Lawmakers demand Verrazzano toll discount for Brooklyn drivers

April 16, 2019 Paula Katinas
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State Sen. Andrew Gounardes announced he is introducing legislation to give Brooklyn motorists who frequently travel over the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge the same discount that Staten Islanders enjoy, calling the recently imposed $19 toll “highway robbery.”

Under Gounardes’ proposal, Brooklyn residents who drive over the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge 10 times or more a month will pay $5.50 per trip with E-ZPass, the same rate Staten Islanders pay.

“We have so many people who have to cross that bridge every single day,” Gounardes said at a press conference held in Bay Ridge’s John Paul Jones Park at the foot of the bridge Tuesday morning. Many Brooklyn residents work or go to school on Staten Island and many have relatives who live in that borough, he said.

At $19, the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge is the most expensive crossing in the U.S. The new toll went into effect on March 31. The previous toll was $17.

The bridge operates via a one-way toll system. Drivers pay traveling to Staten Island. Motorists traveling toward Brooklyn drive into the borough for free.

Gounardes, a Democrat who represents Bay Ridge and several other Southwest Brooklyn neighborhoods, is the main sponsor of the legislation.

State Sen. Diane Savino, a Democrat whose district includes neighborhoods on both the Staten Island and Brooklyn sides of the bridge, is the co-sponsor. Assemblymember Mathylde Frontus is sponsoring the bill in the State Assembly.

Gounardes, Savino and Frontus were joined at the press conference by Councilmember Justin Brannan, a Democrat representing Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights and parts of Bensonhurst and Gravesend.

Brannan agreed that Brooklyn residents deserve a discount. “The last time I checked, the bridge has two sides,” he said.

“We’re talking about fairness and equity,” Frontus added.

Under the current system, drivers coming from both boroughs get an E-ZPass discount. With E-ZPass, the rate comes down from $19 to $12.24 for Brooklynites. However, Staten Islanders with E-ZPass pay $5.50 per trip. Those who reside on Staten Island and do not have E-ZPass but use the MTA’s E-Token pay $9.80.

Gounardes’ plan would work like this: Drivers would first have to register for the discount program. Then, on a driver’s 10th trip over the bridge within a month, the discount would kick in and the motorist would receive a credit on their bill. It would work whether drivers use E-ZPass or are billed through license plate cameras.

The proposal is designed to help Brooklynites who frequently travel across the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge to go to work or school on Staten Island, Savino said. “We’re not talking about people who go once a month to the mall.”

Gounardes didn’t offer an estimate on the number of people who stand to benefit from the discount. “It would be open to all Kings County residents,” he said.

Savino is confident that the MTA can absorb the cost. “We’re not bankrupting the system,” she said.

There have been previous attempts to give Brooklyn drivers a break on the tolls, which have failed. In 2018, the State Senate went so far as to pass a bill sponsored by then-senator Marty Golden that would have given Brooklyn residents a discount for making three or more trips. The Assembly did not pass the bill.

Gounardes described his bill as “targeted and focused” on people who use the bridge on a frequent basis.

MTA spokesperson Christopher McKniff said that the agency did not want to comment on pending legislation.

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