Whether you live on Staten Island or in South Brooklyn, we all agree: Our commuting nightmare needs to end. No matter if you take the bus, ferry, subway or drive, we spend more time getting to and from work than we do at home with our families. What’s worse, the costs of commuting just keeps rising, while the quality of service keeps hitting new lows.
If we take a clear-eyed look at our transportation system, there’s work to be done. All levels of government need to make critical investments in our infrastructure to give Staten Islanders and South Brooklynites real and reliable transportation options.
If the city or state want to get cars off the road, great. Many Staten Islanders would love to get out of their cars and onto mass transit if it was a realistic option. But, the fact of the matter is that for too many it isn’t — not by a long shot.
Right now, elected officials across the city and state are proposing a variety of ways to solve our problems and I applaud them for their willingness to propose new ideas. But, frankly, most of the ideas we’re hearing seem more concerned with punishing drivers who have no other option but using their cars than truly addressing the transportation crisis in New York City.
Our bus service is unreliable at best, with six of New York City’s top 10 least-served neighborhoods being here on Staten Island. Hardworking women and men can’t afford to show up late to work, so it’s no surprise so many prefer to drive, rather than wait for a bus that may never arrive.
Our city undoubtedly has a congestion problem. But Congestion Pricing isn’t going to deter Staten Islanders and South Brooklynites who lack any other way to get to work. Without alternative options, Congestion Pricing is just a tax on the outer-boroughs who are underserved by the very system that is raising prices on us.
That’s why I’m working with Borough President Oddo to ensure Islanders aren’t hit with a Congestion Pricing Double Tax. Revenue from congestion pricing must be used to improve public transportation on Staten Island and South Brooklyn, not just Manhattan.
Congestion in our city is also exacerbated by outdated federal mandates like one-way tolling on the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge. Out-of-state trucks and cars clog up our roads and bridges in an effort to use Staten Island as their toll-free shortcut.
Maintaining the Staten Island resident discount is essential to ensuring Staten Islanders are able to connect to the rest of the city. And I support expanding that discount to Brooklynites who commute into Staten Island for work or to visit family. Repealing the federal mandate on one-way tolling and splitting the toll to $9.50 in each direction for non-residents would drastically cut down on congestion and improve our daily rush-hour madness.
It’s also estimated that splitting the Verrazzano toll would bring in millions of dollars in additional revenue by cutting down on toll evaders. Sounds like a win-win: Less congestion, more revenue. But I’ll be damned if that money isn’t used to bring more buses and transit options to Staten Island and South Brooklyn, so that we’ll finally have credible options between public transit and driving.
But this is only the beginning, and by no means is there a silver bullet to solving our transportation crisis. That’s why I’ve called for significant investments with Assemblyman Michael Cusick to expand our expressways and local bus networks. And I’ve pushed for changes that will improve service on the R-Train with local officials like Councilman Brannan, Senator Gounardes, and Assemblywoman Frontus. We need to think outside the box to develop ways to improve our district’s connectivity to transit hubs in other boroughs.
We also must invest in long-term infrastructure projects that will bring good-paying jobs and improve commute times. The North Shore Bus Rapid Transit and West Shore Light Rail projects will halve commute times for tens of thousands of Staten Islanders. Improvements to the Staten Island Railroad can help connect families in Tottenville to the rest of the city.
An anti-car agenda will not solve our transportation crisis, and I’m tired of people blaming us for New York City traffic. It’s time we take real steps to wake up from our “commuting nightmare” and recognize that the path forward demands credible, committed leaders who will fight like hell for the people we serve.
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