Constituents picketed outside the office of Ruben Diaz, Sr. yesterday to urge the Bronx state senator to get behind the MTA rescue plan, which includes new tolls on East and Harlem River bridges. Though some 140,000 people in his district use transit every day, and are facing serious service cuts along with steep fare hikes, Diaz is adamantly opposed to the tolls, which would affect a relative handful of drivers.
City Room reports that protesters were especially concerned about the impact the planned cuts would have on the district’s seniors.
Carl VanPutten, 76, a retired taxicab driver from the South Bronx, said that he takes the Bx4 bus, one of the lines threatened by the authority’s fiscal crisis, to get to his health-maintenance organization for check-ups and other medical appointments. He said he could take the subway but there are no elevators, making it difficult for him.
"Climbing the stairs to the subway which is above it is a problem because they don’t have elevators," said Mr. VanPutten. "I take the bus, I get off right in front of it. I can go in and come back out."
Chanting slogans like "Diaz don’t betray our trust, our people ride the bus," protesters pointed out that the currently-proposed $2 toll is the same amount that they pay to take the bus and subway every day.
A staffer interviewed by City Room said that Diaz opposes new tolls because "a sufficient number of people in this community take taxis across the east river bridges," and said Diaz would prefer to reinstate the commuter tax — nixed by Albany lawmakers in the 1990s — than impose the tolls. As Mobilizing the Region notes, Diaz has also proposed saving the MTA through prescription drugs from Canada.
Yesterday’s action was led by COMMUTE, a coalition of advocacy groups including Nos Quedamos, Youth Ministries for Peace and Justice, Sustainable South Bronx, and The POINT CDC/ACTION.
"We believe that Senator Diaz — and Senators [Pedro] Espada and [Ruth] Hassell-Thompson — can change their minds," said Anna Vincenty of Nos Quedamos.
Photo via COMMUTE