The MTA is banking its financial future on some form of congestion fee revenue, and MTA CEO and Executive Director Elliot “Lee” Sander began his congestion fee push with a stridently pro-congestion fee op-ed in Metro. It throws the weight of a very powerful MTA head behind a plan that is no sure thing.
In a short, concise and effective piece, Sander gets right to the heart of the matter:
Revenues generated by congestion pricing — hundreds of millions of dollars each year — would be used to provide a steady and predictable revenue stream to the MTA to make the capital investments needed to improve service throughout our system.
The new revenue is critical to the ambitious capital plan that we will present to Albany in March. The MTA hopes to move ahead with big expansion projects while investing in new technologies to improve existing service. For subway riders, that means more trains and less waiting. But congestion pricing would do even more for bus riders. It would allow us to purchase new buses to increase frequency on many routes, and to create new bus routes throughout the city.
Even better, it would speed trips for bus riders and make each bus less expensive to operate.
Furthermore, Sander notes, disarming critics, the increase in subway ridership expected due to the congestion fee is but a small percentage of the current ridership totals. With the added revenue, the MTA would be more than able to keep up with the increased demand.
Sander closes with a point that a lot of activists have been pushing lately. MTA ridership, he writes, “is projected to grow by another 20 percent by 2030 as the city is expected to grow by a million people and the region by 3 million. In order for the MTA to handle all those new riders, we must have robust funding streams in place, like the one provided by congestion pricing.”
For those of us supporting a congestion fee, Zero Hour is heading our way. With the panel set to issue a series of recommendations soon, the future of transportation and air quality in the New York area will soon come into view. But for the subways, this issue of funding should transcend congestion fee revenue. As I noted yesterday, the city and state should guarantee dedicated funding for the MTA outside of any money the MTA may take in from the congestion fee. The MTA really is that important to the economic well-being of New York State to warrant such an investment, and while the congestion fee should be implemented, the MTA’s future should not hinge on such a politically volatile proposal.
Meanwhile, it is refreshing and exciting to see Lee Sander come out in favor of a congestion fee. But to see his voice limited to the low-circulation Metro dampens some of that enthusiasm. Maybe next time, the important voices will find their way to the pages of the city’s more influential newspapers.