MTA Blame Game: The View from Staten Island

Here’s State Senator Andrew Lanza, a Staten Island Republican, explaining why he supports tolls on the East River bridges. For Staten Island drivers looking at a $3 hike in cash tolls to cross the Verrazano (or a $1.32 hike for locals with E-ZPass), the sight of other motorists getting a free pass into Manhattan must be a source of perpetual gall and resentment.

Lanza spends most of this video, however, in standard MTA-bashing mode, lashing out at the agency and unnamed politicians in other boroughs who "support" the doomsday scenario. Not a word about his fellow Senate Republicans, who refused to budge on an MTA rescue package that needed only a few more votes to pass. Lanza himself is on the record opposing the payroll tax in the Ravitch plan, so, by his own logic, you could say he also "supports" higher tolls on the Verrazano.

When you’re about to set off a scenario of mutually assured destruction, the person who blinks first helps everyone win. Lanza could play a big part in walking the State Senate back from the brink of doomsday, and holding down the one-way toll on the Verrazano. All he has to do is reconsider the Ravitch plan and rally a few other Republicans to do the same. Hard to see how anything else would fulfill the promise he makes here to fight the MTA austerity plan "every step of the way." We called his Albany office to inquire about his plan and expect a response later today.

  • Who are these imaginary Manhattan politicans who are opposed to East River Bridge tolls that he speaks of? Again, it’s just rhetoric to try to pit Staten Island against the rest of New York.

    Not that I disagree with his position.

  • How is a lower toll for “locals” legal…? Apologies if this was covered before.

  • Jimbo

    Ummm…Fairness? How about that ferry you guys have? Last time I checked ,it’s FREE.

  • JSD

    Staten Islanders have a somewhat complicated system of transportation. All stops on the SIR (Staten Island Railway) are free. However, the final stop at St. George (the ferry terminal) is not. Therefore, anyone taking a train to the ferry, whether they got on 10 stops earlier, or the stop just before the ferry, have to pay the $2.00 for using the train after getting off. So those Islanders are technically paying for entrance into the terminal. Users of the bus system do not have to pay for access, nor do walkers or drivers. However, bus users pay for their bus trip, and drivers pay a parking fee. Yet there is no required tranfer at the terminal for drivers, or users of mass transit. Walkers enter and use the Ferry at no cost at all. Many Staten Islanders have picked up on this, and get off the train one stop early, and walk the five minutes to the terminal, effectively paying no fee for using the train, or the ferry.

    As a regular user of the Staten Island Railway (everyday commuting to and from Manhattan) I would gladly pay to board the train, just like everyone else in the city. It would serve a dual purpose. Keeping loiterers from hanging out on the platform, and pay for improvements to our horribly dilapidated platforms and stations. For many Staten Island communities along the SIRW, these stations are the centers of commerce in mixed use neighborhoods (yes, Staten Island has actual individual town centers in our individual communities). But those stations are seriously ugly to look at.

    Make us pay for the train and provide a transfer at the Ferry. Just like everyone else in the city.

    And speaking to the legality of bridge tolls for residents, there is a court case going on in New England that could have a major impact on how much Staten Islanders pay for the bridge. Our discount just may be unconstiutional. See here-http://www.silive.com/news/index.ssf/2009/04/are_staten_island_resident_dis.html

  • Boris

    It’s not about what Staten Islanders get for free, but how much they get relative to other boroughs. I bet the ferry and SIR subsidies are smaller than the amount Staten Islanders pay in tolls to subsidize MTA services that don’t even benefit them, like Metro-North. It’s also about the level of service. I’d pay $5 for a Staten Island ferry that provides the same speed and convenience as the express bus.

  • Culo Cagado

    WOW! he’s an idiot. Blaming the MTA for free east river crossings? So who is going to tell this clown that the City owns the Brooklyn, Manhattan, Williamsburg and Queensboro bridges and not the MTA.

