Southern Queens residents were happy in April 2019 when it was announced that all in the borough would be able to use the Cross Bay Veterans Memorial Bridge from Broad Channel to the Rockaway Peninsula for free starting in spring 2020.
But the move has been delayed because of the coronavirus crisis.
The toll rebate program, created by the state Legislature, relies on funding from the Outer Borough Transportation Account, which receives money from the surcharge on for-hire vehicle trips below 96th Street in Manhattan, the MTA said.
“Due to the current health crisis, there has been a drastic decline in all vehicle trips, including FHV trips,” MTA spokesperson Meredith Daniels said in an email. “Therefore, a decision has been made in consultation with the State Legislature to postpone the program until normal trip levels resume.”
The toll is $4.75, or $2.29 for drivers with an E-ZPass.
State Sen. Joe Addabbo Jr. (D-Howard Beach) said a “silver lining” is that the program’s rebate elimination is not permanent.
He hopes the toll plan can be salvaged this summer or at least by the end of the year.
“It has a negative economic effect on the peninsula but we’ve had this toll for so long, temporarily to still have it” is not a change for residents, Addabbo said.
Residents of the Rockaways are able to cross for free, if they register with the state to get their tolls reimbursed. For years, residents there and elsewhere protested the toll, which has long been seen as a deterrent to economic development and tourism.
The lawmaker said most of the constituents he spoke to about the toll understand the decision amidst the news that MTA ridership has seen a severe decrease during the pandemic.
But one woman, Patricia in South Ozone Park, told the Chronicle, “They aren’t making money but a lot of people in Queens aren’t working.”
Patricia, who likes taking a walk on the boardwalk in the summer, asked, “Why should they have to pay for a bridge that they should have never had to pay for in the first place?”
Assemblywoman Stacey Pheffer Amato (D-Rockaway Beach) said that disappointment is an understatement to describe the situation but acknowledged, “When you’re not getting 90 percent of your revenue how do you allow anything to go?”
In a joint statement, Addabbo and Pheffer Amato noted that with the MTA closing subway service from 1 to 5 a.m. for overnight cleaning operations for the foreseeable future, the agency will be taking in even less money.
Pheffer Amato said there will be a quarterly check-in from the MTA to review the feasibility of the toll situation.
“I grew up with this issue,” she told the Chronicle. “But it’s not killed. It’s not dead. When the funding turns around and we can change it, then it will be funded.”