Lew Fidler Threatens to Thwart Bridge Tolls

As opposition to East and Harlem River bridge tolls is reportedly "softening" in the State Senate, Lew Fidler tells Crain’s that a transfer of city-owned crossings to the MTA would require a home rule message from the City Council, and says he would join efforts to stop such a transfer in order to prevent tolls from being enacted. The full blurb is behind the subscriber wall, but here are Fidler’s quotes.

"A real property transfer is subject to our land use review
procedure," says Councilman Lew Fidler, D-Brooklyn. "I surely would
object on that basis and join any lawsuit brought if it were done
without our consent."

The groups fighting bridge tolls would likely challenge any plan that lacked a home rule message from the City Council.

"I realize that two
bucks is not a burdensome amount, but if you think that amount will
remain so low, I have a bridge to sell you," Fidler says.

What role the council might play in the MTA rescue plan, if any, remains to be seen — as does the strength of council opposition to tolls in the face of near-immediate transit fare hikes and service reductions. With the city’s delegation in Albany finally waking up to the fact that more of their constituents ride than drive, you’ve got to wonder how it would play — even in the farther reaches of Brooklyn and Queens — if council members like Fidler and John Liu tried to scuttle a workable rescue of the transit system.

  • Funny, I don’t remember Council Member Fidler crying “home rule” when the City of New York handed over control of the 22-acre Atlantic Yards project site to New York State.

    You could buy an awful lot of $2 bridge crossings with the hundreds of millions Mr. Fidler has supported handing over to Forest City Ratner in direct subsidies and special tax breaks. Several hundred million bridge crossings, in fact.

  • Larry Littlefield

    Hopefully, if the state legislature actually swallows the poison pill and votes for this, the payroll tax will be contingent on a transfer (hopefully lease) of the bridges to the MTA, and not imposed until that deal is signed.

    The environmental review can be dispensed with as part of the state legislation, as it was for the expansion of the LIE.

    Relax Lew, this is only a five-year fix, with ongoing revenues going to the capital plan in just the next five years. So it doesn’t preclude leaving the transit system and the economy in ruins, which seems to be the goal of everyone who gets to suck money out up front (in both the public and private sectors).

  • J-Uptown

    Fidler is incredibly out of touch with New York City. Of course no one wants to pay more, but he is proposing to sacrifice subway and bus riders at the altar of free bridges. Like Republicans in Washington, he is screaming “NO”, without proposing a viable alternative. New York City depends on the subways and buses, and the voters will be hard pressed to re-elect Fidler when he pulls this type of stunt.

  • To be fair to our old pal Lew, as we mentioned during the congestion pricing discussions, his constituents ARE the ones who drive into the city. So while I don’t agree with him, at least he’s actually doing what’s in the interest of the people he represents (unlike, say, Adriano Espaillat). The home rule thing is just a means to that end; that’s politics for you.

  • Why bother interviewing Lew “bridge to sell you” Fidler or John “bottom of the East River” Liu when public transportation is in crisis? All they’ve got to offer are tired old puns. The joke, if we can even call it that, is on their constituents.

  • For the 1000th time, FALSE.

    Lew’s constituents drive a lot. But only 5.3% of the workers in his district drive alone to Manhattan. Something like 40% take transit. But I guess he’s willing to, er, throw them under the bus.


  • Another way to look at that would be to say that 25% of the CPZ commuters in Lew’s district get there by car and would be affected by tolls on a daily basis. Further, about 75% of the households in the district own a a car and it seems reasonable to guess that many, if not all, of them will have to pay tolls that they didn’t previously. They SHOULD, but I don’t think it’s unreasonable to say that they will.

  • Another way to look at that would be to say that 25% of the CPZ commuters in Lew’s district get there by car and would be affected by tolls on a daily basis.

    Yeah, that would be kind of a lame way to look at it. How about looking at it as there are eight times as many of Lew’s constituents who would be affected by the transit cuts as would be affected by the bridge tolls, on their daily commutes?

  • Niccolo Machiavelli

    True 75% of Lews constituents own cars and some of them do drive into the central business district and will be tolled therefor. However, most of them do not drive into work in Manhattan and Lews concerns are thereby misplaced. Most of the drivers in his district regularly pay to cross the TBTA crossings especially the Verezano, Whitestone and Throgs Neck bridges. Those bridge the MTA does control and tolls on those bridges will simply have to rise faster than they otherwise would because a small minority of Lew’s other constituents ride for free to Manhattan where, apparently, they have a free parking place (where would they get that?).

