Wednesday, September 17, 2008

MTA wants on-duty Bravest and Finest to pay up as irate city cries foul

MTA wants on-duty Bravest and Finest

 to pay up as irate city cries foul

Tuesday, September 16th 2008, 11:57 PM

A budget war has broken out between the city and the MTA over bridge and tunnel tolls. The MTA wants the Police, Fire and other city departments to pay tolls now waived by the authority.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority board is expected to vote this month on a resolution requiring payments for all official-duty travel, including firefighters responding to fires and police responding to calls for assistance.

"It's an underhanded attempt to increase the city's already large subsidy of the MTA by charging the city for responding to emergencies or performing other essential services," mayoral spokesman Marc La Vorgna said.

Both the MTA and city have budget gaps rooted in the economic downturn highlighted again this week by the collapse of major Wall Street firms. The MTA has been hit hard by lower tax revenues and high fuel prices and is proposing another fare hike for next year.

An MTA official declined to comment.

Gene Russianoff of the Straphangers Campaign, a frequent MTA critic who also contends the city has not adequately provided financial support to mass transit, sided with the authority. "The MTA is right," he said. "The authority is hundreds of millions of dollars in the red and can't afford to give free rides to the city on MTA tunnels and bridges."

Transit officials expect to raise $10 million a year by ending the free E-ZPass program with most of that sum coming from the city. The MTA's bridge and tunnel division sent out letters this week alerting city and state agency heads about the board resolution and vote. If adopted, agencies would have to "prefund a revenue E-ZPass account so as to provide for uninterrupted service," the letter states.

Approximately 300,000 trips a month are taken through the MTA's nine bridge and tunnel plazas with approximately 24,000 E-ZPass tags that provide free access, according to MTA records. The NYPD and FDNY have approximately 11,000 free tags.

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