Brooklynites are counting down the days until yet another toll hike hits, and one local pol is not doing so quietly.
Councilmember Vincent Gentile — who represents Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights as well as parts of Bensonhurst and Bath Beach — took to YouTube on Tuesday, March 14, a day, he said, he knew residents wouldn’t be out driving due to Winter Storm Stella, to express his concerns.
“We Brooklynites will have to pay as much as $17 to cross the Verrazano starting this Sunday, March 19,” said the pol. “$17.”
The MTA board voted in late January to increase the tolls, while also maintaining the same base subway/bus fare currently in effect, though the actual cost of a ride will increase for many commuters, who buy weekly or monthly passes or who take advantage of the discount available for loading their per-ride MetroCards with lump sums to get a bonus.
According to a fact sheet sent out by the MTA, those who use an E-ZPass will see the cost of a round-trip across the Verrazano rise from $11.08 to $11.52, with Staten Island residents set to pay about half of that, ranging from $5.74 with rebate (from $5.50) to either $6.48 or $6.84 without rebate (from $5.74).
The hike — which continues to go against the false promise made when it was constructed that the bridge would be free to all once it was fully paid for — Gentile said, is downright unfair.
“On our side of the Narrows, students, professionals and blue collar workers are tired of listening to the same old tune by the MTA,” he said. “Therefore, in a letter to the MTA, I am calling on them to play fair for once and for all by instituting the same toll discount plan given to Staten Islanders to Brooklynites who live in the surrounding zip codes on the Brooklyn side of the bridge.”
He is also calling on the agency to extend the same discount plan to Brooklynites that it currently extends to Staten Islanders who utilize the Verrazano 10 times or more per month as reported by their E-ZPass usage. He also launched his own online petition in favor of a fair fare.
This is not the first time local politicians have opposed a toll hike. In 2014, Assemblymember Nicole Malliotakis and State Senator Marty Golden, two Brooklyn electeds on the other side of the aisle, penned a similar petition titled “The Toll is Too Damn High” (which is ongoing).
“Yes, I know the urban legend that, at the opening of the bridge the MTA said that the trip would be free once the bridge was paid for,” Gentile said. “Obviously that didn’t happen, and now we have to bang the drums to get our fair share of a reasonable discount on an unreasonable toll.”
To drive home his point, the pol asked Brooklyn drivers to “voice [their] opinions” this Saturday, March 18, and honk their horn as they enter the Verrazano to “let the MTA know that another toll increase can take a hike.”
Residents are also encouraged to contact his district office to share their stories, as well as sign the new petition, available at ipetitions.com.
“I am a student and this is a killer for me,” wrote local resident Joseph Aflak in the comment section of the appeal. “The discount should be given both ways.”
Driver Rochelle Rubin agreed.
“As a Bay Ridge resident I purposely avoid going to Staten Island due to the bridge toll,” she wrote. “I would love to take my kids to the zoo there, or the Children’s Museum, or go shopping at the many businesses on the island. Please consider extending the same courtesy of reduced tolls to the Brooklyn residents too.”
“A bridge has two sides and therefore so should the discount plan,” said Gentile.
However, according to the MTA, the increases are the lowest since 2009.
“The MTA is focused on keeping our fares affordable for low-income riders and frequent riders, and on how we can keep necessary scheduled increases as small and as predictable as possible,” MTA Chairperson and CEO Thomas Prendergast said when the hikes were announced. “Keeping fares and tolls down was possible because of the continued operational efficiencies and ways we have reduced costs while adding service and capacity along our busiest corridors, most recently with the opening of the new Second Avenue subway.”