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Grand Island residents who own small pickups and vans soon may be able to purchase commuter books at Thruway bridge toll gates, according to County Legislator Charles M. Swanick.

He said the Thruway Authority's executive director, John Shafer, at a recent meeting assured a local delegation:

"If we can find a way to legally make it happen, we will."

The delegation included Swanick, Grand Island Supervisor Laverne C. Luther, Councilman Robert G. Swan and Joseph Lukasiewiz, chairman of a Grand Island citizens committee lobbying for the books.

The delegates spoke for non-commercial truck and van owners who pay the full toll to use the bridges. At the meeting, Thruway officials received copies of a petition and 200 personal letters signed by Island residents.

The commuter booklets would be only for Grand Island residents who drive non-commercial pickup trucks and vans.

Currently, toll-takers at the bridges sell a discount commuter booklet for island residents who drive passenger vehicles.

The drivers of pickups and vans are not eligible to buy the booklets because the state requires such vehicles to have commercial plates.

There also is a booklet for non-Grand Island residents who drive passenger vehicles over the bridges. Owners of vehicles with commercial plates are not eligible to purchase those, either.

Ironically, Canadians who own pickups and vans and use the Island bridges can purchase discount books because their licenses do not specify the vehicles as commercial.

Swanick said this is unfair to Grand Island residents driving pickups and vans.

"They're subsidizing the Canadian traveler who uses a pickup truck or passenger van, while the Grand Islanders are paying full fare or 50 cents, and they don't have any other means of getting off the island," Swanick said.

Swanick said there are an estimated 950 registered vans and pickup trucks on the island.

Since the policy was introduced in 1980, ownership of passenger pickups and vans has greatly increased, Swanick said.

Harold McNeil of the News Tonawanda Bureau contributed to this report.

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