By Sadef Ali Kully
Queens’ elected officials released a joint statement Tuesday opposing the transit proposal Move NY, which was unveiled in February, as “unfair” to borough residents.
The Move NY Fair Plan, devised by former traffic commissioner Samuel Schwartz, proposed tolls to cross four East River bridges that are currently free to cross: the Ed Koch Queensboro, Williamsburg, Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridges. Those increased tolls could help lead to traffic reduction in the city and lower transit costs for New Yorkers. In addition, the plan would reduce tolls on bridges such as the Cross Bay Veterans Memorial, Henry Hudson, Verrazano-Narrows, Throgs Neck and Whitestone Bridges.
Revenue from the transit proposal would potentially close the $15 billion gap the Metropolitan Transit Authority needs to repair and upgrade the aging system. Those costs are estimated to reach $32 billion over a five-year period.
“The ‘Move NY Fair Plan’ is far from fair and lacks any promise of returns. It is fundamentally unfair to charge residents a fee to travel within one city. It is certainly unfair to the families who live in the transit desert of Queens as it would landlock our borough,” said the statement released by the Queens Borough President’s office and co-signed by 18 other elected Queens lawmakers including state Sens. Leroy Comrie (D-Hollis), Assembly members Jeffrion Aubry (D-Corona) and David Weprin (D-Fresh Meadows) and Council members Paul Vallone (D-Bayside) and Ruben Wills (D-South Ozone Park).
The funds that Move NY would collect from the tolls are estimated to be $1.5 billion annually. Those funds would be split between transit and roadway improvements for New Yorkers. The plan would also provide enough revenue for the funding of a $15 billion bond issue for the MTA.
“It is critical that we find more stable transit funding sources other than from the driving and riding commuters’ pockets to fill deep budget gaps,” the statement said. “Moreover, this proposal is not unlike the many other unfulfilled promises introduced over the years.”
But while riders would be affected by the imposition of new tolls, others cite the need for an improved and affordable transit system. The strain on the transit system is only growing stronger and the infrastructure even weaker.
Last week, the MTA released numbers that showed that ridership on the subway, LIRR and Metro North has been the highest since the 1940s. According to those numbers, the transit system recorded over 1.7 billion rides last year.
Councilman Donovan Richards (D-Laurelton) is against the opposition to the Move NY plan in neighboring southeast Queens districts. He said the transit proposal would only benefit his constituents in southeast Queens and Far Rockaway. “As a representative of southeast Queens and Far Rockaway, no one is more jaded than my communities but we also cannot afford to do nothing,” said Richards.
He said that it can cost up to $20 to get from Laurelton to the city on the LIRR. If those costs can be cut to one Metrocard ride, he added, this could help middle-class homes in his district. As the chair of the City Council committee on environmental protection, he also believes that adding tolls might have a driver think twice about using his vehicle.
After an MTA finance committee hearing Monday, members were concerned about not receiving funding from Albany and suggested that if revenue goals were not met, it could mean an additional 15 percent fare hike for MTA customers.
But MTA Chairman and CEO Thomas Prendergast clarified the comments in a statement, saying “yesterday’s mention of a potential 15 percent fare and toll increase was a hypothetical answer to a hypothetical question. No one has proposed we pay for our capital needs on the backs of our riders, and no one is considering it.”
Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx) and Mayor de Blasio have not commented on their positions for the Move NY plan since it was unveiled in February.
But transit advocacy groups such as the Tri-State Transportation Campaign are speaking out. “As legislators return to session in Albany this week,” a statement from the group said, “addressing this gap must be one of their top priorities.”
Reach Reporter Sadef Ali Kully by e-mail at skull