A cadre of Brooklyn elected officials are calling on the MTA to ensure “equalized tolling” on all crossings into Manhattan under its upcoming congestion pricing plan in the hopes of preventing “bridge shopping” for the cheapest travel.
Sixteen Brooklyn pols repping communities on the East River sent a letter last week making the call to the Traffic Mobility Review Board (TMRB), the six-member internal MTA group that will determine the complex array of rules governing the tolling scheme for entering Manhattan south of 60th Street.
The board is set to meet for the first time on Wednesday, and congestion pricing is scheduled to be implemented by the middle of next year.
Crossings into Manhattan are controlled by a bevy of separate agencies, such as the MTA, the Port Authority, and the New York City Department of Transportation (DOT), and some are already tolled while others are free to cross.
Taking the MTA-controlled Hugh L. Carey Tunnel from Brooklyn to Manhattan, for instance, currently costs $6.55 with E-Z Pass and $10.17 by mail — rates set to be hiked later this year — but the DOT-controlled Brooklyn Bridge nearby is free to cross in an automobile. The pols worry that if the levies aren’t equalized in some manner, drivers could disproportionately choose to take the cheaper Brooklyn Bridge.
“We write to express our strong support for equalized tolling to ensure that we are equitably distributing drivers across the various passages into Manhattan,” the elected officials wrote. “No one community should disproportionately bear the burden of the cars and trucks passing through their neighborhood.”
The letter was signed by Brooklyn Borough President Antonio Reynoso; Congress Members Dan Goldman and Nydia Velázquez; State Senators Kristen Gonzalez, Andrew Gounardes, and Julia Salazar; Assemblymembers Jo Anne Simon, Robert Carroll, Phara Souffrant Forrest, Emily Gallagher, and Marcela Mitaynes; and Council Members Lincoln Restler, Shahana Hanif, Alexa Avilés, Jennifer Gutiérrez, and Crystal Hudson.
The electeds suggest creating a “system of credits that will provide cost equalization between NYC DOT bridges and MTA tunnel crossings between Brooklyn and Manhattan, such that drivers are equally incentivized to use any crossing into Manhattan.”
Equalization is particularly important on the Brooklyn waterfront, they say, to prevent excess travel along the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, especially the crumbling triple cantilever section in Brooklyn Heights, to reach the Brooklyn Bridge. Leaving the issue unaddressed would be “disastrous” for communities in the BQE corridor, they say.
The MTA declined to comment.
Much work remains to be done by the TMRB, which will set finalized toll rates, exemptions, and rules for the nation’s first congestion pricing program. The federal government granted final approval to the plan last month, which kicks off a countdown clock to finalize policies and install tolling infrastructure.
The tolls will range anywhere from $9-23 for cars, motorcycles, and commercial vans; $12-65 for small trucks; and $12-82 for large trucks.
The agency has received over 100 formal requests for exemptions to the tolls, which will be fleshed out in front of the TMRB this summer.
Those seeking exemptions include drivers of yellow cabs and for-hire vehicles, who already pay surcharges to cross into Manhattan. The MTA committed to capping cab and for-hire vehicle tolls at once per day as a condition of receiving the thumbs up from the feds.
That, however, has led to another problem: Lyft says that since many drivers work for multiple apps, the company cannot know whether a driver crossing into Manhattan had already crossed earlier for Uber, or vice versa, and says for that reason, the fee would fall on the drivers.
Cabbies rallied outside MTA Headquarters on Tuesday demanding that the industry’s drivers, many of them immigrants in tight financial circumstances, be fully exempted from congestion pricing.
Correction: this story has been updated to reflect that trucks cannot use the Brooklyn Bridge.