Verrazano toll cut for SI residents roils critics, LIRR union chief

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The MTA on Wednesday approved spending $7 million this year to reduce Verrazano-Narrows Bridge tolls for Staten Island residents, a move criticized by some board members and the head of the Long Island Rail Road's largest union, whose calls for a pay raise have been rejected during contract talks.

The measure, urged by the State Legislature, will give Staten Island residents who use E-ZPass a 50-cent rebate on the bridge toll, which currently costs $6, starting in April. The regular E-ZPass toll is $10.66 round-trip for non-Staten Island residents. The state and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority will equally split the $14 million cost for the new toll break.

MTA Board member Allen Cappelli of Staten Island said the toll reduction would provide needed relief for residents who are "captive" on the island, which has a ferry, but no subway service to other boroughs.

But while supporting the proposal, board member Mitchell Pally of Stony Brook said it should have been a part of a larger plan to improve transportation options for all MTA customers, including those on the LIRR still feeling the effects of 2010 service cuts that eliminated some rush-hour trains and weekend service to West Hempstead and Greenport.

"My assumption is, if we can find $7 [million], we can find $10 [million]," Pally said.

Former MTA chairman and former Lt Gov. Richard Ravitch also expressed opposition to the move, telling the board before it approved the measure that doing so would breach its "fiduciary responsibilities."

MTA chairman Thomas Prendergast said that the plan was conceived and driven by state lawmakers.

"They are stakeholders of ours; we are dependent on them," said Prendergast, who defended giving Staten Island residents a break after several toll increases in recent years.

The plan drew criticism from the head of the LIRR's unions, which have been locked in a contentious contract dispute with the MTA. Both sides will meet in Washington, D.C., Thursday for a two-day negotiation session.

Anthony Simon, general chairman of the Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Union, noted that the $7 million expenditure comes as the MTA says it cannot afford raises for LIRR workers.

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"This only goes to prove that the MTA finds money for its politically motivated projects, with a total disregard for the hardworking men and women who work for the LIRR," Simon said.

CORRECTION: Metropolitan Transportation Authority Chairman Thomas Prendergast was talking about his confirmation experience when he spoke of documents being “handed” to him. An earlier version of this story misinterpreted his remarks.

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