Home Congestion Fee With Spitzer in trouble, congestion pricing hangs in the balance

With Spitzer in trouble, congestion pricing hangs in the balance

by Benjamin Kabak

When the Eliot Spitzer scandal hit on Monday afternoon, my thoughts turned to congestion pricing. Slowly gaining momentum with New Yorkers but losing the support of key politicians, the congestion pricing plan was going to require a monumental negotiation in Albany. With this scandal, I fear it is all but dead, and with it, we lose a chance to significantly improve both the environment and mass transit in New York City.

Recently, it seemed, the tide had been turning in favor of the congestion pricing plan. With Elliot Sander’s State of the MTA speech last week, improved mass transit partially funded by congestion pricing revenues took center stage. His plan showed a New York with better transit options and fewer cars.

Then, last week, The Times wrote a stridently pro-congestion pricing editorial:

New York riders pay a considerably higher share of the cost of mass transit than riders in other cities. Fares for buses, subways and commuter rails increased again this week to help pay the M.T.A.’s operating costs. It is time for New York drivers to help carry the burden. Congestion pricing fees can produce significant and recurring new money for mass transit’s capital expenses.

Congestion pricing, of course, has many other virtues. New Yorkers would enjoy the health and economic benefits of less gridlock and tailpipe emissions — and faster commutes. Getting money to help fix mass transit is yet another reason why the City Council and state lawmakers should approve congestion pricing before the end of the month — when a deadline to receive more than $350 million in federal funds expires.

I’ve said it before myself, and I continue to agree with The Times. The city needs congestion pricing badly.

Meanwhile, an amNew York story published today notes that nearly two-thirds of bus commuters approve of the congestion pricing plan. “Bus riders are really the unsung winners of congestion pricing. They win with faster, more reliable buses,” Transportation Alternative’s Wiley Norvell said.

The opposition however is gaining strength too. As Gotham Gazette notes, the City Council is now leaning 20-12 against congestion pricing. And here I thought elected officials were supposed to represent the desires of their constituents.

All of these political machinations bring us back to Gov. Spitzer, the man who could have brokered a deal for the congestion pricing plan. As Streetsblog commenter momos aptly noted, Albany will now be consumed with this scandal and the ensuing fallout. In fact, we could find ourselves with a new governor this week.

“Both the budget and congestion pricing had to be negotiated by the end of the month,” momos wrote. “The negotiating environment was bad enough. Now it’s downright destroyed. Spitzer is weakened if not replaced entirely, while the uproar in Albany will give the Assembly cover to do as it will. If there were several months for things to settle it would be difficult enough; with critical deadlines in 3 weeks, forget it. This is so tragic. Congestion pricing dies not in a debate over its merits but in the ashes of a Governorship imploding from a sex scandal.”

And that about sums it up.

As congestion pricing goes, however, all is not lost. The MTA can still pressure the legislature to make good on its promises of funding that emerged during the fare hike hearings. Now more than ever in fact, the state and city should be willing to pony up other funds to ensure the financial health of the MTA. While congestion pricing is seemingly on its last legs, the MTA need not be at all.

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Vince March 11, 2008 - 12:58 am

Who is going to take Spitzer serious about congestion pricing? Not after he appointed an unemployed White Plains attorney to the NY State Thruway board. Someone with no experience, unless you count the experience of donating heartily to Spitzer’s campaign.


ScottE March 11, 2008 - 9:11 am

In all honesty, I’m beginning to doubt that congestion pricing would really have any substantial effect anyway. With the congestion pricing fee at $8, and the bridge and tunnel tolls rising, the difference collected under the plan gets narrower and narrower. Already. the Port Authority bridges and tunnels are at $8 peak, even with E-Z Pass, meaning that commuters coming from New Jersey would pay nothing under the plan. And commuters crossing the Battery Tunnel, Midtown Tunnel, or Triboro Bridge would only pay $3.85 in congestion pricing fees (assuming only the one-way toll is credited).

With their latest toll hike, the Port Authority just took a nice chunk of change out of congesting pricing’s pockets (the MTA’s doing the same, to a lesser extent, next week), and I really can’t see the city raising the fee to offset the PA’s toll; that would certainly kill the controversial plan even before it’s implemented.

Might as well just put tolls on the free crossings.

And this has absolutely nothing to do with the chaos in Albany, which can only further complicate the matter.

The Secret Conductor March 11, 2008 - 12:33 pm

With spitzer out (or will be soon out) there are allot of things that NYC was supposed to get (from the court ordered monies for education) to improvements to transit.

no congestion pricing, no improvments on transit and allot of other no’s.

