Add Bronx Assembly Member Jeff Dinowitz to the growing list of legislators boasting of squeezing transit riders at the expense of the driving minority.
Car-friendly Dinowitz announced on Twitter on Wednesday that he finally decided to vote for congestion pricing in exchange for a promise that Bronx residents would get free rides across the Henry Hudson Bridge, which currently costs just $2.80 for EZ-Pass holders. The bridge is operated by the MTA, and tolls on the span indirectly fund subway and bus service.
"People feel this very short bridge had a ridiculously large toll," Dinowitz told the Riverdale Press. "And there are people in Riverdale, in particular, who still remember when it used to cost just 10 cents."
The free bridge access will mostly benefit Riverdale residents, since the other bridges connecting the Bronx and Manhattan are out of the way and already free. The average income in Riverdale/Fieldstone is $107,457, according to Census data, so it is difficult to argue that Riverdale residents deserve a financial break.
Dinowitz and other pols have been proud to say they extracted toll discounts in exchange for their votes for congestion pricing. Dinowitz went so far as to say he got the rebate "as part of the #congestionpricing deal."
There may be no end to the demands for carveouts to save drivers money from congestion pricing. The initial budget deal signed earlier this month included an exemption to Central Business District tolls for Manhattan households earning less than $60,000. Then, last week, Rockaway pols announced that they had secured a $2.84 rebate for all Queens residents driving over the Cross Bay Veterans Memorial Bridge.
Other members of the entitled driving class are waiting in the wings for more handouts that will undermine transit: Police Benevolent Association President Pat Lynch has called for toll carveouts for cops. And on Tuesday, Bay Ridge elected officials launched a push for discounts for Brooklynites who cross the Verrazzano Narrows Bridge more than 10 times each month.
All that money comes directly out of the MTA's coffers — the very coffers congestion pricing aims to fill.
"One dollar taken away somewhere is a dollar that we've got to make up somewhere else by somebody else," said Tri-State Transportation Campaign Executive Nick Sifuentes, a critic of carveouts. "Every time we do this, you're adding to the amount that congestion pricing has to raise."
The 2015 Move New York plan proposed toll reductions on all MTA-owned bridges within the city, including the Henry Hudson. But all of the plan's proposed reductions were squared away to ensure maximum benefits in terms of both revenue and reducing congestion.
"I really think electeds should look back at the well-thought out and well-received Move New York Plan before just carving out deals haphazardly," said Sam Schwartz, the former city transportation official who designed the plan with advocates. "The turkey carvers must realize that for every turkey wing they remove the cost of the remaining meal parts will shoot up."
Toll discounts don't merely rob the MTA of desperately needed funding, they fly in the face of smart transportation planning, which uses tolls to disincentivized driving while also raising money for better transit to even further disincentivize driving.
"Tolls perform two important civic functions: they generate revenue to fund infrastructure maintenance and they discourage driving which causes congestion and pollution," said Ed Janoff, a former DOT staffer who now works with the independent consultancy Street Plans. "Politicians who seek toll discounts are only looking at it from the perspective of the costs to their driving constituents."
Update: After his earlier Tweet, Dinowitz released the following statement:
I understand that there are some transit advocates who may be disappointed with what they perceive as a congestion pricing carveout or a furtherance of incentivizing individual car usage, however I disagree with that characterization. People driving into the CBD will still have to pay the full toll and the best way to get people to stop driving is by making mass transit the clearly superior option. I believe that the commitments I got from the MTA on accessibility and bus service improvements will go a long way towards accomplishing this goal.
Born and raised in Washington, D.C. and Maryland, David fell in love with journalism as a kid accompanying his reporter dad on stories while school was out. A reporter at Streetsblog from 2015 to 2019, David returned as Streetsblog Deputy Editor in 2023 after a three-year stint at the New York Post. A graduate of Montgomery Blair High School and the University of Maryland, he lives in Crown Heights, Brooklyn.