Past Transit Chief Pleads with MTA Board Against Toll Cut—in Vain

Wednesday, February 26, 2014 - 03:53 PM

The soon-to-be-less-expensive Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. (wallyg/flickr)

The MTA approved a plan by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo to lower the toll on the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge over the objections of former transit chief and New York lieutenant governor Richard Ravitch. The toll will drop from $6 to $5.50 per round trip for commercial vehicles and drivers from Staten Island.

The 80-year-old Ravitch, who was chairman of the MTA from 1979 to 1984, made an unusual appearance during the public comment session at the MTA's Midtown headquarters. [The Richard Ravitch Foundation is a funder of WNYC News.] 

As Ravitch's name was announced, current chairman Tom Prendergast welcomed him, saying, "As many of you know, he was the fourth chairman of the MTA and is a long-time supporter of the MTA and its services."

Ravitch spoke softly but came out blazing, saying the board would be failing in its "fiduciary responsibilities" if it were to approve the drop, which will reduce MTA revenue by $14 million a year, half of which will be paid for out of the authority's budget. "I feel strongly enough about this, remembering all the battles I fought to eke out every possible penny of revenue for this authority," Ravitch said.

Ravitch told the MTA board it should not be giving back revenue since its next capital plan is unfunded. He also noted that the agency is locked in labor negotiations and has been telling its unions there's no money to spare.

But board member Allan Cappelli said Staten Islanders deserve an extra discount on the toll because they're under-served by transit and must drive to get around. "This is something that is historic and that we should be celebrating," Cappelli said of the toll cut.

Ravitch countered that Cappelli and his fellow board members were breaking the law by voluntarily accepting a reduction in revenue. The board debated Ravitch's point but then voted to lower the toll.

Cuomo, when asked an hour later about Ravitch's charge, dismissed it. "I disagree with him," Cuomo said. "I don't understand his theory." The toll cut is one of several moves by Cuomo that have brought uncertainty to the MTA's budget.

The reduced toll on the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge will take effect April 1. For details on changes to the bridge toll, see the chart in this Cuomo press release.


Comments [5]

AMHess from Harlem

This toll cut smacks of political pandering. Cuomo has done nothing for transit funding, and while the VZ toll is high, cutting it without raising tolls elsewhere (such as the free bridges) is simply irresponsible. As Sam Schwartz has proposed, an equitable tolling scheme will necessarily base tolls on demand and traffic management across the board.

Keep in mind that roads are very expensive to build and maintain and cannot serve as many residents as transit; while tax dollars pay for both they do not fully cover the costs of roads, which are subsidized by people who may never use or benefit from them. While overuse of roads imposes negative externalities (congestion, pollution) on the whole city, high use of transit brings positive externalities (reduced congestion & pollution, real estate/economic development) to everyone, even non-users.

Feb. 28 2014 10:10 AM
Tal Barzilai from Pleasantville, NY

Richard Ravitch most likely has a bias against cars. I can still remember just years ago he presented something called the Rescue Plan for the MTA, though I highly doubt that it was really rescuing for motorists. He wanted to bring back the idea of tolling all crossings that are currently free even though they have been paid by their original tolls decades ago. Fortunately, he failed on that. Of course those that keep calling for us motorists to be taxed to a point where we can't afford to drive hardly ever look at the causes and focus more on the effects. The reason why some choose to drive to the city is mainly because they either live where there is no other viable alternative to driving or have schedules that don't work with public transportation. Also, the claim that we are getting a free ride is completely false, because many of the highways I use be it either side of Manhattan, they are state owned, so they are paid for with my tax dollars as well, and the same goes for the interstate and US highways for being federally owned hence the country is paying for those. Again, we are known for paying numerous fees that do increase very frequently, and this isn't including parking taxes and gas prices. The reason I see tolls as double tipping is because it's like going to a restaurant, and you are told to give a tip despite the fact that it was included in the bill hence the term. Congestion pricing was no different and was just another one of those having the motorists foot the bill for the riders of mass transit as always. I have always found it an irony that riders want the best transit, but they don't want to actually pay for it. Another thing is that they boast about how other cities have better transit, but keep forgetting that to get it, fares had to be raised for that. In other words, if anyone really believes that driving is so subsidized, they should be looking at public transportation, which is even more subsidized not to mention how low the fares are and are still a bargain compared to the tolls.

Feb. 27 2014 08:57 PM
George from NYC

It took me two hours to take an "A" train from downtown brooklyn to the Rockaways yesterday due to normal 20 minute separation of trains with no delays and a shuttle train transfer. Absolutely terrible mass transit service. I have no option but to take my car over a short overpass that they call cross bay bridge (Queens to Queens) to get to work and have to pay $3.75 because there is no viable mass transit. The City is obviously aware that these tolls are resulting in regions like Staten Island and the Rockaways becoming restricted in economic vitality as a result of these chains and shackles on the local society. Why is the MTA getting seven sources of revenue from everything from electric bills to corporate taxes to bridge tolls. Raise dollars for Transit from Transit fares and reduce these government employee salaries that are 50% higher than the working class salary.

Feb. 27 2014 11:29 AM
TOM from Brooklyn

Staten Islanders(and numerous others) get a 2nd bite of the Apple.
Did you know Staten Island residents constitute only 5% of NYC's population but 19% of the city's car registrations? This situation is worth an audit by our Comptroller.

Feb. 27 2014 11:28 AM
Tal Barzilai from Pleasantville, NY

I feel that the tolls not only on this bridge, but on many others, shouldn't be lowered, they should be removed. The original purpose of the tolls was to pay off whatever they were on and be removed after they were done like many prewar crossings and highways were, but instead, they were kept and used as revenue source for many other areas. The only exception to keeping the tolls was that it would be only used for what it was one, and not anything else. Seriously, I could never understand why the toll on just the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge alone is so much and keeps going higher almost annually as if it was high to make it a kick in the teeth for those using it, being that it's the only crossing that connects Staten Island to the rest of NY when it has three bridges to NJ that long predate it. Personally, I have seen tolling as an elitist move especially going back to the middle ages when the rich were able to go anywhere they wanted in Europe because they can afford the tolls, while the lower classes were stuck in their villages. Overall, I have always seen tolling or even any other form of road pricing as double tipping as if we have to pay on site to use a highway or crossing that our tax dollars are already going to. Also, I could never understand why the MTA always looks at toll hikes to help with transit as if they are always sticking to those of us who live in areas with no viable alternatives to driving rather than increasing the fares, which others around the did, to help with it especially when it's the riders who are using it the most. One other thing, when tolls increase, they aren't in quarters like the fares, and they are at least double what the fares are, so until your fares surpass the tolls, you are doing nothing but crying foul, because it's still a bargain compared to that especially because we motorists are hit the hardest when it comes to hikes.

Feb. 26 2014 11:17 PM

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