Tuesday may have been the Twelfth Day of Christmas, but the gifts will keep on coming for New York State Thruway drivers. On Wednesday, Governor Cuomo announced a tax credit plan that would halve tolls for passenger, business and commercial drivers on the Thruway. Average annual savings would amount to $97, $686 and $1,872, respectively.
These tax credits–not deductions, but rather dollar-for-dollar reductions on a driver’s state tax bill–are pricy gifts from New York State taxpayers to Thruway drivers. But between last year’s $1.285 billion state commitment and this year’s additional $700 million state subsidy for Thruway infrastructure, state taxpayers should not be asked to further subsidize Thruway drivers. Here’s why:
Thruway commuters already pay low tolls. Existing Thruway tolls are significantly cheaper compared to what drivers pay on other tolled roadways. What’s more, those commuters already receive a 35 percent subsidy in costs compared to usage.
MTA transit systems serve 10 times the number of Thruway users. MTA transit systems–LIRR, Metro-North and NYC Transit Subway and Bus–collectively provide 2.588 billion rides every year. Meanwhile, roughly 250 million vehicles use the Thruway each year. New Yorkers residing in the MTA service region represent 60 percent of the state population, yet pay billions more in taxes than they get back. If taxpayers are being asked to invest in transportation, then that money would be better used to fund the state’s $8.3 billion commitment to the MTA Capital Plan–the source of which remains unidentified.
Lower tolls undermines GHG reduction targets. Reducing tolls encourages more driving, which leads to increased greenhouse gas emissions. Last fall, Governor Cuomo announced a state commitment to reduce emissions by 80 percent by 2050–and transportation is the largest contributor of New York’s GHG emissions.
Thruway commuters and businesses already benefit from the current toll structure. In Rockland County, drivers who take the Thruway pay 30 to 80 percent less in commuting costs than those who ride transit. And while an 18-wheel truck causes the same amount of damage as 9,600 passenger vehicles, truck toll rates pay just five times the rate a passenger vehicle does on the Thruway.
We have invested so much in driving, and what do we have to show for it? Air pollution, traffic congestion, diseases associated with sedentary lifestyles, cities and towns transformed into automobile-dominated sprawlburbs. The state cannot afford to subsidize drivers’ tolls, especially when taxpayers are asked to foot the bill.