The return of the son of the return of congestion pricingBy
For many transportation advocates in the New York City area, congestion pricing is that idea that just won’t go away. When the city launched a failed bid for such a pricing scheme three years ago, a slim majority of New Yorkers supported such a plan — and even more did so when revenues were guaranteed to be invested in public transit — but the plan died a political death. Since then, it has hovered on the periphery of politics, not quite receding but never coming back.
Today, the Daily News checks in on the status of the congestion pricing fight and finds that things are in a holding pattern. The same small group of people who haven’t yet gained the backing of big-name, powerful New York State politicos are still out there fighting the good fight, and although they think the tide might turn, it clearly hasn’t yet.
Still, the numbers being thrown around are significant. MOVE NY, a group headed by Alex Matthiessen, a member of the 2008 Commission on Sustainability and the MTA created in 2008 by Elliot Sander and long-time supporter of Charles Koumanoff’s balanced transportation analyzer, says the right congestion pricing plan could realize $1 billion in annual revenues. Furthermore, the plan has something for transit riders too: With congestion pricing revenues, the MTA could lessen and delay planned fare hikes. Kenneth Lovett has more:
Under the “MOVE NY draft sustainable mobility plan,” drivers entering New York City’s central business district, from 60th St. down to the Battery, would pay a toll at 22 entry points. The tolls would vary based on the time of day. Peak hours – between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. – would be in the same range as the Port Authority’s bridge and tunnel tolls, and the cost would be lower overnight and on weekends.
Yellow cabs would not be subject to the tolls, but they would be slapped with a $1-per-trip increase to generate $180 million a year, with $20 million going toward the hacks’ health care. Livery cabs would get a 50% discount, and commercial vehicles would not pay more than once a day. The plan would also chop tolls by 15% for the Whitestone, Throgs Neck, Cross Bay and Verrazano bridges, and defer by a year a 2013 MTA fare and toll hike…
“Everyone we’ve spoken to across the region agrees that we need to find new funding for our transportation system and appreciates the effort we’ve made to test different ideas and solicit feedback,” said Alex Matthiessen, an environmental consultant and MOVE NY campaign director.
I haven’t had a chance to review the draft of the sustainable mobility plan, but all of these tweaks and changes to the basic pricing plan seem like the give and take of politics. The plan still needs a champion in New York City and one in Albany who is willing to put themselves out there and can round up the support needed to move this through the legislature. I still think a trade-off could be achieved by reducing the payroll tax in exchange for congestion pricing, but so far, no anti-payroll tax politicians have been willing to take that stance.
There is one final cause of concern as well. The last word in Lovett’s article belongs to an anonymous source from Albany. “I think there is zero appetite,” a lawmaker said. “They can dress this up all they want, but people just don’t trust the MTA.” A quick read through the Daily News comments reveals that mistrust. New Yorkers and lawmakers alike simply don’t trust the MTA.
Now, the MTA and Albany have been through this game before. The MTA threatens service cuts and fare hikes while Albany claims the MTA is mismanaged and can’t spend its money properly. Usually Albany is willing to step in, but for the past few times, the MTA has called their bluff. We’ve had steep fare hikes and serious service cuts. Still, state lawmakers claim they don’t trust the MTA, and these statements to the press feed public mistrust as well. It’s a cycle that is going to end either with change in Albany or serious cuts in public transit service. It’s time to bridge that gap, and it’s getting closer to a time when a congestion pricing plan deserves to be a part of a serious public conversation.