Tuesday, February 14, 2017

For Whom the Bell Tolls...

Thirty-seven years ago I was a college student who worked part-time in a pet food and supplies shop called Pet Nosh. Located in the borough of Queens—in the pleasant enough, leafy neighborhood of Little Neck—my brother and a neighbor co-owned this mom-and-pop. A commute from Kingbridge in the Bronx, where we all called home, to Pet Nosh found us crossing the Throgs Neck Bridge and the East River. What little kid didn't call it the Frogs Neck Bridge? The toll at the bridge was seventy-five cents back then. A sign at the toll plaza importuned drivers to “Save time. Have Exact Change.” Fast-forward to the present and exact change isn’t—in a manner of speaking—so exact anymore. If one doesn’t have an E-ZPass, where the toll price is $5.54, it’s $8.00 to cross the bridge—in both directions. To paraphrase an old politician: $8.00 here and $8.00 there—well—pretty soon you’re talking about real money.

Speaking of tolls and the times we live in: Yesterday, I crossed the Henry Hudson Bridge from Northern Manhattan into the Bronx. Several minutes after traversing the George Washington Bridge and the Hudson River from New Jersey, this is the same bridge that placed us in the close proximity of home sweet home after my family’s many summer vacations along the Jersey Shore and visits with the maternal grandparents in Bangor, Pennsylvania. The Henry Hudson Bridge spans the Harlem River Ship Canal, which connects the Harlem River with the Hudson River. For several decades, its toll was ten cents—a thin dime even in the 1970s when the Throgs Neck Bridge was a whopping seventy-five cents—but those days are long gone.

In fact, there are no toll plazas on the Henry Hudson Bridge anymore. That’s good news for motorists, because the traffic backups—courtesy of the tolls mostly—were considerable during rush hours. Really, the bridge was not designed with today’s traffic volume in mind. It’s not, however, good for all the toll takers who lost their jobs and those who will when all of New York City’s bridges follow suit. This cashless operation is clearly the wave of the future. Either one has an E-ZPass or gets a bill in the mail for the privilege of crossing one of master builder Robert Moses’ bridges.

As far as the Henry Hudson Bridge, which opened in 1936: What was once ten cents now costs $2.54 with an E-ZPass and $5.50 without one. The world has turned upside down. We used to get discounts for paying cash. And, by the way, that ten-cent toll was advertised as temporary, until the bonds to build the bridge were paid off, which they were a long, long time ago. But Robert Moses knew a good thing when he saw it—the cash cows of bridge and tunnel tolls. For whom the bell tolls? It definitely tolls for thee.

(Photo one from the personal collection of Nicholas Nigro)

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