Home Congestion Fee As the congestion fee goes, so goes New York City

As the congestion fee goes, so goes New York City

by Benjamin Kabak

As I sit in a house in Los Angeles for a week away from New York, I know that New York City is unique among all of this country’s urban areas. The Big Apple does not need cars to survive. The Big Apple lives and dies on its public transportation network.

Last night was a sad one for the City as the cars ruled and the public transportation network, facing a financial crisis, received what could become its death blow. In a day that could be worse for New York City than when Robert Moses and his short-sighted, automobile-centric, neighborhood-destroying ego came to power, Mayor Bloomberg’s congestion fee plan died in Albany tonight.

It died in the arms of people who think they know what’s best for New York City and people who are beholden to special interests. It died in the arms of residents of the Outer Boroughs who live far beyond the subway in Eastern Queens. It died in the arms of suburban residents who travel into the city every day, polluting with their cars and not giving back to the city in the form of taxes or other fees. It died in the arms of those who feel a sense of entitlement because they ride around in cars that affect our environment while they go back to their whitewashed suburbs with cleaner air and more trees.

The Times gives us the bleak details:

Lawmakers on Monday shelved Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s plan to charge a fee to drivers entering the busiest parts of Manhattan, dealing a setback to the mayor as he tries to raise his national profile and promote his environmental initiatives.

The State Senate, which had convened in a special session, adjourned without taking up the plan after it became apparent that the votes for passage were not there.

Meanwhile, the Assembly speaker, Sheldon Silver, proposed sending the issue to a study commission that would also consider other ways to reduce traffic, and giving the Legislature until next March to act.

While Bloomberg’s plan, one that would guarantee a steady source of income for the MTA to provide for better public transportation options, has been rejected by the apparently All-Knowing Sheldon Silver, the fate of the $576 million grant that the federal government had planned to award New York City is unknown. The State Assembly is attempting to set up some bureaucratic commission to further study the long-term social, environmental, health and economics effects of the congestion fee plan an in effort to secure the money the city would have received had Bloomberg’s plan passed.

So now, we in New York City stand neglected. Those of us who live in subway-accessible areas and rely on subways and buses for our transportation could face a bleak future thanks to a bunch of suburban people too impressed with themselves to ride mass transit and residents in faraway Queens and the Bronx who don’t realize that the congestion fee would bring them more reliable and faster public transportation.

Today is a sad day for New York politics. It is a sad message sent to the City. Get a car, the pols tell us. Well, I say, New York was built by the subways. Where the subways ran, people followed. No one likes to drive in New York, and no one should drive in New York. Commuter rail, subway lines and buses could get more people all over the city with fewer environmental consequences than cars do now. This isn’t hard to understand if you live in the city. But apparently our Albany overlords, many of whom live in areas that we as New Yorkers wouldn’t even recognize as New York, think they know what’s right.

Today, I’m bitter. I’m bitter that New York won’t follow London’s lead and become a model for a more efficient approach to traffic problems in the 21st century. I’m bitter that our wonderful public transportation network could be facing an uphill battle to maintain even its current levels of service. I’m bitter that politicians couldn’t get this deal finished.

Tomorrow, we’ll move on. We’ll go back to the drawing board and attempt to get this plan back on track. Tomorrow, we’ll pick up the wacky stories and ongoing subplots of the MTA’s coping with its second hundred years. But today, we can be mad that the congestion fee did not pass and hope that we can drop a “yet” into this sentence too. Today, we can mourn a bold idea turned away and complain about people from “upstate.” Today we can think of what could have been and hope that one day it still might be.

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danberkman July 17, 2007 - 7:46 am

I thoght that sleeping on this would somehow make it easier to take, but it hasn’t. When you see how close we came and how this idea was defeated by demagoguery and car mythology. What’s so terrible about this is that the narrative that has emerged about this idea is one in which regular middle class folks stood up to elitist, crazy Manhattan residents. I hope that today, all the people stuck in traffic on our free bridges and our free streets understand that they could move more freely if only they were willing to think with a little more depth about their situation.


Victoria Jeter July 17, 2007 - 1:09 pm

We’re so change averse, that’s what it comes down to.

I Hate Boston July 17, 2007 - 4:08 pm

I would have given up my car to see the congestion fee pass.

Marc Shepherd July 17, 2007 - 7:08 pm

“We’re so change averse, that’s what it comes down to.”

No, there’s another explanation. The problem is that the drawbacks of congestion pricing are visible immediately, but the benefits take years to materialize. It is always tough to sell those types of plans to a legislature, because the constituents who are harmed complain immediately, but the constituents who benefit won’t see anything for a long time — long enough that the legislators voting for it probably won’t be around to take the credit.

The fact is that most people who drive into Manhattan don’t have a good mass-transit alternative. Nobody likes driving in the city at rush hour. They do it because transit is either not available at all, or is a much less appealing option. If congestion pricing is adopted, their commutes will become more expensive instantly. The Bloomberg proposal is that the revenues from congestion pricing will be poured right back into the transit system. That’s a good thing, but tangible benefits will be years away.

So it’s the classic proposal that legislatures often vote down, because the costs and benefits don’t come in the same time frame. Of course, I am not praising the legislature for this short-sighted decision, only explaining why they voted that way.

A post mortem on the congestion fee « Second Ave. Sagas | Blogging the NYC Subways July 18, 2007 - 4:27 am

[…] Contact Me « As the congestion fee goes, so goes New York City […]

Gary July 18, 2007 - 11:19 am

It’s not over yet. Just because the artificial deadline has passed, and Bloomberg didn’t get his plan rammed through without a letter or comma changed, doesn’t spell the death of congestion pricing.

Let your Senators and Assembly members know that you want this. I spent 5 minutes this morning talking with my Assemblywoman about it.

Bloomberg gets credit for putting forth a bold vision, but his execution was crap. He treated the Senate and Assembly like his underlings, and thought he could knuckle them under with a PR blitz.

Eerily reminiscent of the way the Patriot Act was passed. Except, it didn’t pass.

The game isn’t over, so don’t give up!


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