As MTA hunts for money, group touts support for plan to add tolls on East River bridges

As state and transit officials figure out how to pay for fixing and expanding the transportation system, a group says it’s got the plan that will do the job and has the support of New Yorkers.

Move NY, a group pushing a congestion-pricing-style bridge toll plan from transit guru Gridlock Sam Schwartz, wants to raise $1.4 billion a year from new tolls on the city’s four free East River bridges and Manhattan below 60th Street, as well as a surcharge on taxi rides.

In exchange, less-trafficked outerborough bridges that have large cash tolls, like the $15 to enter Staten Island on the Verrazzano Bridge or $7.50 per ride on the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge, would get a substantial cut.

While past ideas for congestion pricing and East River bridge tolls have been politically toxic, Move NY said 45% of voters in the city and the surrounding counties back “balancing” bridge tolls, while support grew to 62% when details of the tolling plan and its benefits were provided, according to a memo for a Global Stategy Group poll done for the group and TransitCenter, a research organization.

“If New Yorkers are presented with a comprehensive, fair plan for improving our city’s roads and bridges and transit system, they’re going to be on board,” said Move NY campaign director Alex Matthiessen.

City and MTA officials have said publicly they are aware of the Move NY plan from Schwartz, a former city transportation commissioner, but have never come out in support. But officials are now talking about the need to find new, consistent streams of revenue, while easing the burden on the riding public that funds about half of the cost to run the entire system — the biggest share in the country compared to other cities’ mass transit systems. Tolls and fares are already set to increase in 2015 and 2017.

“It takes the pressure off the MTA from having to raise those tolls and fares as much as they have in the past,” Matthiessen said.

Drivers could benefit from a cut in traffic spurred by new tolls.

Outerborough resident Joseph Cuzzone, a 45-year-old IT worker, said the proposals sound fair and he’d be willing to pay to drive into Manhattan if traffic is reduced.

“I avoid the Brooklyn Bridge at all costs,” he said. “I don’t care that it’s free.”

Meanwhile, the state and MTA need to find a way to raise $15 billion to fully fund the agency’s $32 billion plan to fix the transit system. On the list of projects are popular initiatives like countdown clocks for lettered lines, a modern signal system that can run more trains and major infrastructure works such as the new leg of the Second Avenue subway and Metro-North access to Penn Station that adds stops in the Bronx.

“We are always glad when people discuss how to best pay for the transit system that is essential to the region’s economy and is an important part of the daily lives of millions of New Yorkers,” MTA spokesman Adam Lisberg said.

Allen Cappelli, an MTA board member who heads the bridges and tunnels committee, called the Move NY plan a “starting point” to see where consensus could be reached on finding new ways to get money.

“The current way we fund the MTA is not sustainable,” he said. “You can’t just keep going back and hitting people over the head each year” with fare and toll increases.

Cappelli, a Staten Islander, said the Move NY plan addresses a”patently unfair” toll system that charges more to cross bridges in the city’s periphery, like the Verrazano, but gives free access to drivers heading into transit-rich Manhattan.

“It recognizes,” he said, “that the outer portions of the city ought to be the least expensive places to get to.”

By the numbers:

Would raise $1.4 billion a year

$880M from adjusting tolls, including $770 million loss from reductions in outerboroughs

$295M from greater use of subway, bus and cheaper bridge tolls

$255M from 14% weekday and 7% weekend and holiday surcharge on certain cab rides with the “taxi zone” south of 96th Street

$10M from killing a Manhattan parking tax rebate?