The MTA voted 12-1 Wednesday to increase tolls on the nine bridges and tunnels it controls, but the decision incites starkly different sentiments -- relief or disgust -- depending on which way drivers pay them.
The toll hike aims to improve traffic flow by targeting drivers who spend extra time paying cash rather than zipping through EZPass as well as help the MTA offset a seemingly ever-growing budget gap, now at $900 million.
According to the plan, cash prices will jump a dollar at the major crossing to $6.50, a dollar at the Henry Hudson Bridge to $4 and $0.50 cents at the smaller crossings to $3.25.
For most E-Zpass users the increase is only about 5 percent. That means $4.80 at major crossing, $2.20 at the Henry Hudson bridge and $1.80 at the minor crossing.
The Board also approved an experimental plan to eliminate toll collectors (EZPass only) on the Henry Hudson Bridge in 2012.
"In adopting these proposals, it is our intent not to make further cuts in service," said MTA Chief Executive Jay Walder.
The vote comes as straphangers continue to reel from the agency's move to bump up subway and bus fares for the third time in three years. Both the mass transit and toll hikes go into effect December 30.
"Having raised subway, bus and rail fares already, it would have been patently unfair not to hike tolls too," said Board member Andrew Albert.
Still, the planned hike infuriates some driver advocacy groups like AAA, whose members say it's not right to make drivers fund mass transit. But it's not just drivers the MTA is targeting. The agency is also going after commuters' booze, with plans to boost prices at LIRR and Metro-North platforms by a quarter. The MTA expects to raise an additional $400,000 in revenue from the bump in alcohol prices.
MTA Bridges and Tunnels intends to introduce a new card next year that will allow customers to go to hundreds of retail locations in the region and reload their E-ZPass accounts with cash using the same process that prepaid debit card customers use to reload these cards today. This card will be linked to customer’s E-ZPass accounts and will permit customers to refill their accounts with cash through an existing debit card network.
For reference, the "major" Crossings are the Bronx-Whitestone Bridge, Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel, Queens Midtown Tunnel, RFK Bridge, Throgs Neck Bridge and Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. Tolls on the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge are collected in the westbound direction only, so rates are doubled for that direction, hence the $13 toll.