2010-03-05 / Front Page

Enraged Residents Go Up Against MTA

By Nicholas Briano
Rockaway residents constituted nearly half of the 400 protestors in attendance at the MTA public hearing held on Tuesday night in Flushing, in an effort to save the Cross Bay Bridge resident rebate program, which the agency plans to eliminate in their upcoming budget.

Residents feverishly wave handmade signs denouncing the MTA’s proposal to eliminate the Cross Bay Bridge resident rebate program. Photo by Nicholas Briano Residents feverishly wave handmade signs denouncing the MTA’s proposal to eliminate the Cross Bay Bridge resident rebate program. Photo by Nicholas Briano Many Rockaway and Broad Channel residents took advantage of the free bus ride, offered by Democratic District Leader Lew Simon, to the hearing at the Sheraton LaGuardia East. The Cross Bay Bridge resident rebate program provides free access across the bridge for Rockaway and Broad Channel residents. The toll rebate is in jeopardy for the second time in as many years. More than ten years ago Rockaway and Broad Channel residents were granted the privilege to cross the bridge for free as long as they utilize an EZ-Pass device.

A milder Lew Simon with MTA chairman and Rockaway native, Jay Walder, prior to the beginning of Tuesday night’s hearing. A milder Lew Simon with MTA chairman and Rockaway native, Jay Walder, prior to the beginning of Tuesday night’s hearing. “We beg of you to not eliminate the program. This is the only intra-borough toll in the world,” Lew Simon said. “The MTA has failed us too many times. Our A train, forgive my language, really sucks.”

Rockaway and Broad Channel residents could be heard chanting “No more tolls!” before the hearing even started. Dozens of handmade signs were waved in the air as they shouted at the MTA board members continuously throughout the night.

Numerous references were made to the fact that MTA Chairman Jay Walder was brought up in Rockaway and how disappointed the community would be if a Rockaway native decided to eliminate the residents’ toll rebate. Walder’s father, Bernard, was editor of The Wave from 1977 to 1994.

(Above) Rockaway and Broad Channel residents hold up signs protesting the MTA budget cuts. (Above) Rockaway and Broad Channel residents hold up signs protesting the MTA budget cuts. Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer joined the residents in protest, pleading that the MTA not burden and hinder the growth of Rockaway with unjust tolling of its residents.

“I am keenly aware of the fiscal crisis that the MTA is currently facing. The State is committed to working with you, to address the current MTA deficit,” Pheffer said. “However,” she continued, “we are asking that you work with us and understand my community’s plight. My focus tonight is joining my community in voicing our outrage at your proposal to eliminate the Cross Bay Bridge Resident Rebate Program.”

Pheffer said the MTA should just get rid of the toll entirely.

“It is our belief that the revenues generated on the Cross Bay Bridge are close to a break even point,” she said. “The amount the MTA spends collecting the toll is close to the amount of revenue that you take in. That is why the elimination of the toll would be a fiscally sound policy.”

(Below) MTA board members listen to the ongoing testimonies of elected officials and people in attendance. (Below) MTA board members listen to the ongoing testimonies of elected officials and people in attendance. The other changes proposed by MTA include cuts to the student Metrocard program, which has been in place since 1948, as well as ending the W and Z subway lines and two dozen bus routes. The cuts could also result in more than 1,000 layoffs, all in an effort to close a $750 million shortfall.

MTA officials have said in the past that the rebate program for Rockaway and Broad Channel residents costs the MTA $3.6 million yearly. That is less than one-half percent of the $750 million deficit. But if the MTA approves the elimination of the rebate program, residents will have to start paying the discounted EZ Pass rate of $1.13 each way, starting this summer.

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