MTA links buses with tolls - ‘It’s a package,’ head honcho sez

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It’s not exactly the chicken and the egg, but the MTA boss came to Brooklyn last week and answered the borough-wide question: Which comes first -- tolls over the East River bridges or more express bus service to Manhattan?

“It’s a package. In terms of the exact timing it’s possible we might start express buses before tolls are implemented, but it’s a package,” said MTA Executive Director and CEO Elliot Sander.

Sander said it would take the MTA about a year to ramp up bus service, which would include route design and purchasing bus equipment.

Installing toll equipment on the Brooklyn, Manhattan and Williamsburg Bridges would take about 18 months, he said.

Certainly both could be instituted within that time frame and bus service could be sooner, he added.

The issue of more express buses to Manhattan is a major sticking point in parts of the borough where subway service is not as accessible.

This includes such neighborhoods as Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights, Canarsie, Marine Park, Mill basin and Bergen Beach.

Sander, speaking at a Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce morning event at the CUNY New York City College of Technology in Downtown Brooklyn, said the MTA plans to add more express bus service to offset the tolls.

Sander also expressed his support for the recent Ravitch Commission findings to close the MTA’s $1.2 billion operating budget gap and contribute to the agency’s $30 billion 2010-14 capital budget.

Under the plan, motorists would pay $5 to enter Manhattan via the Williamsburg, Manhattan, and Brooklyn Bridges.

The commission estimated that tolling the East River and Harlem River Bridges would generate about $600 million.

Other Ravitch Commission recommendations included raising subway and bus fares 8 percent, and charging employers in the 12 counties within the MTA jurisdiction a new Mobility Tax equal to one-third of one percent of wages ($330 per each $100,000 in payroll).

Sander said that while federal stimulus money would help offset the MTA deficit, it would not be enough to stave off service cuts and fare increases.

These cuts include the proposed elimination of six bus lines and 22 overnight and weekend bus stoppages in the borough.

Sander estimated the MTA could receive upwards of $5 billion in federal aid, but ultimately it is up to the state to find ways to raise more revenue for the agency.

Customer fares cover only about 42 percent of the MTA costs, and Hong Kong and Singapore are the only municipalities that have a mass transit system that pays for itself, said Sander.

“We listen to a lot of people and when we talk of 20-30 percent fare increases and draconian service cuts people get upset, and we hope the electeds in Albany feel that feedback as well,” he added.

Updated 3:32 pm, October 19, 2011
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