    But there is another hole in Lew’s argumentation, like anybody really cares. Lew’s district is disproportionately made up of the former “two-fare zones”. The two-fare zone structure was ended just about exactly when the MTA deficits started to build up. His voters, who transfer to bus rides for free after taking the subway and vice versa, have disproportionately benefited from the deficit financing of the MTA. They get the best of both worlds, a place to park the car, and one fare into Manhattan.

    As the MTA lurches into a deeper crisis, to the extent that it seeks efficiencies, Lew’s constituents should be among the first cut. If the system is to pay for itself, we don’t really need that late night B-31 service very badly do we?

  • It’s becoming increasingly apparent that ending the two-fare situation and introducing the Metrocard and all its discounts did dramatically increase ridership, but apparently not enough to make up for the discounts, as can happen in other businesses when lowering prices. So… maybe it’s time to end the discounts? Is that even feasible? Of course no one wants to pay more but honestly, we’re paying like 1/3 in constant dollars as we were 10 years ago.

  • Lew from Brooklyn

    I guess it’s time for me to weigh in here.

    For those keeping score, I am not trying to thwart a workable solution, I am trying to thwart THIS unfair [in my view] solution. And to provide a better workable solution NOW.

    Let me remind all of you that when congestion pricing was on the table, I called for an alternative solution. What was it? A one third of one percent regional payroll tax. Now Dick Ravitch hasn’t credited me, but I know for a fact that when I first thought of this plan, MTA employees thought it was a great idea, and they in fact passed MY idea on to the commission. I also testified at the Commission hearing and presented this idea. For those doubting Thomases out there, I also introduced a Council Resolution calling for the payroll tax at that time—well over a year ago—and it has 8 co-sponsors.

    Had the Legislature adopted my proposal back then, we would have over $1.3 billion in the bank and we would not now be having discussions about fare increases and service cuts.

    As Ravitch notes in his report, current service and the fare would be saved by the payroll tax ALONE. Tolling, a sop to business leaders who are grumpusing over the payroll tax, would go to augment current service.

    I won’t re-debate my opposition to congestion pricing or congestion pricing light- ie the tolling of the bridges—but I still oppose a system that parses access to the heart of our City by economics. Also, I surely doubt that the $2—if it stays two dollars—would be sufficient to cover the extraordinary collection costs of non EZ pass drivers. Surely, a glance at the extimated costs of collection for the same under CP would lead one to believe so.

    SO—you might be surprised to know as well that I endorsed Comptroller Thompson’s proposal for weight based registration fees to supplement the payroll tax within days of its anouncement. I have since refined that view to a a proposal of my own that would charge higher regsitration fees predicated upon the miles per gallon rating of the vehicle.

    As to home rule, this is completely consistent with the position that I took on CP. I am not happy about ceding authority over City matters to Albany. and whether or not one is for or against tolls, you should support and appreciate that point of view. I don’t wish to put a State Senator from Oshkosh in charge of our roads, bridges or mass transit…at least not without our authorization for doing so.

    Finally, not to bring back another old Streetsblog bugaboo, but I am heartened by the continued advances of Hydrogen Fuel Cell techinolgy as a zero emission technology for cars. I am working with the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability and the NYC Economic Development Commission to bring a Hydrogen Fuel Cell Pilot here to our City. I also encouraged the Mayor’s office at a hearing on Thursday, and offered my full support and efforts in, a City application for the Federal stimulus money allocated to alternative fuel technologies.

    And lastly, it would be a heckuva good use of capital dollars to build both the Cross Harbor Freight Tunnel and the connection that I proposed for Staten Island rail to the NYC subway system. I am not holding my breath on those, as they are far from shovel ready. Too bad…as both would have an enormous benefit for mass transit, reducing traffic congestion and cleaning our air.

    You see, far from thwarting a solution, I am in fact the author of the main part of the solution, and I believe have been working creatively to find solutions that we can all get behind to solve these issues.

    You may not agree with my approach—oh here come the emails LOL—-but I have not abandoned my committment to finding a solution that I beleive is both ethical and effective.

    Lew from Brooklyn

  • Councilmember Fidler — why is charging $2 (or soon $3) to ride the subway into Manhattan not also “parse[ing] access to the heart of our City by economics”?

  • Lew from Brooklyn

    Because one is a fee for labor and service. The other is merely an access charge.

  • And the reconstruction of the Brooklyn Bridge is going to pay for itself? Talk about a shell game, Lew. You should be ashamed of yourself.