At least with spitzer we had a chance.

What does this mean for MTA employees? Allot. forget about the 20/50 deal that most other agencies enjoy.

I think albany was and will still be corrupt with payola being the norm. spitzer was supposed to change this.

No more second ave subway???

Gary March 11, 2008 - 3:00 pm

Don’t rule Spitzer out just yet . . . the Sun says he may stick it out. I can see him doing it.
He’s got deep pockets and lots of friends, in addition to his many enemies. He has hired major white collar law firm Paul, Weiss.

I also think that while he is clearly guilty of hiring a prostitute, the way the investigation came about looks extremely fishy. I expect to see a bare-knuckle fight against the prosecution.

If you think that’s a bit over the top in conspiracy land, take a look at what happened to Don Siegelman in AL. See the 60 Minutes piece that aired two weeks ago and Scott Horton’s many articles in Harper’s.

Kid Twist March 11, 2008 - 4:30 pm

Gary, if this were some right-wing conspiracy, do you really think the plotters would have handed it to the Times?

ScottE, I’m pretty certain the congestion fee is on top of other tolls.

Alon Levy March 12, 2008 - 12:27 am

The congestion fee is not on top of other tolls, as long as they’re directly into the CBD. As far as I’ve understood it, the Holland and Lincoln Tunnels will have a Port Authority toll but not a congestion charge, while the GWB, which carries more traffic than both combined, will have a toll as well as a charge if the driver crosses south into the CBD.

Tolling all the free bridges into Manhattan won’t save much. There are plenty of bridges between Manhattan and the Bronx, none of which is tolled; it turns out the number of crossings if the congestion zone is Manhattan is only one more than if it’s Manhattan south of 60th.

Second Ave. Sagas | Blogging the NYC Subways » Blog Archive » The congestion pricing edition of ‘Now It’s Probably Gone’ March 12, 2008 - 12:46 pm

[…] I speculated that Gov. Spitzer’s scandalous problems may signal the end of our congestion pricing hopes. Today, with Spitzer out, pricing foe Assemblyman Richard Brodsky gleefully predicts the downfall […]

Korla Pundit March 12, 2008 - 12:47 pm

The three main causes of congestion in Manhattan are:

1. Cars from New Jersey, which would have their tolls deducted from the congestion pricing fee, so no disincentive for them to continue clogging our avenues;

2. Buses, mostly from New Jersey, which are not going to stop coming in; and

3. Mostly trucks, which double-park to unload, block intersections constantly, and which have permanent reserved parking on every street in the city, which means Joe Sixpack has to pay through the nose already just to park in Manhattan at the Mafia-controlled parking lots. Trucks are not going to change their habits just because of an extra $8 a day. They will simply pass this extra cost of doing business on to the consumer, which means more inflation.

4. The real victim in congestion pricing schemes are regular joes from Brooklyn and Queens who sometimes have to drive into the city. If Bloomberg weren’t a hypocrite, and his true goal was reducing pollution and gridlock, he would eliminate alternate side of the street parking and the enormous tickets you get through that scheme. If I didn’t have to move my car, which I can’t do if I have to take the train to work, then I might never drive into the city to begin with. But there’s a quick buck to be made for the “trust-me” crowd of Bloomie and his billionaire buddies.

Those who believe this scam, after all the others that were supposed to improve mass transit proved to be lies, are simply gullible.

Good riddance, Congestion Pricing.

Hopefully, Ratner will be connected to this scandal as well, and he can also go down in flames. I can dream, can’t I?

Todd March 12, 2008 - 2:22 pm

Korla Pundit: I agree with your point about the double-parked trucks making a mess of things. I wholeheartedly support hiring extra traffic officers who’s purpose would be ticketing illegally parked vehicles. One illegally parked car/truck, even on my semi-busy street in Brooklyn, can make a huge mess. I’m especially irriated by people who park on a corner to “just run into the deli for a second”. They could raise quite a bit of money nailing those people with a hefty fine.

Alon Levy March 12, 2008 - 3:14 pm

Korla, the regular joes in Brooklyn and Queens take the subway to Manhattan. The people who drive are the suburbanites.

Korla Pundit March 12, 2008 - 7:54 pm

>Korla, the regular joes in Brooklyn and Queens take the subway to Manhattan. The people who drive are the suburbanites.

Typical pompous jerk.

Second Ave. Sagas | Blogging the NYC Subways » Blog Archive » Maybe the Spitzer scandal saved congestion pricing March 13, 2008 - 1:08 pm

[…] my previous predictions that Gov. Spitzer’s resignation may signal the end of congestion pricing, a […]


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