The Daily Eagle
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s plan to raise the toll on the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge to an eye-popping $15 is not only wrong, it’s “insanely prohibitive,” according to Councilman Vincent Gentile (D-Bay Ridge-Dyker Heights-Bensonhurst), who said he has been hearing complaints from his constituents angered at the idea of paying such a high cost to drive from Brooklyn to Staten Island.
Gentile submitted written testimony to a public hearing the MTA held this week on its plan to raise bridge and tunnel tolls, as well as bus and subway fares.
The toll is currently $13 for a round trip. The toll is collected from drivers traveling westbound. Eastbound motorists drive across the bridge for free.
“Never before has a $13 round-trip toll on a bridge not connected to Manhattan seemed more insanely prohibitive than in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy as first responders and volunteers racing to help realize they can’t afford to make the necessary trips back and forth to transport supplies,” Gentile said.
The MTA wouldn’t need to increase the tolls if it knew how to handle money, Gentile charged. The agency re-distributes its funds in a way that punishes residents of the five boroughs, he said. “I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the MTA must change its funding formula so that more fare and toll revenue goes to city buses and subways, instead of the Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North, which serve the suburbs,” he said.
Gentile said that while he’s aware that Staten Islanders receive a discount on the tolls, he wondered aloud why Brooklyn residents, who drive across the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge often to visit family and friends on Staten Island, don’t get the same break.
“Why hasn’t the MTA Bridge and Tunnels extended the same discount for Brooklynites who need to cross the Verrazano on a frequent basis? The MTA currently has a similar deal worked out with Staten Islanders who use the Verrazano Bridge, but the deal is one sided and does not include Brooklyn. Perhaps you’ve forgotten that a bridge must have two sides?” he said.
“Seven days a week my constituents travel across that bridge to and from the College of Staten Island, Wagner College, to see their parents or spouses in nursing homes, or to work or shop. The residents in these zip-codes surrounding the bridge have to pay between $3.84 to $5.28 more than their Staten Island neighbors each time they cross the Verrazano Bridge. At $13 a pop, this is completely unjustifiable not to mention a serious burden on the wallet,” Gentile said.
U.S. Rep. Michael Grimm (R-Brooklyn- Staten Island) blasted the MTA’s proposed toll hike when he testified at a public hearing on Staten Island.
“Here we go again. This is the second toll hike proposal for Staten Islanders since I took office nearly two years ago and the third within the last five years,” he told MTA officials.
“The Verrazano Bridge toll hike was an unreasonable proposal before the storm; however, now it seems completely ludicrous. At a time when families are picking up the pieces of their lives and borrowing money to rebuild their homes in the aftermath of Sandy, a toll hike simply adds insult to injury,” Grimm said.
“While it is no secret that the MTA is faced with massive debt, tolls and taxes should not be the go-to solution. There has to be another way. Just as every working family or business must learn to live within a budget, so should the MTA. Whether it’s the MTA or the PA, our message is the same: ‘We are not your personal ATM machine and we are not your bailout,’” he said
Grimm threatened congressional action to stop the MTA. “I have been leading the charge against these toll hikes, and will stop at nothing, including an act of Congress, to stop them,” he warned.
MTA officials did not return phone calls.