Fate of NYC public transportation could be decided today

By · Published in 2007

Five hundred million dollars. Roll that number around your head. This whole thing, this weekend of congestion pricing battles, it’s really all about the $500 million, and today, we will find out the future of that large sum the federal government is dangling in front of New York City.

For the last week, I’ve been silent on the issue of the congestion fee, but over the last few months, I’ve been an outspoken advocate of the congestion fee plan. Any plan that reduces traffic in New York City while finding money for our cash-strapped public transportation system will get my blessing.

Now, things are coming to a head. The federal government has seemingly set a July 16th deadline for New York to pass the congestion pricing fee if the city is to be awarded a $500-million grant to implement this groundbreaking plan. Furthermore, Mayor Bloomberg’s political future is seemingly entwined with the success or failure of the plan. His Independent star will rise with a victory and fall with a defeat.

It’s been, in other words, a very active weekend on the congestion fee plan. So let’s see where this plan — one that would benefit all New Yorkers, drivers and non-drivers alike — stands as we enter the 11th Hour in Albany.

On Sunday, Bloomberg spent the day campaigning around New York City in favor of his plan. Michael Wilson of The New York Times has more:

With the possibility of missing a deadline today to qualify for $500 million from the federal government, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg hurried to church pulpits in three boroughs yesterday to stump for his congestion pricing plan.

The proposal, which would charge drivers a fee to enter or exit Manhattan below 86th Street, requires state approval, but the Assembly has not shown any inclination to pass it. Since legislators outside the congestion zone could be the mayor’s biggest obstacle, he spoke in Brooklyn, Queens and Harlem yesterday morning about the health benefits that he said the plan would bring and the money the fees would generate for bus and train service.

“We’ve got to get some cars and trucks off our streets, and we’ve got to generate money for mass transit,” he said at the Christian Cultural Center in Canarsie, Brooklyn.

During a final day of campaigning, Bloomberg painted the future of mass transit in New York City in fairly bleak terms, The New York Sun reported. The Second Ave. subway and the Lower Manhattan-JFK Raillink would both fall short of expections, he predicted, and worse still, a financially-strained system unable to meet the expectations of commuters in the city would drive businesses away.

As we head into Monday, though, Bloomberg’s predictions are closer to reality than his congestion plan. While the State Senate is expected to pass the congestion fee plan, the legislation would have to clear the New York State Assembly too. And Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver doesn’t plan on setting foot in Albany today. The Senate may pass a bill that would set up a commission to study congestion pricing in New York City, and some feel this would be a big enough step to guarantee the $500 million carrot the feds are dangling in front of the City.

Bloomberg, meanwhile, has been pushing for the Assembly to act, but the Assembly members feel that the July 16 deadline is probably flexible. It sounds like only time will tell if the city still reaps the rewards from the government, but we could take solace in the fact that US DOT has said they would consider New York’s proposal beyond today’s deadline. Welcome to the wonderful world of Federal/State/City bureaucratic politics.

In other congestion fee-related news, Paul Steely White, the head of Transportation Alternatives, penned an excellent piece last week in The Villager about the future without congestion pricing. In it, he talks about $3 subway rides and $114 30-day Unlimited Metrocards. Streetblogs went in depth on a largely unreported aspect of the congestion fee plan: the proposed expansion of express bus service. In reading the two articles as well as Friday’s post here about the potential arrival of bus rapid transit service, it becomes quite clear why New York needs the money from the federal government and the income from the congestion fee.

This city, New York, was built on its public transportation. The population and settlement in the five boroughs exploded as the subway lines snaked through largely unpopulated farmlands and marshlands. Now, the city is bursting at its seams, and we haven’t seen a real expansion of the public transportation network since the early 1930s. This city needs the congestion fee to survive and thrive. It needs the congestion fee money to implement important mass transit plans like bus rapid transit lines.

New York is not a new city. We can’t go back in time and build dedicated bus lines and more subway lines when the price tag was much lower. New York is, however, a city that should be expanded its public transit system, and this congestion fee right now is the way to do. So let’s hope Albany comes through for us. If they don’t, we could be nearing another downturn in the cycle of the city’s public transportation network and the city itself.

Categories : Congestion Fee

9 Responses to “Fate of NYC public transportation could be decided today”

  1. Gary says:

    In all fairness, I think the Senate and Assembly were placed in a tight spot on this. I am 100% in favor of CP; the devil, however, is in the details.

    Bloomberg waited until the last minute to put an actual bill before the legislature, and has been using this $500MM as a cudgel to get it pounded through without much negotiation.

    I think the Senate is on the right track. CP is definitely the way to go, but is Bloomberg’s plan perfect? The legislature has a role to play in this as well. I’ve talked to several officials in both houses, and it brings me back to what I view as Bloomberg’s authoritarian streak.

    One example: I don’t thing the net increase on the Hudon River commuters (+$2) will be enough to change anyone’s behavior.

    Ultimately, we absolutely need CP and a designated stream of additional transit funding; I’d like to see some assurance that the City and State aren’t going to cut their funding for transit once this is in place.

    Rant over!

  2. Gary says:

    Not quite over yet:
    Recall that NYC had a $4.4 Billion budget surplus. Bloomberg saw fit to kick $200 million of that to transit.

    I think Bloomberg is rather cynically manipulating a lot of us with spectres of $3 fares (announced as a possibility after CP proposed), failure to complete SAS, the end of the world as we know it if CP isn’t passed immediately . . . and conveniently, if not passed RIGHT NOW we’ll lose $500MM.

    Anyway, as I say, I like CP but I thinks Bloomberg’s threats and tactics are BS.

  3. Benjamin says:

    Congestion Pricing is advertised as a panacea. It is though, at best, a very small first step in improvement of mass transit that is long overdue. With several subway lines already saturated, with the 2nd Avenue subway a long way off, what makes people think that a few cars and trucks off the roads and a few hundred million dollars extra in tolls each year is going to amount to any meaningful improvement in mass transit (and therefore any meaningful improvement to the air quality)? When London implemented its own congestion pricing scheme, it put the increased mass transit into place BEFORE it launched the congestion pricing. Here we want to do it backwards.

  4. danberkman says:


    Um. Actually no. The mayor wants to use the money from the Federal treasurey to improve transit BEFORE congestion pricing is implimented. Those words have actually come out of his mouth on several occasions. Also, By your argument, we shouldn’t do anything because the gains won’t initially be that big. Sounds like a great plan, do nothing until we can do the perfect no muss no fuss thing. You can wait till congestion pricing comes with a free pony, but for now, I’m on board.

  5. Marc Shepherd says:

    I agree that it would have been far better to add mass transit capacity first. Unfortunately, New York missed that opportunity long ago. The need for the Second Avenue Subway was recognized before the Great Depression, and we still don’t have it. Not only that, the full line isn’t even funded yet.

    There’s no chance that the legislature will fund this kind of infrastructure out of general tax revenues, and the MTA is already far too indebted to go into hock any more than they already are. So either congestion pricing is needed as a revenue source, or these large projects simply won’t get built.

  6. iheartmanhattan says:

    I agree, why should we pay for their convinces


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