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Bridge Tolls

Has John Liu Jumped the Shark on MTA Rescue?

While his colleague from Brooklyn Bill de Blasio has given his blessing to tolls on East River bridges, Queens City Council Member John Liu -- who, as of this writing, is running for city comptroller -- seems to have officially joined the chorus of electeds who insist that the MTA's dire financial straits constitute a crisis of the agency's own making.

A reader who attended a CUNY forum on bridge tolls last week sent us this summation of Liu's remarks:

  • The MTA doesn't need the money because it's for capital, not operating, expenses, and in any event is earmarked for bus improvements mentioned but not specified in the Ravitch report.
  • The MTA hasn't bothered to itemize what they would do with the toll money, which they would apply to their capital plan.
  • Making the MTA accountable takes precedence over bailing them out.
  • Auto commuters to the CBD drive because they have to (ignoring, obviously, Bruce Schaller's "Necessity or Choice" report [PDF]).
  • I supported Bloomberg's congestion pricing proposal (true), because it was an excise tax (huh?) and offered drivers choices (huh?), but I can't support bridge tolls because that's not an excise tax and doesn't provide choices.
  • The MTA, being run by the likes of Nancy Shevell, doesn't need or merit our money (begging the question, of course, that the MTA will in fact get our money -- it just won't be getting it from drivers).

This litany, while damning enough, doesn't do justice to the inanity, vehemence and shallowness of Liu's remarks. Indeed, there was a surreal riff in his remarks that we can and should punish the MTA, divorced from any impact on the human beings, communities and businesses that make up this city.

There's more. On his campaign website, Liu links to an MTA-bashing article in the Amsterdam News that says he "agrees" with City Council Member Charles Barron, who is quoted as follows: "I think the MTA needs to be dismantled. These are a bunch
of rich white men who have no clue of the needs of the working class
family. We are not sure about their books and they need oversight. The
responsibility of transportation should be taken away form the MTA and
given to the Department of Transportation."

Our tipster notes that at the CUNY event, Liu also spoke of "the need to have prices reflect costs, the value of social pricing, even the need 'to take away subsidies for drivers ... for drivers to pay their own way,'" but then "fell back into the tired riff of 'Bridge Tolls No, MTA Must Go.'" So how can Liu reconcile his obvious contempt for the MTA and suspicion of bridge tolls with his stated wish that drivers "pay their own way"? Is this the kind of intellectual inconsistency we can expect from Comptroller Liu?

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