By Howard Koplowitz
The so-called doomsday budget to be enacted by the MTA includes changes to the rebate received by Broad Channel and Rockaway residents for the toll on the Cross Bay Bridge, which opponents of the plan said will have a devastating effect on the peninsula.
Broad Channel and Rockaway residents with E-ZPasses currently are charged $2.26 round-trip when they use the Cross Bay Bridge and receive an instant rebate for that amount on their statements.
But under the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s plan, scheduled to go into effect sometime in July, residents will only receive the rebate for subsequent tolls after they complete more than one round-trip in a day.
The MTA said the rebate program costs $4.1 million and the change to the rebate will slash $3.5 million from its budget.
An MTA spokeswoman said the change is a compromise, noting that the agency originally proposed to rescind the entire rebate program.
“While the MTA thinks they’re giving us a favor, it’s far from that,” said Community Board 14 Chairwoman Dolores Orr. “It’s a toll that shouldn’t exist. It’s an injustice to the residents.”
Lew Simon, a Democratic district leader from Rockaway, said the toll is unfair and he was working on suing the MTA over the plan on grounds that it is unconstitutional.
The Cross Bay Bridge, which connects Broad Channel to Howard Beach in mainland Queens, is the only intra-borough tolled crossing in the city.
“It’s like putting a toll on Queens Boulevard,” Simon said. “To me, this was a slap in the face to everybody who lives in our community.”
Simon said he was hopeful the MTA’s plan could be spared, noting the state budget has not been set and it is possible legislators may find money to reinstate the full rebate program.
The rebate program was first instituted in 1997 during the Giuliani administration.
Simon said the MTA, whose chairman, Jay Walder, is a Rockaway native, should be more understanding of the peninsula’s needs.
“I told him he should be ashamed of himself,” Simon said. “I’m annoyed, we’re prepared to rally, we’re prepared to be arrested if need be.”
State Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer (D-Rockaway Beach), who has fought to keep the toll rebate, said she was disappointed by the MTA’s decision.
“Jay Walder is from Rockaway and he knows the issue, he knows the unfairness,” she said. “There should be no reason why Queens has to pay to go to Queens, that’s the bottom line. Simon said the changes to the rebate program would affect Rockaway residents more than those in Broad Channel because he said people on the peninsula rarely take more than one round trip to mainland Queens in a day.
The district leader said Cross Bay Boulevard businesses in Howard Beach, such as the Gap and Radio Shack, will suffer because fewer Rockaway residents will shop there.
He noted that the stores were built just after the rebate program started with the expectation the businesses would draw customers from Rockaway.
Reach reporter Howard Koplowitz by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4573.