Instead of More Fare Hikes, How About Bridge Tolls That Make Sense?

In one fell swoop, Governor Cuomo and the state legislature could drastically reduce NYC’s traffic dysfunction while rescuing New Yorkers from the fourth fare hike in five years. Image: ##http://www.samschwartz.com/portals/0/PDF/etf072412.pdf##Sam Schwartz##

Since the beginning of 2008 — right around the time that Albany legislators failed to enact congestion pricing — NYC subway and bus fares have been hiked three times. Now the fourth fare hike in five years is on the horizon, and with Albany lawmakers sitting on their hands as MTA revenues fail to keep up with costs, there’s no relief in sight for millions of transit-riding New Yorkers.

Today MTA Chair Joe Lhota announced four options under consideration for the 2013 fare hike. The scenarios are weighted so that the fare hike will either fall primarily on riders who buy unlimited Metrocards or on those who mainly buy pay-per-ride cards. Monthly unlimiteds could cost $21 more, or single fares could go up to $2.50 from $2.25. (The Straphangers Campaign has produced a handy chart [PDF] to see how each option would affect your expenses.)

Either way, this string of hikes puts the fare on pace to triple the rate of inflation, according to a recent report from Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli. While working families in New York City end up paying hundreds or even thousands of dollars more out of pocket to cover higher fares, Governor Cuomo and the state legislature haven’t shown any intention of stepping in to help. In fact, they’ve made the situation more precarious by raiding the MTA’s budget and weakening the agency’s dedicated funding.

It doesn’t have to be this way. At any point, Albany could help to lessen the burden on working New Yorkers while simultaneously eliminating a source of enormous dysfunction in the region’s transportation system: the discrepancy between the free East River bridges and the MTA’s tolled crossings, which produces debilitating traffic jams and will only get worse as fares and tolls rise under the status quo.

The solution? Cuomo and the legislature could enact “Gridlock” Sam Schwartz’s “Fair Plan” [PDF], as Gene Russianoff of the Straphangers Campaign noted in a statement today:

Blocking or reducing the fare increase is possible, if we get more help from Albany. One promising plan is to generate new revenue by both raising and lowering tolls on city bridges and tunnels in line with where there is the most and least congestion. Under this plan – developed by a former New York City traffic commissioner Sam Schwartz, known as Gridlock Sam ­– tolls would go down on some facilities (like the Throgs Neck and Verrazano-Narrow Bridges) and be instituted on others (Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges.) The State would need to authorize some of the tolls.

So far, Transportation Alternatives has collected more than 15,000 signatures asking Albany to stop the next fare hike. If you sign on, I suggest adding a note about the Fair Plan.

  • Anonymous

    Good to see this. It’s important to emphasize that Sam’s Plan would also toll all vehicular traffic entering the Manhattan Central Business District by crossing 60th Street, river to river, in addition to East River bridge tolls. Indeed, more revenue will be collected at that 60th Street “screenline” than on the four East River bridges combined. (The numbers may be found in the “Approaches” tab of the BTA spreadsheet.)

  • Ex-driver

    With all due respect, I wonder if it’s worth spending any more time and energy on this. If we couldn’t get it in the last financial crisis, it’s hard to see how a fare hike that everyone knew was coming could possibly be the breaking point. Besides that, everyone knows that fares will go up sooner or later, regardless of what happens with the bridge tolls, because Albany exists in a state of constant fiscal crisis.  At least now some bridges are free, the thinking goes – these do-gooders want to take that away!  

  • You know what would be a “Fair Plan”? Just not having all of the central business districts overwhelmed by private vehicles and oversized commercial trucks from far outside the city every day. I’ll take a steep fare hike on the subways if that’s part of the bargain. 

  • Larry Littlefield

    I’m all for toll reform, but with the next capital plan unfunded, I wouldn’t use the revenues for short term needs. 

    Unless the decisions and deals of the past can be reversed through some kind of bankruptcy, those who are unwilling to pay for public services will not have them.  I don’t want the transit system to go down the slow motion service collapse/deferred maintenance path again, though it would suit many interests in the short term.

    They keep selling the future, I keep objecting, and the future keeps arriving.  What is the end game here?  Moving to Florida? 

  • Anonymous

    Monthly pass should equal just under 44 trips.  Anything else is terrible transit policy.  I don’t know why this point doesn’t get discussed more.

  • Cabgabnyc

    I agree with a great portion of the “Gridlock Sam” plan. But, there are parts that are short sighted.

    I have been in the NYC Taxi Industry for over 40 years. Taxis should only have to pay the tolls if traveling with paying passengers. The return trips should be free if the taxi is empty. Not allowing for this would create a disincentive financially. Taxis provide a public service and are part of the transportation solution.

  • Joe R.

    Not mentioned in the article is the fact that the existing toll structure has resulted in large numbers of heavy trucks going through lower Manhattan in order to avoid tolls. Through traffic should be routed around Manhattan by the toll structure.

  • Anonymous

    This would be a more compelling plan if someone proofread the presentation.  “Great Central Parkway”?

  • Anonymous

    This would be a more compelling plan if someone proofread the presentation.  “Great Central Parkway”?

  • Anonymous

    This would be a more compelling plan if someone proofread the presentation.  “Great Central Parkway”?

  • KillMoto

    NYPD is the 7th largest army in the world.  How about the Mayor simply implement these tolls, and impose congestion pricing, and challenge Albany to try to stop him?  Frankly there’s no reason the city should need a “mother may I” from the state for purely internal matters, like running city bridges and roads. 

  • archie

    Would it be too difficult to implement dynamic/variable tolling on all the bridges? They could change depending on the current demand to ensure a minimum speed (e.g. 45mph). Let market economics distribute the demand accordingly.

  • Zachberman

    The problem with discussions of fare hikes, just like discussions of gas prices, is that we don’t factor in inflation enough. Is the fare going up much faster than the price of a slice of pizza? Can we get a chart of how many bananas you can buy for a subway ride over the decades?

  • Joe R.

    @aebd0a67c277d4f3b37e0e1e6cb155a9:disqus A more fair measure would be how much the fare is relative to average wages because in the end that’s really what determines ability to pay. Lots of things are going up in price lately, but wages are mostly stagnant. In fact, an even better metric might be how much the fare is compared to wages minus costs of necessities. The middle class is being squeezed like never before. It’s not fair to ask them to swallow another fare increase, especially when the reason for the increase has nothing to do with the costs of running the subway. Rather, it’s high time to retroactively negotiate the contract terms of the MTA employees because excessive pension/benefit costs are driving this fare increase.

  • Ian Turner

    @c44dc01f8107c1b33104b538f33b734d:disqus : NYPD is about 34,500 officers, about the same position as Chad or Rwanda, and certainly not in seventh place (more like 100th place). By spending ($3.9b), it’s about the same as Egypt or Oman, around 40th place.

  • al

    If you want to eliminate trucks toll shopping and crossing lower Manhattan, implement high speed two way open road tolling with license plate cameras and EZ Pass on all tolled tunnels and bridges.  They already have them on the Garden State Parkway and in Toronto.

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