Photo: Move NY Fair Plan

Photo: Move NY Fair Plan

Could a tax on East River bridges ease some of North Brooklyn’s transportation woes? The area’s council members, Antonio Reynoso and Stephen Levin, think so. Today they threw their support behind the Move NY Fair Plan, which aims to combat congestion and generate some of the $15.2 billion funding gap in the MTA’s 2015-2019 Capital Plan.

The MTA is currently carrying a whopping $33.4 billion in debt. According to its executive summary, Move NY Fair Plan proposes to help that situation by raising $1.5 billion in net revenue annually by repricing tolls around Manhattan. The plan — backed by a coalition of regional business associations and transportation advocates, among others — aims to end “bridge shopping” (i.e. drivers exiting highways and congesting surface streets to get away from tolled bridges) by implementing a toll on all East River bridges and tunnels, which are currently free. Under the proposal, which would have to be approved by the legislature, these bridges and the 60th Street crossing would be $8 cash each way, or $5.54 with the E-ZPass. Meanwhile, all other bridges (the Verrazano, Throgs Neck, Whitestone, Triborough, Henry Hudson, and Rockaway) would reduce in price up to 48 percent, ranging from $1.54 to $3.04 each way with the E-ZPass. Bridges over the Harlem River would remain free and the Port Authority crossing would be unaffected.

The executive summary boasts that of the $1.5 billion estimated annual revenue from toll adjustments, $1 billion would be put toward major transit projects. These would include transit improvements, fare subsidies in “transit deserts,” and bicycle and ferry infrastructure. For North Brooklyn, this would mean more Express Bus Service with reduced fares (down to $5.50 from $6.50) and a new Select Bus Service on Utica Avenue and the “Southern Brooklyn East-West corridor.” The majority of the remaining funds would be put toward road and bridge maintenance.

By improving infrastructure and services, advocates of the Plan hope to relieve congestion in Brooklyn, on bridges, and in Manhattan’s Central Business District (the area south of 60th Street). This would not only impact drivers and riders, with an estimated 15 to 20 percent improvement in average speeds, but it would mean that taxi drivers could increase the number of fares they take on per shift. Under the new plan, yellow and green cabs as well as ride sharing services would not be charged tolls at the East River crossings. Instead, a flexible surcharge would be added to all fares south of 96th Street. Livery and black cars would still be subject to tolls.

The Plan boasts that it would generate over 30,000 annually recurring jobs as well as $2.8 billion in additional economic output. However, what is not apparent until digging into the detailed Move NY Fair Plan is that the $15.2 billion funding gap will only be filled if all existing dedicated MTA taxes are preserved or increased.

Nevertheless, it has still attracted wide support from environmental activists and neighborhood alliances, trucking and livery groups, community boards and chambers of commerce, and even the Brooklyn Brewery. For his part, Council Member Reynoso supports Move NY Fair Plan because, as he stated in a press release, “The MTA is currently in a dire state when it comes to funding, and my community desperately needs updates to its public transportation systems, especially with the recent and coming increase in population.”

Council Member Levin agrees. “New Yorkers depend on having a high quality, reliable transportation system,” the release quoted him as saying. “We need to do everything we can to provide needed funding and make improvements.”

The next opportunity for public comment on the Plan will be on Thursday, May 14th at 8:00 pm, at a Town Hall in Jackson Heights, put on by Move NY.