2008-12-31 / Editorials

Weight-Based Fee Is Better Than Bridge Tolls

BY CITY COMPTROLLER WILLIAM C. THOMPSON JR.

The importance of finding a solution to the region's transit budget shortfall took on new urgency yesterday as the MTA approved a 23 percent fare hike and massive service cuts. While the Ravitch Commission rightly tapped drivers to contribute to an alternative fix that will be the focus of new attention, their idea for new tolls on East River and Harlem River bridge crossings would unfairly burden the working people of Brooklyn, Queens, The Bronx and Staten Island.

I have suggested a different approach that also calls on drivers to support transit, but without disproportionately impacting New Yorkers already feeling a tightening squeeze on their pocketbooks. My proposal assesses drivers across the MTA region an additional weight-based fee of $100 for vehicles weighing 2,300 pounds or less, plus 9 cents for every pound over 2,300 pounds.

This plan is, by far, more equitable than bridge tolls. A business delivering products from Williamsburg to Manhattan grocery stores could pay an extra $1,200 a year under the toll plan, while many other drivers across the region wouldn't pay a penny, even though they, too, benefit from transit because of reduced traffic on the roads. By contrast, under my weight-based proposal, drivers of cargo vans typically used by small businesses would pay only $400 extra each year.

My office estimates that my plan could generate annual revenue of about $1 billion, while encouraging the use of smaller, more fuel-efficient vehicles. When combined with a reinstated commuter tax, my plan could generate almost $2 billion annually for our transit needs. That does not even include the $1.5 billion that the Commission expects to raise with a payroll "Mobility Tax" of 1/3 of a percent in the MTA area. While I am generally supportive, I believe we should look for ways to exempt the smallest companies from this Mobility Tax. Especially in this time of economic distress, we must help local entrepreneurs grow and expand, including the many Latino and other minority businesses that are the backbone of job creation throughout the boroughs.

As the state legislature looks to the Ravitch Commission's recommendations to avoid the MTA's doomsday cuts, I hope it will keep in mind that my proposal is not only fairer, but also more efficient. The bridge-toll plan would also cost $400 million to construct and administer, while my plan has no extra or hidden costs: no infrastructure to build, no billing system to create, no need to chase down drivers. It is important that we find ways to support our mass transit system that share the burden equally among all those who benefit - my plan reaches that goal.

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