2008-11-28 / Editorial/Opinion

MTA Needs A Dose Of Geography And Politics

The Veterans Memorial Cross Bay Bridge has the distinction of being the only span in the city connecting two communities in the same zip code that also has a toll. Residents of Broad Channel have to use the bridge on a regular basis to get to their children's schools, to speak with police officials and to get to a supermarket. Rockaway residents use the bridge as an outlet to the rest of Queens. Unless you have an amphibious car or are willing to travel 25 minutes to make the trip through Nassau County, you must use a bridge to get to Brooklyn or to mainland Queens. The Cross Bay Bridge is vital to the residents of Rockaway and Broad Channel. That fact was recognized by then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani and his administration when they started a rebate program that would allow those residents to use the inter-county bridge free of charge by using an E-Z Pass device. That happened in 1997, and the program has been running successfully ever since, at least from the point of view of those who must use the bridge many times each day to pick up their kids and run errands. Now, however, the MTA, in an attempt to balance its budget on the backs of the people who use its services, will soon vote to end the rebate program and restore the tolls charged to those who live in Rockaway and Broad Channel. More than ten years ago, it took a mixture of overt action, such as community protests and marches, with a lot of behind closed doors political maneuvering to get the rebate program in the first place. Times have not changed that much since 1997. Rockaway and Broad Channel remain isolated communities that should not pay a monetary price to access each other and the bridge remains a vital link between Rockaway and the rest of Queens. Perhaps it is time to look at means of cutting the MTA budget and raising revenue other than by hitting hard those who use the services the agency provides. Perhaps it is time to get rid of the top-heavy management structure that costs taxpayers billions of dollars and provides mediocre service at best. Perhaps it is time to get rid of all the political hacks, who sit on MTA committees and draw large stipends for their ten days of service each year. Let's do that first, before we start further isolating communities by increasing fares and tolls. Meanwhile, we must bring the same mix of activism and back-room politics to the present situation. Since the governor controls the MTA board, both State Senator Malcolm Smith and Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer must begin working behind the scenes to build state interest in Rockaway's plight. Then, local civic groups and activists must once again take to the streets to show Albany that we are serious. We must also pack the coming MTA hearing to show that we all stand behind retaining our toll rebate program.

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