2009-05-08 / Front Page

CBB Rebate Program Saved

By Nicholas Briano

The MTA bailout agreement reached this week by Albany lawmakers means one thing for Rockaway, that the Cross Bay Bridge resident rebate program will be saved, says State Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) had threatened to delete the rebate program, thereby forcing Rockaway and Broad Channel residents to pay for the bridge after more than ten years of using the bridge free of charge.

Although the Cross Bay Bridge resident rebate program, is not specifically mentioned in the bailout legislation, Pheffer told The Wave on Wednesday that the rebate will be retained by a vote of the MTA Board on Monday.

"Through tense negotiations the board is expected to reverse the rebate program," she said. "I am thrilled for the people of Rockaway and Broad Channel."

A representative for Malcolm Smith's office said that all service cuts will be restored under the bailout plan, but he failed to comment specifically on the Cross Bay Bridge.

The threat of revoking the rebate plan began late last year when the MTA unveiled and eventually approved their 2010 budget, which included massive fare hikes and drastic service cuts, as well as more than 1,000 layoffs.

Approved in March and slated to begin July 11, that budget called for an increased toll of $1.31 each way after eliminating the rebate program.

Politicians, community leaders and local residents protested, wrote letters, even tried to claim the toll was a violation of their civil rights, arguing that residents of Broad Channel and Rockaway share schools, hospitals, police precincts, community boards, churches and supermarkets, among other places.

The elimination of residents' free ride would have generated only $3.6 million of the MTA's estimated $1.2 billion budget deficit. The program began more than a decade ago for those same reasons that residents didn't want it taken away.

Local Democratic District Leader Lew Simon, a strong opponent of the toll, says that the next step is to have this toll eliminated for all Queens residents, not just Rockaway and Broad Channel.

"I think this is just wonderful," Simon said. "I am happy to see that when we, as a community, work as a team, we could succeed."

Community Board 14 District Manager Jonathan Gaska was delighted to know that Rockaway is getting its fair share from the MTA bailout.

"It is excellent news and we are certainly grateful to our elected officials because they came through for us," Gaska said. "For once the Rockaways got a fair shake from government."

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