WILLOWBROOK — Plans to raise tolls at the Verrazano bridge to $15 brought furious Staten Islanders to meet with the MTA Wednesday.
Residents and local officials sounded off at members of the MTA board, including chairman Joseph Lhota, about plans to raise the cost to cross the bridge from $13 to $15 for non-Staten Island residents.
Sal Procida, a bus driver in Brooklyn for 28 years, called the tolls and fare hikes ridiculous.
“Now it’s $15 to go over water,” he said. “It’s ridiculous. I’m sorry, it’s stupidity.”
Borough President James Molinaro said that he wants the tolls to stay the same rate for everybody, but pleaded with the board to give a break to drivers who have to go over the bridge every day for work.
“He’s the one I want to give relief to,” he said. “Obviously I’d like to give relief to everybody, but i'm a realist.”
Molinaro suggested that after a person uses their E-ZPass to cross the toll a certain amount of times a month, they would get a reduced rate for the duration of the month.
“If you can do that, that would be a great help for the people of Staten Island,” he said.
If the increase passes, the toll for the Verrazano bridge would jump from $9.60 to $10.60 with an E-ZPass and $13.00 to $15.00 without one for non-Staten Island residents.
Staten Islanders would have to pay $6.36 instead of $5.76 for a round-trip with an E-ZPass and $8.52 instead of $7.72 without one.
If passed, fare and toll hikes proposed around the city would generate $277 million a year, the MTA said.
But for Procida, a better way to generate revenue would be to crack down on fare beaters.
“Get the fare beaters, put a cop on the bus,” he said. “You’ll see how much money.”
On his shift before the hearing, Procida said he counted about 30 fare beaters on his bus.
Nearly every Staten Island elected official was in attendance at the meeting at the College of Staten Island, and gave a joint statement read by Councilman James Oddo pleading with the MTA to stop the toll hike.
Oddo said that the borough needed help from the MTA because of the devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy.
“We had a lot of challenges on our hands before Sandy, and what we’re doing tonight is to say to you, respectfully, that we need your help,” Oddo read.
Aside from the bridge, other residents expressed concern about the potential rise of the express bus fare from $5.50 to $6.00.
“I feel bad for them,” said Procida about express bus riders.
He said for the price, they should get better service.
“They should have a seat and have coffee for them,” he said.
Elizabeth Andrie, 61, of South Beach, who rides the express bus to her job at a brokerage in Manhattan, said it's the only option for many Staten Islanders.
“We basically have no other means,” she said.
This meeting is one of several before the full MTA board votes on the proposal on Dec. 19.
If approved, the toll and fare hikes will go into effect on March 1, 2013.