BRIDGING MTA'S GAP
TOLL & COMMUTER-TAX IDEAS
By ALEX SUNDBY
Posted: 4:17 am
September 16, 2008
A blue-ribbon commission studying the MTA's dire finances was urged yesterday to consider everything from the agency "buying" two Brooklyn bridges from the city - and charging tolls - to a new payroll tax on commuters.
Former city Transportation Commissioner Lou Riccio recommended the bridge-buyout in what he dubbed "congestion-pricing lite."
He told the Ravitch Commission that the city should turn over the Manhattan and Williamsburg bridges to the MTA for a token fee so that the transit agency could charge tolls for drivers entering Manhattan over them.
This wouldn't require the state Legislature's approval, as Mayor Bloomberg's now-dormant congestion-pricing plan did, said Riccio, a Columbia professor.
"People are upset over [the prospect of] tolling all four [East River] bridges," Riccio said. "I'm saying only toll two of them."
Andy Darrell, regional director of the Environmental Defense Fund, took the idea further by urging imposing tolls on all four bridges - 24 hours a day - to boost the MTA's coffers.
He said this would raise more revenue than Bloomberg's plan, which would have charged drivers for entering Midtown during certain hours.
City Councilman Louis Fidler (D-Brooklyn) called for the MTA to impose a new regional payroll tax of one-third of 1 percent on residents in nine counties, including the city, Long Island and two in New Jersey, to fund the MTA.
He said it "would generate over a billion dollars in its first year."
"I'm a politician, and 'tax' is a dirty word. But somebody's got to pay for this," Fidler said.
The 13-member commission, headed by former MTA chairman Richard Ravitch, was created by Gov. Paterson in June to recommend ways for the financially strained transit agency to fund its projects and operating costs for the next 10 years.
Kathy Wylde, CEO and president of the Partnership for New York City, said the commission had to consider a wide range of revenue sources, including fare hikes.
"Tax, toll and fare increases must all be on the table," she said.
She also indicated the MTA could rearrange its priorities and put more emphasis on a third track for the Long Island Rail Road than on the long-delayed Second Avenue subway.
The MTA has been warning of a massive deficit next year due to rising fuel costs and other expenses.
Ed Watt, secretary-treasurer of Transit Workers Union Local 100, said one of the options the MTA should consider is raising the petroleum business tax so it benefits from rising gas prices.