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HEAD-SCRATCHER OF THE WEEK: Staten Island Pol Attacks ‘Unfair’ Punishment of Bridge Toll Scofflaws

2:45 PM EST on January 31, 2019

The image from a since-deleted Senate Democrats tweet promoting Diane Savino’s incorrect comments.

State Senator Diane Savino chose a weird way of sticking up for drivers this week — wrongly claiming that motorists who skip out on bridge tolls are punished more severely than people who jump a subway turnstile.

The comment at Wednesday'sTransportation Committee hearing in Albany was initially heralded by the Senate Democrats' Twitter account — until someone realized it was so bone-headed that it was deleted.

But here it is in all its beauty: "It is wildly unfair that if you jump the turnstile, you don't have to pay the fare, but if you don't have enough money on your EZ-Pass because you haven't gotten paid yet, you are fined," Savino told MTA officials.

Fact check: The fines are the same: $100. And unlike bridge toll violators, who are billed by mail and can wait up to 30 days to pay the fee, turnstile jumpers often end up in jail by the thousands, according to a 2018 report from the Community Service Society.

Fare evasion is on the public agenda thanks to a report the MTA released late last year attributing part of its operating deficit — about $20 million per month, it claims — to an increase in turnstile-jumping. In delivering the report, agency officials suggested that there was a correlation between the alleged increase in fare evasion and Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance's decision to stop prosecuting it as a criminal offense.

But Vance's decision did not require transit police to stop enforcing fare evasion. It simply brought the penalties in line with skipping a bridge toll. After a dip in civil summonses over the summer, the NYPD has upped its fare enforcement in recent months, officials told board members last month.

Savino's confusion about bridge tolls is part of a larger battle for congestion pricing that Gov. Cuomo can only win if he convinces dozens of recalcitrant lawmakers to get on board — which is definitely not a sure thing, judging from lall the skepticism voiced by pols at Wednesday's heading. Despite her comment, Savino has supported congestion pricing in the form of the Move New York plan, which proposed to toll the four East River Bridges in exchange for toll reductions on the outer-borough bridges, including the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge, which connects Staten Island and Brooklyn.

On Wednesday, she told MTA officials that she preferred the Move New York plan to the one being floated by the governor.

Her office did not respond to Streetsblog's request for comment.

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