State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said Sunday his plan that includes $2 tolls for motorists on the East River bridges in New York City is the best of bad options for the financially troubled Metropolitan Transit Authority.
“I strongly believe that in this moment of crisis, my plan is the best way to prevent a massive fare hike and devastating service cuts from going into effect,'' Silver, a Manhattan Democrat, said, responding to criticism of bridge tolls by New York City Comptroller William Thompson.
“There are no good options here,'' Silver said. “But I think asking motorists who use the bridges to pay a toll equal to the cost of a subway fare is more viable than asking every single driver in New York City and the MTA region to pay an average of $200 in new registration fees and up to $500 for large family vehicles.''
State Sen. Ruben Diaz, a Bronx Democrat, later urged other lawmakers to oppose the bridge tolls.
“Not only will these tolls disproportionately affect the people of the Bronx, Queens and Brooklyn, but they will hurt New Yorks taxi drivers, merchants, senior citizens, and needy people who live and work in New York City,'' Diaz said. “Low-income families cannot afford these surcharges.''
Gov. David Paterson and the Legislature are negotiating a deal to rescue the debt-ridden MTA, whose transit system carries more than 8.2 million riders on an average weekday. More than 300 million vehicles a year use its bridges and tunnels.
The Senate plans to launch a Web site Monday (www.nymtaideas.org) that will post Paterson's draft legislation and invite public comment.
In response to a proposal by Paterson last week, Silver is pitching $2 rather than $5 tolls on the bridges over the East River and Harlem River.
The powerful Democrat's plan would be a compromise with proposals from a special commission and the MTA. The commission, named for former MTA Chairman Richard Ravitch, was created by the state to address the MTA budget shortfall of $3.4 billion. It recommended adding bridge tolls, a payroll tax and a relatively small fare increase.
The MTA's solution would include cutting service and raising some subway and bus fares by 23 percent or more.