2006-04-14 / Community

Lawsuit Challenges 'Locals Only' Bridge Discounts

By Brian Magoolaghan

The man who led a 25-year battle to eliminate the toll on the Cross Bay Veterans Memorial Bridge says the people who are challenging "locals only" bridge discounts in Federal court are actually comrades in a war against tolls everywhere.

"I don't consider these guys the enemy," toll fighter Dan Tubridy told The Wave this week. "I wish them luck in eliminating tolls in the whole country," he said, exaggerating the scope of the lawsuit but not completely dismissing the issue.

Tubridy is referring to Riva Janes and Bruce Schwartz, two private citizens, and their attorneys, who in late February filed a civil rights class action suit that says "discriminatory" discounts enjoyed by certain residents are unconstitutional.

Schwartz, a Queens resident, is sick of paying to travel the Cross Bay Veterans Memorial and Marine Parkway-Gil Hodges Memorial Bridges while Rockaway and Broad Channel residents with E-ZPass pay nothing under for the Cross Bay and a discounted rate for the Marine Parkway, the suit says.

Janes, a New Jersey resident, has a similar beef with the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge.

Janes and Schwartz allege unjust enrichment and seek restitution from the defendants: The Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority and its president, Michael C. Ascher and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and its chairman, Peter S. Kalikow.

Locks Law Firm Attorney Andrew P. Bell, who along with the Law Office of Harley Schnall is representing the plaintiffs, declined to comment further to The Wave but earlier told The New York Post that his clients are fighting for equal treatment for all.

"All tolls are discriminatory," said Tubridy. "It's an unfair tax on all drivers.The toll has been an impediment to the development of this community and still is.

"The enemy is the MTA," Tubridy continued. And for a long time it was.

Sitting at the bar in his well-known Rockaway bayfront restaurant with views dominated by the bridge, Pier 92, Tubridy recalled a fight that started in the late 1960s and for the most part ended during the Giuliani administration, when the rebate program started.

Rockaway and Broad Channel's stars were aligned, politically speaking, and a way around the toll came into focus.

It turned out that, "All those years they said they could do nothing - they could do something," said Tubridy before making a sobering observation: It was "the stroke of a pen" that gave locals a break on the bridge but, said Tubridy, "the stroke of the pen can take it away."

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