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

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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.