The Ravitch Plan is out. As expected, it features a broad call for tolls on the East River crossings, a blanket payroll tax and a slightly higher fare hike. Ravitch believes that his plan can generate well over $2 billion a year and can help the MTA cover its operations budget while funding some of the authority’s ambitious capital campaign as well.
William Neuman and The Times are on the scene at the press conference. Here’s the news so far:
A state commission led by Richard Ravitch, a former chairman of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, on Thursday presented a wide-ranging rescue plan for the region’s subways, buses and commuter railroads that includes a new “mobility tax” on corporate payrolls; tolls on the East River and Harlem River bridges; a much smaller fare and toll increase than the cash-strapped authority has threatened; and improvements in bus service.
The plan would permit automatic, inflation-adjusted fare and toll increases every two years without public hearings, ending what Mr. Ravitch called a “political circus” the M.T.A. goes through every few years. The plan calls for a state takeover of the Brooklyn, Manhattan, Williamsburg and Queensboro bridges, which have historically been free to motorists.
The mobility tax — 33 cents on every $100 of payrolls — would provide $1.5 billion a year, and the tolls would produce $600 million in net revenue a year ($1 billion a year in gross revenue minus expenses), Mr. Ravitch said, and the revenue stream would help finance a $30 billion to $35 billion M.T.A. capital plan for 2010 to 2014 that would help stimulate the economy while maintaining vital infrastructure.
During the press conference, Ravitch stressed how this recommendation is part of a whole. For it to work, the legislatures should not look at it as a piecemeal proposal. “This all fits together,” Ravitch said. “This is not a series of separable recommendations. This is an effort to spread the burden amongst the largest group that one possibly can.”
Gov. David Paterson, while allowing for negotiations with the state governing bodies, urged them to pass this package and be willing to take on necessary costs. “We’re gong to need to both houses of the Legislature to cooperate with us,” Paterson aid. “But I must reiterate to everyone here: These are tough times, and difficult choices will have to be made – by legislators, by executives, and even by the riders and rivers in the greater metropolitan area, with respect to the M.T.A.”
Mayor Michael Bloomberg too spoke out in favor of the plan at this morning’s press conference. “The Legislature stated at that time that they could find other solutions to the M.T.A. longstanding fiscal imbalances, and I’m pleased to say the at the Ravitch Commission today is offering them more information and options,” Bloomberg said.
Money doesn’t just come from the sky. Someone will have to pay for our transit system and transit improvements. Right now, this is the best plan out there. It spreads the cost equitably with an eye toward the future. Until someone trumps Ravitch’s recommendations, we have to hope it gets approved.
While we know what Richard Ravitch is going to propose — modest fare hikes, East River bridge tolls and a small, region-wide payroll tax increase — already this plan’s opponents are gathering to defeat it. Will no one step up to save the MTA?
As Streetsblog reported today, Micah Kellner, the anti-congestion pricing assembly representative from the Upper East Side, has unconditionally threatened the idea of East River crossing tolls. Kellner’s replacement plan — raising car registration and licensing fees — would bring in some money for the MTA’s coffers but wouldn’t accomplish what the Ravitch plan would.
Basically, the gist of Kellner’s proposal is that by raising the state’s relatively low registration fees and its relatively high licensing fees, the MTA could draw in $550 million. Here’s how he described it on his blog:
When CBC President Carol Kellermann testified before the Ravitch Commission she noted that today the cost for a driver license in New York is under $6 annually. Raising annual fees for driver licenses to $50 would yield nearly $300 million. New York has the 8th lowest vehicle registration fees in the country (according to the CBC’s 2006 study South Carolina has the lowest at $12, and Maine has the highest at $435), and raising the vehicle registration fees would net an additional annual revenue stream of $250 million.
With the Ravitch Commission’s report due to be released on Friday, now is the time to be examining all the options including this one and other good ideas like reinstituting the commuter tax…In these tough financial times, I believe that it makes sense that those who choose to drive should help bear the costs of maintaining our public transportation infrastructure. These two new recurring revenue streams would constitute a good start in getting the MTA’s finances back on track.
But then, in a letter to the Governor (link goes to PDF), he explicitly spoke out against the tolls:
Early indications suggest that the Ravitch Commission will announce Friday that tolls on the East River bridges are the centerpiece of their recommendations. This is a proposal that has been recycled time and again in each and every fiscal crisis but has always failed to gain the necessary support to be implemented. I don’t know why they think this time will be any different, but I am hopeful that the Governor’s office will look to other ideas like this one and reinstituting the commuter tax as he constructs his Executive budget.
I don’t really see why. As Streetsblog points out, tolls on the bridges are a “proven and equitable course of action.” Instead of front-loading the money in registration and licensing fees, tolls are a daily reminder about the costs of driving, and they generate somewhere between $100-$300 million more than Kellner’s plan would.
Additionally, as frequent commenter Julia pointed out last week, raising fees wouldn’t serve the environmental goal of reducing traffic and raising reliance on environmentally-healthy mass transit options. People will pay up front and just drive. Initially, car ownership levels may drop, but a $50 increase in fees will seem more like a minor annoyance than a big disincentive to automobile use.
In the end, the MTA is going to need some far-sighted politicians and business leaders to step and shepherd a toll-and-tax plan through the state and city’s legislative bodies. Earlier indications are that the Governor, Mayor and MTA heads may be taking the charge. But can they overcome assembly representatives who aren’t receptive to a plan before it is even published? The fate of transit in this city may depend on it.