The car lobby in New York State is ramping up its rhetoric this week as driver licensing and registration fees jumped significantly on Tuesday. The hikes, passed earlier this year as part of Albany’s efforts to save the MTA, are significant — 60 percent for licensing fees and 140 percent for registration charges — and motorists aren’t happy.
Newsday’s Alfonso Castillo spoke to a few disgruntled car advocates this week who, in the words of Robert Sinclair of the AAA Auto Club of New York, bemoaned “being made scapegoats for the state’s insolvency.” He continued, “It wouldn’t be so bad if the money were going toward motorist-related issues.”
Of course, Sinclair would never admit it, but the fees are going toward motorist-related issues. The fees are going toward a mass transit system that is vital to the health of New York City. They’re going to a system that keeps the roads clearer than they would be and contributes to a healthy environment for everyone. Those are most decidedly “motorist-related issues.”
Throughout the state, politicians looking to secure votes are speaking out against the fee hikes. Politicians, of course, will always speak out against the fee hikes, but so far, none of them have taken up Gov. David Paterson’s challenge to propose another way to generate this much-needed revenue. Congestion pricing, as always, remains on the table.
Personally, though, I side with the politicians but for different reasons. Unlike Kemp Hannon, a Republican from Garden City, I do not subscribe to the believe that “the use of a car is not a luxury, it’s a necessity.” Plenty of New Yorkers — millions, in fact — do not own cars and lead very successful lives. I do think, however, that licensing fees are at the same time too steep and not steep enough.
In December, when Comptroller William Thompson issued his call for increased fees, I examined his proposal with skeptical eye. He wanted to bump driver licensing fees up from $50 every eight years to $50 every year. For a mandated form of government ID, I thought this charge to be excessive.
In the end, though, the fee hike was far less onerous. Instead of paying $50 for an eight-year renewal, drivers in the region serviced by the MTA have to pay $80.50 for an eight-year renewal. Car registration rises from $44 every two years to $105 every two years. In effect, then, my driver license costs $10.63 a year while I pay $1056 a year to ride the subway (12 Unlimited 30-Day MetroCards at $88 a piece). In that regard, the state is practically giving away driver licenses for next to nothing. Maybe Thompson’s proposal isn’t as burdensome as I thought.
The real solution is, as I mentioned, a congestion fee: Drivers should be charged for the driving they do in areas serviced by mass transit and the social and environmental costs that driving accrues. We shouldn’t pay more for our identification cards just because politicians can’t challenge the vocal car-driving minority.
One day, the MTA will rely on congestion pricing to thrive, and the City will rely on it to become a cleaner and easier-to-navigate metropolis. For now, though, we shouldn’t give AAA spokespeople a pass for their complaints about “motorist related issues.” It just doesn’t ring true.