The MTA and Our Congressional Representatives Misinformed The Public

As published in the Staten Island Advance

Ask any Staten Islander which government entity is the least trusted and most disliked in our city and the answer will most likely be the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA). Years of inefficiency, poor service, lack of transparency, dirty facilities and regular toll and fare hikes have created both distrust and disdain.

That’s why, when the MTA’s chairman joined a news conference last April, under the Verrazzano Bridge, with Reps. Max Rose, Jerry Nadler and Nydia Velazquez, to inform us that two-way tolling was a good thing for Staten Island, I was skeptical of their bureaucratic double-talk and knew instantly that their claims had to be verified.

In 2018, at the request of then-Congressman Dan Donovan, the MTA conducted a study on the impact switching from one-way to two-way tolling would have on the traffic and revenue of the Verrazzano Bridge. Curiously, the MTA never released the study; suppressing its findings from public review, even though our toll and tax dollars were used to fund it. Much like my 2012 battle with the Port Authority, I was forced to file a Freedom of Information Law request to obtain the study and it soon became abundantly clear why it was never released.

You see, the MTA and our congressional representatives misinformed the public, stating at their April news conference that two-way tolling would improve our commute by reducing congestion as well as the number of trucks that use Staten Island roadways as a conduit between New Jersey and Manhattan.

Shockingly, the MTA’s own report states that more than 4,000 additional vehicles will clog our borough’s roads during the evening commute. Though there may be a reduction in the number of vehicles driving eastbound on the Staten Island Expressway during the morning commute, vehicle speeds are estimated to only change by 0.1 MPH. To claim that would improve the morning commute is laughable, or perhaps just an outright lie.

Reps. Jerry Nadler and Nydia Velazquez aren’t supporting two-way tolling because it benefits Staten Island. They support it because it benefits their constituents in lower Manhattan, who have long complained about the congestion and air pollution caused by traffic exiting the city through the Holland Tunnel and because the MTA study confirms that two-way tolling will alleviate these issues.

The MTA claims it stands to gain an additional $12 million in revenue from the change. But what does Staten Island and Southern Brooklyn get from the windfall? Nothing!

The sad reality is that our congressman has been hoodwinked by the MTA, Rep. Nadler and Rep. Velazquez and it’s all at our expense. Two-way tolling won’t reduce our congestion or increase vehicle speeds and the projected $12 million increase will be gobbled-up by the MTA and will never be used to reduce the sky-high tolls. Over the last few years, the State Budget has included an allocation of $10 million to keep the discounted resident rate frozen at $5.50 so an additional $12 million would go a long way.

Everyday Staten Islanders bear the burden of excessive tolls to cross the Verrazzano Bridge and connect to the rest of the city. Out of our pockets comes a large chunk of the staggering $500 million in revenue that the Verrazzano alone already generates for the MTA annually and which is largely used to subsidize less profitable divisions of the MTA.

Whether commuters pay that toll on the front end of their trip, the back end, or both ways, is irrelevant. The fact of the matter is the MTA has taken advantage of commuters for far too long and now Congress is letting them get away with more!

And from a public relations standpoint; it will be far easier for the MTA to rationalize future toll hikes because $10 (even if it’s being charged both directions) will sound cheaper than $20 one way.

Every one of our congressional representatives since Guy Molinari has pushed back on Rep. Jerry Nadler’s cynical attempts to divert congestion from his district to ours. But, Jerry Nadler took advantage of a political newcomer named Max Rose and used him to sneak the change into the $1.4 trillion spending plan that he knew President Trump would sign to avoid another government shutdown.

Congressman Rose had an opportunity to fight back against the massive bureaucracy of the MTA by insisting that the extra revenue be used to lower the cost to constituents who already suffer under these excessive tolls and heavy traffic every time they venture over the Verrazzano Bridge.

It’s the very least an elected official should be expected to do, and quite frankly, Max Rose blew it.