Motorists who balk at paying $17 to drive over the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge could have even more to complain about if a proposal by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) to raise the toll to $19 is adopted.
The bridge toll hike, part of a package of transit fare increases the MTA is proposing, is sure to be among the items to be discussed at a public hearing the agency is holding on Mon., Dec. 10, at Long Island University, One University Plaza in downtown Brooklyn. The hearing, which will take place in the Kumble Theater, begins at 5 p.m.
The Brooklyn hearing is one of several public sessions the MTA is holding around the city to gauge public opinion. The proposed fare and toll increases, if approved by the MTA, would go into effect in March.
The idea of paying to travel from one borough to another has been sticking in the craw of Brooklyn and Staten Island residents for years. But the new proposed toll of $19 is making lawmakers and residents see red.
The bridge operates under a one-way toll collection system. Motorists pay the toll driving to Staten Island. Drivers traveling from Staten Island to Brooklyn ride for free.
Councilmember Justin Brannan, a Democrat whose district includes Bay Ridge, expressed his outrage.
“Nineteen dollars to go over a bridge? Does that come with an oil change and a large coffee?” he told this newspaper via email on Tuesday.
Brannan called on the MTA to give Brooklyn drivers the same break on the tolls that Staten Islanders get. Under the current pricing system, E-Z Pass holders pay $11.52, not $17. But, Staten Island residents with an E-Z Pass pay $5.50..
“It is still very unfair that Staten Islanders get special treatment with a rebate program that cuts their toll in half. Extending that same benefit to commuters on the our side of the bridge would not only reduce costs for Brooklyn families, but also stimulate and encourage economic activity and spending on Staten Island. If you’re going to raise the toll to $19, the MTA should right this wrong and give those of us on the Brooklyn side of the bridge a little relief,” Brannan said.
At an MTA hearing on Staten Island on Monday, Assemblymember Nicole Malliotakis, a Republican whose district includes Bay Ridge and parts of Staten Island, blasted the agency’s proposals.
“As a legislator in the unique position of representing both Staten Island and Brooklyn, I hold a very strong position that the toll on the Verrazzano Bridge should not be increased any further. Additionally, commuters who rely on bus and subway service to get to work, school and go about their daily business, cannot bear anymore, particularly when the service is inadequate,” Mallliotakis testified.
Malliotakis called the proposed $19 bridge toll absurd.
“The bridge should be built in gold and take you to paradise for a $19 fee,” said Malliotakis, who added that she will continue to fight for toll relief for people living on the Brooklyn side of the bridge.
The subway and bus fare increases proposed by the MTA include two separate options that the agency is considering.
Under one option, the base fare would stay at $2.75 but the MTA would eliminate the five percent bonus given to riders who buy Metrocards costing more than $5.50. The second option would increase the base fare to $3 and increase the bonus to 10 percent for any Metrocard purchase over $6.
Acting MTA Chairperson Fernando Ferrer defended the proposed transit fare and toll hikes, arguing that the increases, which he called “fare adjustments,” are below the rate of inflation.
“Especially in the absence of new sustainable funding sources, these fare adjustments below the rate of inflation help balance our budget and avert painful service cuts and layoffs while helping us make critical improvements to our infrastructure and service. We cannot allow the system to fall into a state of neglect and disrepair,” Ferrer said in a statement.