘you know what, we need more funds so we’ll raise the tolls.’”
In response to the plan from Move NY, Avella said he is introducing a bill in the State Senate to prohibit tolls on any additional bridges.
“Everyone agreed that we need to address traffic congestion problems throughout the city, but the first step has to be improving mass transit,” he said.
In an effort to find other ways to provide much-needed funding, Avella added that he would be supportive of legalizing online gambling, a proposal he says could, “raise $2 billion.”
“There are ways to raise revenue to increase mass transit and that’s what we should be doing,” Avella added.
Weprin said he is willing to work with Move NY, but said he is skeptical of tolling the free bridges.
“The addition of tolls on the East River bridges would take away much-needed income from working families and local businesses,” Weprin said. “There are other ways we can raise revenue without financially burdening workers who have to commute to work to support their households.”
Weprin said he currently has a bill in place to add a one percent commuter tax, bringing in an estimated $1 billion each year to raise revenue for mass transit.
“I think that would be a much better approach than tolling the free bridges,” he said.