The MTA on Wednesday approved spending $7 million 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 a 50-cent rebate on the bridge toll, which currently costs $6 per crossing, starting in April. The state and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority will equally split the $14 million cost of providing the new toll break.
Board member Allen Cappelli, of Staten Island, said the toll cut would provide needed relief for residents who are "captive" on the island, which lacks subway service connections to other boroughs.
But while supporting the proposal, board member Mitchell Pally 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 dollars], we can find 10," Pally said.
Other board members were even harsher in their criticism of the proposal, including Susan Metzger, who said the MTA was effectively "belittling" most of its customers by spending millions to benefit only Staten Island motorists.
"You do something for one, and everybody else starts to say, 'What about me?'" said board member Ira Greenberg, who represents the LIRR Commuter Council.
Former MTA chairman and Lieutenant Gov. Richard Ravitch also expressed opposition to the move, telling the board before approving the measure that doing so would breach its "fiduciary responsibilities."
MTA chairman Thomas Prendergast acknowledged that the plan was conceived and driven by state lawmakers.
The plan also 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.
"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.