Plan approved by governor covers Staten Islanders only
By Paula Katinas
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Bay Ridge resident Marcel Van Tuyn estimated that he drives across the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge about 300 times a year. His daughter attends Staten Island Tech and between driving her to school, taking her to after-school activities, and attending PTA meetings, he makes a lot of trips from Brooklyn to Staten Island.
The bridge’s toll for non-Staten Islanders, $15.00 for non E-ZPass holders and $10.60 for those with the E-ZPass, is exorbitant, Van Tuyn said. “It adds a whole other monthly bill to your expenses,” he said.
Still, he shells out the money. It’s especially important to drive his daughter back and forth to her after-school activities, he said. “You don’t want them to take the bus at night,” he said.
Van Tuyn was one of the speakers at a press conference held on March 7 by state Sen. Marty Golden (R-C-Bay Ridge-southern Brooklyn) and Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis (R-C-Bay Ridge-Staten Island) to call on the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) to start a multi-trip discount program for all New York City residents who use the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. Golden and Malliotakis, who were joined by a bi-partisan group of their fellow elected officials, held the press conference at the entrance to the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge on 92nd Street in Bay Ridge.
Under the Golden-Malliotakis proposal, residents who drive on the bridge three times or more a month would receive a discount on the tolls similar to the 58 percent discount motorists get when they drive across the bridges between Staten Island and New Jersey – the Goethals, the Outerbridge and the Bayonne – several times a month. That discount was approved by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which controls the Staten Island to New Jersey crossings.
Golden said he would like to see the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge toll come down to $6.30.
He and Malliotakis have started an online petition drive on The Tolls Are Too Damn High, a website, and are asking residents to sign it. Van Tuyn said he would sign it. “I encourage everybody to sign the petition,” he said.
The MTA recently agreed to reduce the tolls for residents of that borough after Governor Andrew Cuomo and the State Legislature agreed to provide funding. Staten Island residents will pay $5.50 under the agreement.
The discount applies only to Staten Island residents.
There is a one-way toll collection system on the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. Motorists driving westbound pay the toll. Drivers heading eastbound pay no toll.
Technically, the MTA board has the sole power to set the tolls, not the governor or the State Legislature. But the board often responds to political pressure.
It’s only fair to give non-Staten Islanders a break on the tolls, according to Golden, who pointed out that the bridge isn’t just used by Staten Island residents. “It’s a matter of fairness,” he said.
Under the current toll system, a motorist driving from Bay Ridge to Bayonne, New Jersey pays $28, Golden said. “Imagine paying $28 a day to go seven miles? It’s ludicrous!” he said.
Even $15 is too much to pay, Malliotakis said. “It’s completely unreasonable that people have to pay $15 to get from one borough to another,” she said.
Golden and Malliotakis estimated that it would cost $30 million a year to fund a toll discount program for the city’s residents.
The money is there to provide the toll discount, according to Malliotakis, who said the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge generates $330 million a year in revenue from the tolls and that the MTA pockets $250 million in profit out of that total.
Allen P. Cappelli, a member of the MTA board, endorsed the idea of a city-wide discount on the bridge. He called the toll discount proposal an “attempt to right a wrong that has been allowed to stay for too long.” He also predicted that the idea can gain traction on the MTA board if elected officials at the state level get solidly behind it. “It can pass if the leadership of the state gets behind it,” he said.
The toll discount plan has been endorsed by US Rep. Michael Grimm (R-C-Bay Ridge-Dyker Heights-Staten Island), Assemblyman Alec Brook-Krasny (D-Coney Island-Bay Ridge), and Felix Ortiz (D-Sunset Park), all of whom attended the press conference.
Borough President Eric Adams and Councilman Vincent Gentile (D-Bay Ridge-Dyker Heights-Bensonhurst) announced last month that they will introduce a resolution calling on the state to provide a discount to all city residents.
The discount proposal also has the support of grass-roots community organizations such as the Dyker Heights Civic Association. “The toll has created a major hardship,” civic association member Sandy Vallas said.
“The people of Brooklyn need this as much as Staten Island,” Ortiz said at the press conference. “This is one New York. Let’s keep it as one New York.”