Shelly’s Toll Plan: Promise Beyond the Headlines

It’s too early to know if Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s answer to the Ravitch Commission MTA bailout plan, which includes $2 tolls on East and Harlem River bridges, will make it through the state legislature. But, despite raising less money and reducing traffic much less than congestion pricing or peak-hour tolling would, the plan is a big advance and would provide a number of benefits beyond raising funds for transit. Streetsblog will look at the implications of the bridge tolls in more detail, but based on public comments and the Ravitch Commission report, here's a quick summary of what's in the offing if the plan passes.

General details:

  • New tolls on East and Harlem River Bridges equaling "a single ride subway fare," ($2 each way.*)
  • Management, possibly ownership, of East and Harlem River Bridges transferred to MTA from NYC DOT
  • Maintenance and operation of East and Harlem River Bridges transferred to MTA from NYC DOT
  • Truck tolls pro-rated on "single subway ride fare" or based on other MTA major crossings:$10 to $20.25 for 18-wheelers
Revenue (estimates only, given unknown truck toll and cost of tolling system):
  • $450 million to MTA operating and capital budget
  • $50-$100 million savings to NYC DOT in annual bridge maintenance and capital costs 
Traffic Reduction:
  • Major reductions in truck traffic on Manhattan Bridge, where trucks now constitute 25 percent of vehicle traffic
  • Major reductions  in overall traffic on Canal Street due to reductions in truck traffic
  • Modest traffic reductions in Long Island City, Downtown Brooklyn, Northern Manhattan, South Bronx

Unknowns:

  • Toll for taxis and for-hire vehicles
  • Toll for government placard holders
  • Toll for vans and smaller commercial vehicles
  • Two direction tolls?* Tolls on the Midtown Tunnel and other "major MTA crossings" are two-way. We assume new bridge tolls will be applied in each direction, so a round trip car commuter will pay $4. 
  • Exact status of management and operational control of East and Harlem River Bridges. To be determined by future agreement between MTA and NYC DOT: including bike/ped paths.

Of course, the State Senate has yet to offer up a plan of its own -- for what it's worth, the Senate has a new web site designed to gather public input on how to overcome the MTA budget shortfall -- and early indications are that some prominent Senate Dems are opposed to tolls altogether. We will know shortly if Malcolm Smith's pledge to consider tolls will result in the Senate passing Silver's modified Ravitch plan.

For more on East River tolls, traffic reductions and who pays, check out these 2003 reports from Charles Komanoff [PDF] and by Bruce Schaller for Transportation Alternatives and Straphangers Campaign [PDF].