Adriano Espaillat: Upper Manhattan Prefers Doomsday to Bridge Tolls

rpainwood.jpgDoomsday damage to Inwood (10034) as seen on RPA’s live map of planned MTA service cuts

It was a little surprising to see Upper Manhattan Assembly Member Adriano Espaillat, one of the few state electeds to support congestion pricing without reservation, come out so strongly against the Ravitch MTA rescue plan, and the tolling of East and Harlem River bridges in particular. Now we have this recent post from an e-mail list for Inwood parents:

I spoke to Espaillat’s office. They insisted that people in the area would rather have higher subway fares and reduced service than tolled bridges. They said the merchants in the area and the car services oppose the bridge tolls.

When MTA doomsday service cuts go into effect, residents of Espaillat’s district [PDF] will lose the Bx20 and M18 buses, will see reduced service on the M100 and M2, and will face longer wait times on the A and 1 trains. As an Upper Manhattanite myself, I find it very hard to believe that most of my neighbors — roughly 80 percent of whom don’t own cars — are willing to accept more crowded buses and trains, which will be fewer in number and cost more to board, so drivers from Westchester can continue to drive through Inwood and Washington Heights for free.

It seems that either Espaillat really has his finger on the pulse of the public, or the merchants and car services have Espaillat’s ear. We have a message in with his office in hopes of confirming which is true.

  • Glenn

    In some ways, having doomsday service cuts and fare increases come into effect for a few months might be a real teachable moment. If it happens, we need to teach folks exactly how this happened and who is responsible.

  • J-Uptown

    In my opinion, Espaillat is representative of a major systemic failure of politics across the country. Election campaigns are largely funded by big interest groups lobbying for their own interests. With heavy funding, a few large interests can drown out the millions of individual voices. In this case , Espaillat has received a lot of money from car services and big-wigs in the area, which helped him get elected. Keeping them happy, means keeping that funding for his next campaign. Most people didn’t contribute anything to his campaign, therefore their voices count for very little. Most people probably don’t know who he is.

    To correct this, we need to organize and inform the electorate. People must know his name, and what he did to them. We need good candidates to run against him. It will take a lot of work, but it is certainly possible with a dedicated group. Once candidates know that they will be held accountable, there positions may change. Look at Shelly Silver’s position on Bridge tolls. First brazenly quashed congestion pricing. After his first opposition in decades, he changed his position to support Bridge tolls. There’s nothing like an organized opposition to remind elected officials who really puts them in office.

  • Larry Littlefield

    Perhaps supporting CP and opposing bridge tolls isn’t as inconsistent as it seems.

    CP was the equivalent of what bridge tolls would have been if there had been a moat outside the Manhattan core at 96th Street. Espaillat’s constituents would have had to pay to travel to that area, but would not have had to pay to travel back and forth to the Bronx.

    With bridge tolls, drivers would have to pay to drive between northern Manattan and the Bronx, but would not have to pay to go from Northern Manhatan to Midtown.

    Mass Transit is more convenient from Northern Manhattan to Midtown than from Northern Manhattan to the Bronx.

    So the CP plan the legislature refused to vote on was better than the bridge toll plan the legislature refused to vote on. Thereby showing the trend effect of politics on policy.

  • fdr

    Maybe one of the polling organizations could be persuaded to do polling in the districts of Espaillat and Kruger and the others to see if they really have their fingers on their constituents’ pulses, or around their throats. Of course the results, as always, would depend on the wording of the questions.

  • vnm

    Who cares with Adriano thinks? He’s in the Assembly, which was on board with Ravitch. We need to focus on the Senate’s rogue Democrats and all of its Republicans.

  • I think it’s important that Inwood and Washington Heights know where Espaillat stands, even if he’s in the minority in his own house. Plus, Espaillat is a pretty high profile guy up here. If he were vocally pro-Ravitch, it might inspire his constituents to, in turn, pressure their other electeds to get with the program. Take Senator Eric Schneiderman, for instance. While I understand that he supports tolls, he’s been AWOL in public when it comes to MTA rescue.

