Queens Rebate Goes into Effect for Cross Bay Bridge

 Queens Rebate Goes into Effect for Cross Bay Bridge

By Katie McFadden

Queens residents can now get a free, or rather, rebated ride over the Cross Bay Bridge. The Queens Resident Toll Rebate Program officially went into effect on Saturday, February 2, and ahead of that announcement, some of the officials that made it happen, met in view of the bridge to celebrate the news.

All residents with an E-ZPass registered to a Queens address are now eligible to be a part of the rebate program that effectively makes a trip to and from the peninsula free to the driver. For several years, a rebate program has been in effect for Rockaway and Broad Channel residents, but now all residents of the borough can qualify. Over the past month, the MTA notified eligible E-ZPass customers of the program. Those who believe they may qualify and have not received notice can contact E-ZPass or their local state elected official for assistance.

Ahead of the program officially going into effect, Assemblywoman Stacey Pheffer Amato, Senator Joseph Addabbo and Senator Roxanne Persaud, who oversee parts of Howard Beach, as well as Lisa George of Senator James Sanders’ office joined together on the back deck of Bungalow Bar on a chilly Friday to celebrate the accomplishment and speak about the details.

For Assemblywoman Pheffer Amato, getting rid of the unfair interborough toll was a goal of hers since she was first elected. But it was also a goal that dates back to when her own mother, Audrey Pheffer served as Assemblywoman, and beyond. “The history of this bridge is that there’s always been a toll. It started at 10 cents. It was reasonable. It used to be for all people and when the toll started going up, we in the Rockaways started the fight that the toll was not fair because it goes from Queens to Queens,” Pheffer Amato said. “It is the only interborough bridge toll throughout New York state. It is the same zip code.

“Years later we fought and got a Rockaway rebate, which covered many of the zip codes on the Rockaway peninsula but that was unfair, as I have constituents on the other side in Howard Beach that work or have kids that go to school here, and how do you pay that when it’s less than three miles away? It’s unfair. It was always claimed to be for the maintenance of the bridge. It’s fine, it looks good. It was a money grab, let’s call it what it was, and it’s continued. We’re proud to say tomorrow starts a program that we of both houses, in the senate and the assembly, fought for funding a mechanism to fund this rebate.”

Senator Addabbo also spoke of the longevity of the Cross Bay toll fight, saying that when he worked as a toll collector about 30 to 40 years ago, people were complaining when the toll reached 90 cents. Today that toll is $5.60 for those without E-ZPass and $2.60 for most with E-ZPass, except now those who are part of the rebate program. “They were right then and that was 30 to 40 years ago, and this is a fight that ends tomorrow,” he said before thanking his fellow state legislators for being a part of that fight, before mentioning some other key players, including one who never got to see the toll become rebated for all Queens residents—the late Lew Simon. “When I think of this bridge, I think of Lew Simon, getting arrested, chaining himself to this bridge,” Addabbo said, as he pulled out a photo from 2008 showing some folks at a protest over the toll, including Simon, Audrey Pheffer, then borough president Helen Marshall and Community Board 14 chairperson Dolores Orr. He also mentioned the Tubridy family playing a big role, the owners of the restaurant where they stood to announce the rebate.

“So many have been advocating for this. We talk about those who pay, professionals, teachers, firefighters and everyone else has to pay, but those parents, like me—my daughter goes to Scholars’ and my wife and I were talking about this, we’re going to save about $140 on the average a month. So for those parents, those professionals everyone that wants to enjoy the great beaches of Rockaway, the great restaurants and anything Rockaway has to offer, rightfully so they get to do it and get reimbursed, come Saturday.”

Crunching the numbers even further, Pheffer Amato announced that people like Addabbo, who cross the bridge four times a day for the 180-day school year, will save at least $1,872 a year due to the rebate.

But while celebrating the news, the officials acknowledged that there is more work to be done, as the rebate is not a guarantee year after year, and the overall goal is to eliminate the toll completely. Pheffer Amato said, “Everyone has to have an E-ZPass for this. This is a rebate program, so you are charged and then you are credited back. It’s a program that is put in place. That’s why our fight’s not over because one day this toll should be eliminated. There shouldn’t be a toll.” Addabbo added, “This reimbursement could very easily be in jeopardy should there be a recession, a pandemic, some other fiscal issue that comes up, and we will be ready. That is our job. We will always be ready to make sure that the reimbursement for Broad Channel and Rockaway residents and now all Queens residents, is forever, because it is the right thing to do.”

Senator Persaud reiterated her colleague’s comments and the long battle saying, “This shows when a community comes together and you continue to fight, what can occur. So we will continue to fight and make sure this is fully funded and to ensure the money is available so we will not have to fight for every year.”

Lisa George of Senator Sanders’ office said, “This is a victory for Rockaway. We never understood why this toll existed but it’s good to know we can finally get some relief from it.” She also reiterated her appreciation for her late friend Lew Simon’s role in making it possible.

Pheffer Amato said the Cross Bay Bridge rebate program is one of many travel improvement initiatives she and her colleagues have been accomplishing recently. “We have the longest commutes and we’ve been fighting on many levels to get transportation needs fulfilled. The LIRR City Ticket, accessibility on Beach 67th Steet—we’ve made our voices heard on this peninsula about what we deserve. And we deserve everyone coming here to our beaches,” Pheffer Amato said.

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