  • Just in case my previous comment wasn’t clear, the government is portraying both of these – bridge tolls and subway fares – as fees for services. When you say “parsing access to the heart of our city by economics,” you are the one reframing it as an access charge.

    Why are we not justified in similarly reframing the subway fares? In some ways they’re worse, because there is a charge for transit access to places like Atlas Center Mall, but no charge for car access.

  • Councilmember Fidler —

    I think the only real difference is that historically we’ve chosen to provide for free the “labor and service” required to maintain the city streets, roads, and bridges. But that’s no reason we should continue to give away a valuable commodity for no charge. (You could also argue that Ted Kheel is right — why not give the most space-efficient mode for free and charge a premium for driving.)

    Starting with bridges into Manhattan makes sense because there is both a limited amount of road space to use among its users and substitute methods of transportation available.

  • Steve321

    Why should I have to pay a subway fare going to work in Manhattan Mr. Weiner while you propose drivers to receive a free ride into Manhattan? Does Wiener think NYC residents are stupid? His proposal doesn’t do anything to close the MTA deficit. Wiener should be proposing $20.00 toll entering Manhattan during rush hour to discourage driving and encouraging MASS TRANSIT use. Mass Transit is good for the environment and health of NYC residents. Wiener is a typical NY politician. He probably drives around NYC at tax payers expense and rarely uses Mass transit. He will not get my vote if he runs for mayor and a majority of NYC residents who use Mass Transit.

  • Lew from Brooklyn

    There is no cost associated with traveling over the Bridge that is not paid fr by gasoline tax.
    Yet, clearly, every time one rides mass transit, there is at the very least, the cost of the labor drivig the bus or train. We all know, understand and support the fact that the fare is subsidized and the full cost of the ride is not paid at the fare box.

    Second point: My proposal in fact does derive significant revenue from motorists, just not thru bridge tolls. Please re-read my earlier post, recall that I am the author of the payroll tax which will pay for 95% of the solution and that I do in fact support registration fee increases to fill the balance.

    Drivers do not get off scott free.

    Lew from Brooklyn

  • Councilmember Fidler:

    This is certainly news to me. It is my understanding that funding for NYC roads and bridges come almost completely from the city’s general tax fund. Please provide the source for your assertion that the full cost of roads and bridges is raised from a gasoline tax.

  • There is no cost associated with traveling over the Bridge that is not paid fr by gasoline tax.

    Yes, I’d love to see you back that up, Lew. According to a study done by Charles Komanoff (PDF), about 35% of the money spent on car facilities in NY State in 1991 came from general tax dollars, and 10% in NY City. So what you say wasn’t true in 1991, and it’s probably not true now. How do you expect us to believe you if you trot out pat answers that turn out not to be true?

    If Komanoff’s findings still hold, that’s $50 million out of the $500 million bridge rehab that’s being paid for by people who most likely will never drive over it. The city budget (PDF) has $185 million this year to start the bridge rehab. How much of that will we be paying for with our property, sales and income taxes?

  • Lew from Brooklyn

    You really digress.

    How much of general tax funds pay for the maintenance of mass transit? What percentage o fthe ride? Is this really the argument you want to make? That 10 % of the maintenance cost is paid for from the general fund? Where does gasoline tax revenue go? And to add the $500 million Brooklyn Bridge rehab number into it which will be paid for by Federal stimulus dollars is just a total red herring.

    How much did the L Line Robot train boondoggle cost? They admit to hundereds of millions, yet we all know the tab was at least a billion.

    Why are you so ontent on bridge tolls when there is a fairer AND MORE EFFICIENT way for motorists to contribute to the solution?

    Kumbaya, my friedns, kumbaya.

    Lew from Brooklyn

  • Councilmember Fidler —

    The point is that you can’t say “transit doesn’t pay for itself” and then stick your fingers in your ears when confronted with the fact that driving also does not pay for itself.

    Besides the maintenance expenses, there are several other inconvenient facts:

    The economic engine of NYC’s central business districts would not exist without transit.

    Even if NYC somehow did somehow exist without transit, driving would be completely impossible in NYC because there is simply not enough room for everyone to drive.

    To say that drivers obtain no value from living in a city with transit is just absurd.

    Oh, and I’m intent on bridge tolls because I’m tired of having every square inch of this otherwise lovely city completely overrun with motor vehicles — it’s a huge quality of life transgression that benefits the few and paid for (in dollars and otherwise) by the many.


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