  • Adriano Espaillat

    I am against the tolls because Northern Manhattan should not shoulder the burden for the MTA’s contemptible bookkeeping and abject failure to control spending. The bailout must be spread out amongst the 12 regions serviced by MTA. I am for lower fares and new capital for our stations. Please be reminded that I secured millions for the completed restoration of the 207th and 181st Street A, and the 191st Street #1 train stations. Later this year, the MTA will begin total reconstruction for the Dyckman Street #1, canopy and platform replacements for 207th, 215th and 225th Street stations. Finally, I am reminding you of my response to last August’s question from the Manhattan Times regarding the MTA, which was as follows:

    “I strongly objected to the fare hike proposed by the MTA for next year. Every family is facing higher prices for food, electricity and many other necessities and transit fares just went up a few months ago. We simply cannot afford another increase. The Assembly majority advanced a plan earlier this year to have the wealthiest New Yorkers – those who earn $1 million or more a year – pay slightly higher income taxes. Our plan would have raised $1.5 billion a year, to be dedicated to transit and transportation projects. I will continue to fight for my constituents in Albany and for mass transit improvements that benefit us all.”

    In unity,

    Adriano Espaillat

  • vnm

    Assemblyman Espaillat,

    I think the table on Section IV of this page 2009-2010 New York State Executive Budget says it all:

    The NY State Department of Transportation funding is increasing by 4.5% (for highway construction which will increase traffic) but decreasing aid to the MTA by 10.2%. You can’t blame that on MTA bookkeeping.

    The Senate has demanded a “forensic” audit of the people who build and maintain our rails. Where are the calls for a forensic audit of the people who build and maintain our highways?

    Our priorities as a state are backwards. If we need to reduce our dependence on foreign oil and our carbon dioxide emissions, and improve the streetscape of the city. All this can be accomplished by ending the bickering about red herrings and just finding a way to invest mass transit.

  • Observer

    I wonder what Espaillat did to Brad? Inwoodite is full of Espaillat’s articles. I thought the only reason why Brad criticized Espaillat so often was because of his ethnicity because (FYI) there are other elected officials in the area and other issues to talk about But to his credit Brad hasnt written anything on Martinez latest scandal, so yes it is personal against Espaillat. Another FYI for Brad, Farrell has a higher profile up here and the entire state ( He is the Chair of the ways and means committee).

  • “the merchants in the area and the car services” may have loud voices but they are not the majority. I think most people can easily see that. Espaillat has confused “important big men in the neighborhood” with the true majority.

    This is outrageous.

  • Adriano Espaillat, respectfully why don’t you understand that most of the people need train service? This fare hike is going to hit regular people who don’t have cars hard– The service cuts will sap life from our neighborhoods. Seriously. You reasoning isn’t making any sense to me. The bookkeeping crisis was YEARS ago. That’s over. If we want transit we must fund it and we need transit to make the city work for the poor and middle class not just the rich car service owners and drivers.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “The MTA’s contemptible bookkeeping and abject failure to control spending.”

    Was done by those out to satisfy the demands of the Governor and State Legisalture.

    The bookeeping showed the MTA was breaking even or having surpluses while borrowing $billions, so fares could be kept low and tax dollars could be diverted elsewhere (or cut), allowing state officials to seem like they were delivering something for nothing.

    The big increase in spending is on retirement benefits, which the state legislature is always voting to increase.

    And construction contracts, because the MTA spends in booms when costs soar and is forced to cut capital spending in busts when construction costs fall and construction workers need jobs. What would the state legislature had said if the MTA has saved up billions to save money in the long run?

    Those who work for the MTA should have resigned rather than go along with the most selfish, shortsighted interests of state poltiicans, and run against them. THEY DID WHAT YOU DEMANDED WHAT THEY DO. And now there is no going back.

  • uSkyscraper

    I’m amazed that the idea of a discount in fringe border zones has not come up. I wrote the following letter to Espaillat to see if he might be prodded into realizing he could make his business allies happy while also pleasing his power base of rent-stabilization-forever tenants (who cannot afford fare hikes).


    In a previous post, one commenter wrote “now is not the time to be philosophical. we need pragmatic solutions”.

    In the interest of being pragmatic, I therefore wrote the following to Espaillat’s office:


    Dear Assemblyman Espaillat,

    I have read that your office feels that Inwood residents would prefer to pay higher subway fares with reduced service rather than see the Broadway Bridge tolled. I am an Inwood resident and certainly do not feel that way; in fact, I feel you are misrepresenting the view of the silent majority of residents who take the subway or bus to work every day. I happen to own a car also, but will pay far more out-of-pocket for more expensive monthly Metrocards for my family than for the occasional auto trip over a tolled bridge.

