BY LYNN EDMONDS
A plan to put tolls on East River bridges would hurt middle class Queens residents and small businesses owners, Eastern Queens politicians and civic leaders said at a press conference at the foot of the Ed Koch Queensborough Bridge on Sunday.
Assemblyman David Weprin (D-Fresh Meadows) was one of those who spoke out against the tolls.
“I cannot think of a better example of actual highway robbery,” he quipped.
Weprin said that for many Queens commuters, especially the elderly, the East River bridges were the only affordable and reasonably efficient way to access Manhattan.
“A bus and train trip filled with multiple transfers and often lasting more than 90 minutes is not a viable option for these residents” he said.
Adding tolls to the East River Bridges would be part of a larger plan, Move NY, which calls for redistributing the toll burden across city bridges and tunnels. The plan would have tolls on other City bridges, including the RFK-Triborough, Whitestone and Throgs Neck, cut by 45 percent. Under the plan, it would also cost $8 to cross 60th Street in Manhattan. Move NY is meant to create extra income for the MTA and relieve congestion. It will be considered in Albany next session.
State Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) also said it wasn’t fair to make Queens residents pay to drive when they lacked a viable alternative.
“If it’s the last thing I do in the legislature, I am not voting for congestion pricing in any sort of form,” Avella said.
Councilman Barry Grodenchik (D-Oakland Gardens) used a frequent example of his to demonstrate the lack of transit options for his constituents.
“The legend for the subway map is in eastern Queens,” he said. “Because there’s no service there.”
Assemblywoman Alicia Hyndman (D-Springfield Gardens) said that Southeast Queens, like Northeast Queens, was plagued by inadequate transit.
“We live in that two-fare zone,” Hyndman said, referring to the commuters in her district who, because of multiple transfers, have to use two Metro Card swipes to get into Manhattan.
“That bothers us, because some days our commutes are almost two hours,” she added. “So to talk about adding another toll to the crossings that affect the residents in my district, it’s very important that we’re against it.”
Councilmen Rory Lancman (D-Fresh Meadows) and I. Daneek Miller (D-St. Albans) are also opposed to the plan.
But Move NY says that politicians are overestimating the number of constituents who drive into Manhattan by car. The campaign say that only three percent of Queens residents’ total trips will end up costing more, if Move NY is implemented, and that number will be offset by the two percent of their trips that will cost less under the plan. The remaining 95 percent of all trips, including those by transit and car, will cost the same, Move NY says.
Addressing concerns about the burden on small business owners, a spokesperson for Move NY said that businesses would not have to pay more than one round trip per day.
Nevertheless, Borough President Melinda Katz was not sold on the plan either.
“It is fundamentally unfair to charge resident a fee to travel within one city. It is certainly unfair to the families who live in the transit desert of Queens, as it would landlock our Borough,” she said.
For his part, Mayor Bill de Blasio went on the record saying the East River tolls were “something that’s worth looking at,” at a press conference in October, but added, “as you’ve heard, right now in Albany there’s no appetite for it.”
Reach Lynn Edmonds at (718) 357-7400 x127, firstname.lastname@example.org or @Ellinoamerikana