Rockaway and Broad Channel residents accustomed to free passage on the Cross Bay Bridge are chafing at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's plans to start charging them for round trips on the span, beginning next month.
"We're getting hit from all sides, and we can use a little help and a little fairness" from the MTA, said Daniel Mundy, 47, a firefighter and Broad Channel resident who uses the bridge every day. "It's going to be a hardship for a lot of people."
The MTA said that beginning next month, locals with E-ZPass will pay a round-trip fare totaling $2.26. Each successive trip will be free of charge. Nonresidents with E-ZPass will pay $1.71 per trip. No official start date has been set, said Kevin Ortiz, an MTA spokesman.
The Cross Bay Bridge rebate program, which was put into effect in 1989, originally charged Rockaway and Broad Channel residents with E-ZPass $1.03 per trip. The fee would be automatically remitted to their accounts.
But the MTA has had the rebate program in its crosshairs since it announced last December that it would have to close an $800 million budget deficit. Scrapping the rebate program would save the MTA $3.5 million per year, said Ortiz.
The move will also create the only intraborough toll in the city, said City Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park).
"How can we justify charging people to travel to and from their own community?" Ulrich asked. "This is not going to solve the MTA's problem."
The loss of the rebate will force Broad Channel residents to pay for "something most people take for granted," like taking their kids to school or visiting the hospital, said Jonathan Gaska, district manager of Community Board 14.
It will also affect the Rockaways beach tourism at an inopportune time during its busy summer season, said Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer (D-Rockaway Beach).
"If you live in the Bronx, you go to the beach for free. But if you live in Queens, you have to pay to go to the beach. That's unfair," said Pheffer.
Mundy agreed about the toll's unfairness.
"Now, for me to attend the community board meetings, to meet with my local police officers, I have to pay the toll," said Mundy.
This is the latest transportation blow for the Rockaways. The money-losing Rockaway Ferry service is set to stop running July 1, barring a last-minute reprieve from the City Council.