Originally published in the Staten Island Advance

Dozens of Staten Island residents, joined by a handful of local elected officials, braved the storm Monday night and gathered at the Williamson Theatre on the College of Staten Island campus in Willowbrook to voice their opposition to proposed toll increases and changes to the Staten Island Bridges Plan.

The proposal would increase the cash toll on the Bayonne Bridge, Goethals Bridge and Outerbridge Crossing from $15 to $16, while increasing the E-ZPass peak hours toll from $12.50 to $13.75 and the E-ZPass non-peak hours toll from $10.50 to $11.75.

In addition to raising the standard tolls, the proposal would limit the numbers of drivers who qualify for the Staten Island Bridges Plan discount, offering residents a 50 percent discount during peak hours, by increasing the necessary trip threshold from three to 10.

Residents belabored the fact that living on Staten Island has become less and less affordable throughout the years, with the latest proposed toll hike and increased threshold for the Staten Island Bridges Plan serving as another de facto tax on locals by an agency that can’t be held accountable.

“I’m a lifelong Staten Islander. I’m 35 years old. And I have to tell you, every single year it’s getting harder and harder to be a Staten Islander,” said Michael Tannousis.

“I have family in New Jersey, so I’m back and forth to New Jersey and I go three times or more every single month. Now, with what you’re proposing, I will no longer benefit from the toll reduction and it’s unnecessary. I spent eight years as a prosecutor, I prosecuted robbery cases. And ladies and gentleman I’m telling you now, I know highway robbery when I see it,” Tannousis said.

Residents also voiced their discontent with what they believe to be the Port Authority funding projects that don’t benefit the local community.

“The PATH train, which is one of the only commuter rails in the country that has no source of government subsidies, whose paying for it? Staten Island toll payers. The World Trade Center Building, the Freedom Tower, it’s a beautiful building, but who paid for it? Staten Island toll payers… We don’t have to pay for any of that. We should pay what it costs to cross that bridge and not a dime more,” said Howard S. Cohen.

Among additional common complaints were that the increased tolls would limit the ability of senior citizens who live on a fixed income to leave the borough, and that residents, in general, have no other viable options to leave Staten Island outside of the four bridges, allowing the Port Authority to essentially strong-arm residents into paying any proposed toll.