Group Seeks to Resurrect East River Toll Plan but Lower Tolls Citywide

By Alan Neuhauser on June 27, 2013 3:44pm | Updated on June 27, 2013 4:23pm

Slideshow
 Move NY, a joint initiative by Sam Schwartz and Alex Matthiessen, is shopping around a new pricing scheme for the city's bridges and tunnels that would, in turn, fund a host of transit improvements.
Move NY Presents Pricing Plan and Transit Dreams
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NEW YORK — Congestion pricing is back — but just don't use the C-word.

A far-reaching expansion and overhaul of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s failed 2008 plan to reduce traffic by implementing tolls in Midtown — including a bid to start charging on every East River bridge while lowering the rest of the city's bridge and tunnel tolls — was presented to a Community Board 5 committee in Midtown this week.

Traffic guru Sam Schwartz and consultant Alex Matthiessen have founded the Move NY campaign to promote their "Master Plan for the NYC Region’s Transportation System,” a years-long campaign to reduce traffic and expand mass transit by transforming how New York charges its commuters.

The proposal calls for implementing $5.33 tolls on anyone seeking to travel south of 60th Street during peak hours and adds tolls on the four East River bridges to and from Manhattan.

But, in an attempt to curry favor with commuters in the rest of the city, the plan would also reduce toll fares on almost every other bridge and tunnel within the five boroughs, some by as much as $2.50 each way.

“The old plan would’ve been a net increase in the burden on people, while we’re actually reducing the burden on most people," Jonathan Matz, campaign coordinator for Move NY, told CB5 members Monday night.

Matz added that the city should "charge people more where there's more congestion and more options for mass transit…to bring a new level of fairness.”

MTA spokesman Adam Lisberg, contacted by telephone, called the Move NY plan "an interesting idea," but added that the transit agency is "not taking any sides."

CB5 transportation committee members voiced skepticism that Move NY can find enough support from city and state elected officials — as well as from the municipal agencies that would have to coordinate the toll collection — to overcome the political resistance that killed the 2008 plan.

Still, the CB5 committee planned to send a resolution to the full community board that voices support for the plan's goals, if not its specific details.

"We want to send a message that we're not terrified of paying a little more to get better transit," CB5 committee chairman Raju Mann said.

The plan aims to reduce Midtown and Downtown traffic by as much as 20 percent, largely through a so-called "toll-swap." Under the plan, fares would fall to $5.33, $2.83, $2.44 or even $1 in the five boroughs. In exchange, new tolls would be installed in Midtown and on the East River spans that are owned by the city.

The Hudson River crossings, run by the Port Authority, are not part of Move NY's plan.

“High tolls are in the wrong places,” Matz said, adding that the quest for cheaper transit “has resulted in some perverse behavior, what we call bridge shopping or toll shopping,” in which drivers try to beat the tolls by using back roads and clogging up free bridges and tunnels.

Move NY estimated that the MTA would at first lose about $700 million due to the reduced toll rates, but would eventually stand to earn $1.62 billion from the new tolls on 60th Street and the East River bridges.

The proposal also calls for a surcharge on taxi fares and an end to Manhattan's parking-tax rebate, which would net about $260 million, Move NY estimates.

Matz’s presentation was among the first Move NY has made to a community board, marking the next phase of Schwartz and Matthiessen’s campaign as they try to rally support for their proposal. The pair has its sights set on 2014, he said, one year before state lawmakers must approve a new five-year master plan for the MTA.

“We’re looking one to two years ahead, when we think a plan like this could come out of Albany,” Matz said.

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