The latest proposal to combat traffic congestion in Manhattan (Open-Road Tolls Could Pave the Way for Congestion Pricing) is still unfair to outer borough residents, as I wrote in this 2003 column.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg has not formally proposed establishing tolls on the four East River bridges — three of which connect Brooklyn to Manhattan — but it’s been a nagging possibility since last fall when the city’s multi-billion-dollar budget deficit was disclosed.
|If state plan is enacted, cash toll plazas will |
be familiar at all entry points in Manhattan.
In case the ill-advised plan eventually gets the nod, several Brooklyn Democrats staged a demonstration last week to condemn the idea and clearly let the Republican mayor know they’re not too happy about it. (See story on page 5.)
The mayor floated the idea of the bridge tolls soon after Governor Pataki and leaders of the state legislature flatly rejected the mayor’s request to reinstate a commuter tax for those who pursue their professions in the Big Apple, where they essentially avail themselves of city services at no cost to them, then take their earnings and spend it in the bosom of suburbia.
Opponents, I suspect, hope the scheme keeps floating — out to sea or down the nearest sewer along with the melting snows.
What has long been a joke — selling the Brooklyn Bridge to some sucker — could become gloomy reality if Mayor Bloomberg decides to lease or deal that landmark span and three others — the Manhattan, Williamsburg and Queensboro bridges — to the Metropolitan Transit Authority, which would then in-stall unmanned toll plazas and, no doubt, cameras to catch potential toll beaters.
It should be noted that while the city doesn’t need Albany’s permission to impose tolls on the East River crossings, state consent is required to enforce such a move according to state statutes. How’s that for ambiguity?
Nevertheless, I don’t imagine the revenues from East River tolls plugging — or even denting — the city’s pressing budget gap. It’d be like sticking one’s finger in a dam to hold off surging floodwaters.
In another cost-saving effort, Bloomberg this week warned the city’s civil service unions, who have many members residing outside city limits, if they don’t give back some costly benefits, they’ll face thousands of layoffs. The former is certainly wiser, but union representatives are already grumbling. If they don’t com-ply thousands of workers could wind up paying a toll more damaging than any bridge fee.
Several months ago, in this space, I pointed out that if the mayor didn’t get state or federal help with the budget deficit, New Yorkers should prepare for hard times because there’d be no financial relief in the offing. Those hard times were set in motion late last year when a 12.5 percent property tax hike was approved and parking fines were doubled under the guise of alleviating traffic congestion.
Back then Deputy Mayor Bill Cunningham said, “We’re in a crisis…we have to make everybody part of the solution.”
Nevertheless, the option of East River bridge tolls does not include EVERYBODY. It basically places an unfair burden on Brooklyn residents who venture by motor vehicle into Manhattan for livelihoods or lei-sure, making them bear the brunt of the city’s fiscal solution. And it could mean fewer trips into Brooklyn, resulting in lost revenues, for those who’ll have to traverse no longer free bridges to partake of Coney Island beaches, the borough’s fine museums, the New York Aquarium, the Brooklyn Cyclones, among other noteworthy attractions.
The mayor is confronted with a major dilemma. He’s trying to muster his savvy business acumen to resolve the city’s worst budget problems in nearly 30 years. He should not, no matter how financially shrewd tolling the East River bridges may seem, assess a fee that’s specifically aimed at the citizens of New York’s most populous borough.
One pipe dream that may resolve the city’s fiscal mess would be for the mayor, after promising New York City’s unyielding support in the looming war in Iraq, to request a piece of the same multi-billion dollar aid pie the White House has promised to Turkey for its backing the U.S. in the conflict.
It’s sorta logical since the bridge toll scheme leaves many Brooklynites with the impression we might just as well be foreigners being treated inequitably simply because we’re separated from Manhattan by a body of water.