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Bridge Tolls

Mayor’s MTA Board Member Blasts Toll Rebates To One Million Car Commuters

The Henry Hudson Bridge connects Riverdale with Upper Manhattan. Photo: Photo courtesy of MTA Bridges and Tunnels Special Archive

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Veronica Vanterpool is going out swinging.

Vanterpool, one of Mayor de Blasio's departing appointees to the MTA board used her second-to-last board meeting on Monday to blast the decision to give drivers in the Bronx and Queens toll rebates next year before congestion pricing begins.

"I am vehemently opposed to this concept of providing rebates to drivers," Vanterpool said, regarding proposed rebates for Bronx residents who use EZ-Pass on the Henry Hudson Bridge and Queens drivers who use the Cross Bay Bridge. "We are a transit and toll authority, and it is antithetical to us to provide these rebates."

MTA board member Veronica Vanterpool.
MTA board member Veronica Vanterpool.
MTA board member Veronica Vanterpool.

Vanterpool, who is on the way to a new job in Delaware, was blasting a toll rebate program that Bronx Assembly Member Jeffrey Dinowitz and Queens State Senator Joe Addabbo and Assembly Member Stacey Pheffer Amato extracted in exchange for supporting congestion pricing earlier this year. The Bridges and Tunnels Committee, and later on the Finance Committee, were discussing whether to begin the outreach for the rebate program when Vanterpool unleashed her broadside on the idea. The rebate, which may benefit 800,000 drivers, would cost $13.6 million — money for transit that is supposed to come from drivers, but will need to be made up some other way.

"The turkey carvers must realize that for every turkey wing they remove the cost of the remaining meal parts will shoot up,” congestion pricing advocate Sam Schwartz said earlier this year.

Worse, the toll exemption sends the wrong message, namely "that the car constituency continues to have a much louder voice as in this city than our bus riders and subway riders," Vanterpool added.

The toll rebate program is being paid for out of a $50 million pool that comes from the $300 million the state has raised from a $2.75 surcharge on single-occupancy for-hire vehicle trips that begin or end in Manhattan below 96th Street, and the $.75-cent fee on all pooled trips in the same area. That money was believed to have been set aside for transit improvements in the outer boroughs, but political wheeling and dealing diverted the money to benefit drivers instead.

Bronx drivers will save $2.80 exemption on the Henry Hudson Bridge and Queens drivers will get back $1.41 when they use the Cross Bay Bridge. Both groups will still have to pay whatever congestion fee is settled on when tolling begins in 2021 to enter Manhattan's Central Business District.

Not every Queens or Bronx lawmaker sought to tap into the outer-borough transportation fund to benefit car drivers.

Queens Assembly Members Nily Rozic and Ed Braunstein used their share of the taxi surcharge money for public transportation needs like a 20-percent discount on LIRR monthly passes for residents for residents in areas not served by the subways, and $3 million for extra express bus service between Queens and Midtown Manhattan.

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