  • vnm

    JSD,

    The fares are collected to enter or exit the St. George SIR station (and soon to be Tompkinsville) by the MTA. Those fares have nothing to do with the ferry, which is run by the city.

    Two-way turnstiles at one station out of 20 is a proxy for a full fare collection system that tacitly acknowledges 1) that a high proportion of people using the SIR are going to or from the ferry, and 2) that building turnstiles at 20 stations would be expensive. The upshot is that if you want to ride on the system in between any of the other stations, it is free. It is sort of like if Metro-North chargied to enter or exit Grand Central Terminal, but did not have conductors collect tickets on trains.

    Staten Island has tolled bridges (at least in one direction) but free trains (unless you’re going to the ferry). It’s almost the model the Livable Streets movement is advocating.

  • Niccolo Machiavelli

    I might take that bet Boris if it wasn’t such a silly distracting argument. There are lots of different ways this cuts but everyone from Staten Island drives for free through my neighborhood to get to Manhattan, I think thats a hell of a subsidy too as our children choke on your exhaust fumes. But really man, transportation is about taking people from one jurisdiction to others and in that sense we are all in this together. The Staten Islanders have a real chip on their shoulder about how bad service they have and how much the bridge tolls hurt. Meanwhile they insist on living in suburban style housing densities far from the city and complain that the mass transit connections are so poor. Jeesh. And it costs Staten Islanders a lot less to cross the VZ than it does the Brooklyneese.

    In the end, the subsidy per ride on Staten Island is very high relative to the rest of the city. To give your argument some credit it probably does not deserve however if the TA subsidy is whacked up per resident instead of per rider I think it is much more equal city wide than you imagine on Staten Island – The Rock of Self-Pity.

  • Staten Islanders were all too happy to bulldoze their way through my nabe (Bay Ridge) on the way to depositing their sprawl all over the island, too. So let’s drop any “fairness” arguments, please.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “Bet the ferry and SIR subsidies are smaller than the amount Staten Islanders pay in tolls to subsidize MTA services that don’t even benefit them, like Metro-North.”

    Including the buses, uh no. The MTA studiously avoids tabulating data on costs and revenues by route, but I did at one point tabulate average daily ridership vs. the total number of buses by borough.

    Manhattan 700
    Bronx 587
    Queens 536
    Brooklyn 532
    System Total 527

    Staten Island 199

    But getting back the substance of Mr. Lanza’s complaints, I’ve always felt that as part of a deal to impose tolls into Manhattan south of 96th Street:

    The tolls should be used to maintain the tolled bridges first (ie. keep repainting them on an ongoing basis) and

    The tolls on crossings between the other boroughs should be reduced. Not to zero, but perhaps one-third to half off the Manhattan levels.

    Transit is a less realistic option between the outer boroughs, and drivers to Manhattan benefit far more from those who use transit and thereby ceded their share of the street.

    It wouldn’t offset the $30 billion in MTA debt, but if you want tolls (and I do) they way to pick off some of these bozos is to put the northern toll cordon at 96th Street as originally proposed (or perhaps 110th) and lower the tolls on the Veranzano, Cross Bay, Gil Hodges, Triboro (if not going to MN), Whitestone and Throggs Neck bridges. Makes a lot more sense than having lower tolls on the Brooklyn, Manhattan, WillieB, QB, etc.

  • Boris

    Niccolo,

    I was just responding to Jimbo’s argument that the ferry being free is unfair. It costs Staten Islanders at least $2 to get to Manhattan using public transit- just like anyone else in the outer boroughs.

    Brooklyn and Queens residents drive for free through your neighborhood; Staten Islanders have to pay a toll (on the return trip).

    I don’t think that suburbia is inherently transit-averse; American suburbia is. With some simple but unpopular changes, like dropping the infamous minimum parking requirements and beefing up bus and ferry service, Staten Island can be quite transit-rich. It’s not about housing densities, it’s about car densities.

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