    Obviously the bridge is in the wrong location to be tolled since it is not near the Central Business District and joins two similar communities that rely on each other. Obviously it is not fair to lump the Inwood bridges in with the Queensboro or Brooklyn Bridges, major downtown crossings that should definitely be tolled. Obviously it would be better to have true congestion pricing with a toll line at 60th St or 96th St rather than 220th St. But, if tolling all bridges is the only option available then it should be pursued.

    What your office should be working on, instead of pandering to car services and Westchester commuters, is suggesting that the bridge be tolled but that a 90% discount be given to Inwood and Marble Hill residents. This is exactly what is done in the communities on the border of the London Congestion Zone, and it works very well. See:

    It is wrong to look at the issue in black-and-white terms of toll or no-toll since this only leads to a no-toll quagmire; you should be looking at successful real-world examples of how to meet the goal of providing increased transit funding by discouraging car-based commuting while at the same time avoiding cries of local unfairness. The idea of a “border discount” is completely absent in Albany at the moment, and taking leadership of a pro-toll, pro-discount position could prove to be very successful.

    Please consider reversing your public stance on this critical issue to reflect the true wishes of your constituents. Thank you.


  • United Northern Manhattan

    The cost associated with tolls will be passed on to all Northern Manhattan consumers in the form of even higher prices for goods and services and more businesses will shutter. Tolls are a poor man’s tax but it doesn’t seem anyone on this blog has to sing for their supper. Assemblyman Espaillat and other legislators must be congratulated for opposing the tolls on the Harlem and East River bridges.

  • Ian Turner

    UNM, I suppose it doesn’t bother you at all if the subway system collapses as a result of these congratulations-worthy actions? How are tolls a “poor man’s tax” when most poor men take the subway?

  • United Northern Manhattan

    Turner needs an economics class to learn why this is both a poor man’s and regressive tax.

  • Ian Turner


    I’ve taken my fair share of economics classes, thank you very much. Did you have a point, or should I interpret your last comment to mean you’ve run out of rhetorical ammunition?

  • Yes, it’s sad that so many people have such a shallow understanding of what makes a tax/fee “regressive.” Maybe now that Richard Brodsky is not opposing these tolls, he can correct that misapprehension?

  • AW

    Has anyone thought of the positive traffic and law enforcement consequences
    of bridge tolls?

    Noting again that tollbooths would not be used, I would think it would divert a lot of traffic OUT of Inwood, as people from Westchester and the Bronx would not be “bridge shopping” to avoid tolls when they drive into
    Manhattan. Can you imagine what this would do to the quality of life here?

    Here’s what I envision: less traffic on the streets, less crime in Inwood since people would know their license plates are being photographed on the bridges, less or no motorcycle racing because of the video tolling. I wonder what the NYPD thinks about video tolling…I imagine they would support it for law enforcement reasons.

    I would think that people who are serious about playing baseball in Inwood Hill Park wouldn’t mind the occasional weekend toll, which is a good thing.

    Any other up-sides to tolling the bridges that I’m missing?

  • I live in Inwood and I would love to believe that Espaillat is “fight[ing] for [his] constituents in Albany and for mass transit improvements that benefit us all.” However, I have seen him do nothing lately but organize rallies against bridge tolls, thus helping scuttle one of the few viable plans advanced for preserving mass transit service in Inwood. Not once have I seen him publicly offer any alternative solutions to this transit crisis. Our neighborhood already suffers from excessive traffic due to toll-shopping, and in the past few years, late night and weekend work on the A train has become such a fixture that it is now miraculous when we have express train service on weekends (even though the A is supposed to run express every day of the week).

    As Espaillat’s constituent, and one who relies on mass transit for my livelihood, I feel abandoned and betrayed. Truly, if the transit-riding majority can’t get any help from our elected officials, whom can we turn to?

  • Peter

    This is crazy, last year the state paid $190.9 million in subsidies to the MTA. I understand that that money was not for capital improvements but it is still a huge chunk of change. The MTA is always crying that they are broke and need help but when they sold the Atlantic Rail Yards at a discount to Ratner, they did not seem overly concerned about a budget gap. Let us call it like it is the real problem here is the MTA and not the legislators who will not take New Yorkers money to pay for a system that is mis-managed, ill-run, and bloated from the top down to the union management. Notice I left out the union workers because I feel they are the only ones in the equation who have any integrity and they are just trying to make a living. I hope the new leadership at the MTA has some wide reaching reform in mind to bring the system back in line and make it a viable entity in the future. That is what is in everybodies best interest and should be the goal.


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