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Bridge Tolls

Pedro Espada’s Student Fare Fix: Toll the East River Bridges

No, it's not April First.

The Daily News and the Times-Union report that the Bronx pol who played a critical role in derailing bridge tolls last spring has proposed, yes, tolling the East River bridges.

Espada's office says that more than $500 million could be raised annually from two-way $2 tolls on the East River bridges, funds that would be used to prevent service cuts and restore discount student fares. His proposal does not include tolls on the Harlem River bridges. According to the Daily News, the State Senate will not include the idea as part of its upcoming state budget proposal, which may be approved as soon as today.

So has Espada given new life to road pricing or is this too little too late? A back-of-the-envelope calculation by road pricing maven Charles Komanoff suggests that the revenue projections are too optimistic by a large margin, but the net gain -- about $240 million, at most -- would seem to fall within the range needed to cover the cost of maintaining service and student fares.

We have a request in with the Senate leadership for comment. The Assembly, where bridge tolls pegged to the subway fare apparently enjoyed majority support last spring, has been characteristically tight-lipped. "At this point Speaker Silver is still in conversation with all members of the Assembly majority," a spokesperson told Streetsblog this morning.

While Espada hasn't exactly endeared himself to other Democrats in Albany, his change of stance may signify the erosion of the bloc that killed bridge tolls last year. Note, however, that the proposed tolls won't affect downtown-bound car commuters from
his district (only about three percent of his constituents, by the way [PDF]). And the Espada/Ruben Diaz, Sr./Carl Kruger alliance had already dissolved with the departure of their disgraced Fare Hike Four colleague Hiram Monserrate.

One thing to keep an eye on is whether any proposal for new MTA revenue also includes an ironclad "lockbox" mechanism to guarantee the money goes to transit. As we've seen, dedicated transit revenue is not, in fact, dedicated exclusively to transit.

Noah Kazis contributed to this post.

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