NYC teachers in transit deserts fear congestion pricing: ‘City doesn’t care about Staten Island’

webnexttech | NYC teachers in transit deserts fear congestion pricing: 'City doesn't care about Staten Island'
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New York City school teachers who commute from Staten Island and The Bronx to Manhattan are at a crossroads: Pay $2,700 more a year to commute by car, spend hours on public transportation — or change jobs.“The city doesn’t care about Staten Island,” special education teacher Paul Caminiti told The Post.
He is one of five educators (four from Staten Island and one from New Jersey) in the United Federation of Teachers union who, along with Staten Island borough president Vito Fossella, are suing the MTA over its upcoming congestion pricing plan.
The plan, expected to start in May, will charge drivers $15 per day for access below 60th Street in Manhattan, from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m. during the work week.
New Yorkers who live in the congestion zone and make less than $60,000 annually will be allowed to deduct the cost from their taxes under the congestion pricing plan.
However, middle-class folks like Caminiti, who makes just under $80,000 a year, are out of luck.
And that leaves Simthia Ovalle, a special education STEM teacher who works at PS 188 on the Lower East Side, at a real loss.
The single mom-of-two commutes from the South Bronx, and said it takes her around two hours via public transportation, which involves a bus to the subway to another bus.
“I would have to wake up at 4:45 to get ready to make it on time for 8 a.m. when school starts,” Ovalle, 33, told The Post.
Trying to raise her family on a salary of under $80,000 a year proved tough, so she took a second job, working as an early-invention therapist in The Bronx after school.
But needs to drive her Ford Explorer to make it in time.
“If I took the MTA I would get home around 5:30 p.m., and it would be too late to do my other job I need to survive.
Right now, I’m not paying [tolls] to commute – this will effect my life drastically,” Ovalle said.
She stands to pay $2,700 a year in congestion pricing, she added.
Caminiti currently pays around $1,000 a year to commute via the Verrazzano Bridge and will end up spending around $3,700 with congestion pricing (not including any summer-school work he might do in Manhattan).
The 35-year-old, who is single with no kids, said his 14-mile commute from Rosebank to PS 188 on the LES involves three buses and can take up to two hours using public transportation.
“I live right by the Verrazzano Bridge.
But the express buses from me are roughly a mile away [from my house],” he said.
Discounts will be available for drivers who make $50,000 or less and live more than half-mile from a subway, train or bus.
He has to be at the District 75 school by 7:30 a.m.
Last year, he started driving his Fiat to work to save time and money.
“Right now, if I pay $5.50 both ways [the SI resident cost for crossing the Verrazzano Bridge], that’s much cheaper than taking mass transit and about an hour less total to commute,” Caminiti said.
He is now considering taking a job at a school in Brooklyn, which would not be affected by congestion pricing.
“Many essential employees have the added burden of traveling to or from the various ‘transit deserts’ in New York City and have no choice but to pay the toll rather than change behavior,” the group’s law suit claims.
The MTA’s plan is to reduce the number of cars entering the area south of 60th street by 17% (or 153,000 less cars).
An estimated $15 billion would be generated through the plan and earmarked for bus and train upgrades.
A spokesperson for MTA referred The Post to a prior statement from its policy and external relations chief John McCarthy: “This issue has been exhaustively studied in the 4,000-plus page environmental assessment, and will be re-evaluated for the adopted tolling structure before tolling commences.” Special education teacher Carly Bianchini, 30, lives in Richmond County, Staten Island, and has worked at Chelsea Prep, PS 33, for six years.
She stopped relying on the MTA after adding an early morning math-enrichment program to her schedule at the beginning of the 2023-2024 school year, requiring her to be at school at 7 a.m.
Going back to public transportation would involve waking up at 4:30 a.m. to make the 5:30 Staten Island Ferry, then transferring to the Manhattan-bound 1 train.
“It’s exhausting to even think about,” Bianchini, who currently wakes up at 5:30 a.m., told The Post.
“Now the program I’m doing before school is really just paying for my [current] tolls.” Bianchini sometimes carpools with a colleague.
But when she drives in by herself, she spends $94.40 a week on commuting round trip: Taking the Verrazano bridge ($5.50 both ways), and the Hugh L.
Carey Tunnel both ways ($13.38).
Congestion pricing, she said, will raise the cost of her commute to $169.40 per week.
That adds up to an additional cost of $2,700 for the September to June school year.
Bianchini said she makes $79,000 a year, and spends around $2,590 a month on living expenses, including rent, car payments, insurance and food.
The idea of spending more than two hours a day commuting on public transit now has her questioning her future.
“How would I even start a family?
When would I have time with them?” Bianchi, who is single, told The Post.
“If my salary is staying the same, I don’t know how I’m going to make ends meet [driving].
“This is the school I want to stay at.
I don’t want to leave but I’m not making enough to stick with the congestion prices.”

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