Let’s talk New York State drivers licenses for a bit. They have become quite the hot topic on the transit front lately.
Right now, it seem as though the most popular alternate to the Ravitch proposal concerns drivers licenses. As I discussed last week, a group led by Assembly rep Micah Kellner and New York City Comptroller William Thompson have proposed increased fees for car registrations and licensing fees in lieu of the controversial East River tolls.
A few readers e-mailed me skeptically about the registration fee plan, noting that the numbers did not quite seem to add up. So I ran the numbers. There are, according to the 2007 DMV records, 6.78 million licensed drivers in the 12 counties served by the MTA and 5.59 million licensed automobiles. It was then that I realized the catch.
Right now, those of us with New York State drivers licenses pay, more or less, around $50 once every eight years to renew our licenses. It was my understanding that this alternate plan would simply raise this rate to $100 every eight years. The way I figured it, this new fee would generate an additional $42 million a year and not the promise $300 million Kellner and Thompson had noted.
The catch, you see, is that Kellner and Thompson would charge New Yorkers that $50 fee every year. Instead of paying $50 for eight years, we would instead be paying $400 extra over that eight-year period to enjoy the privileges and benefits of having a drivers license no matter how little or how much we drive.
To me, this doesn’t quite get at the heart of the problem. It certainly provides an alternate source of revenue and wouldn’t require tolling the East River bridges, but it’s an unfair demand. In fact, while Thompson claims that the East River crossing tolls would hit those who cannot afford to pay them the hardest, I believe his alternate registration plan would.
Take me, for example. I have a New York State drivers license, and I always will. The last time I personally drove a vehicle across one of the East River bridges was in 2006 when I had to drive a van from Manhattan to Brooklyn. Under the Ravitch plan, I would pay $0 a year to cross the East River bridges because I take the subway to Manhattan every day. It’s significantly cheaper than owning a car; it’s convenient; it’s quick. But I’m not going to give up my drivers license.
Under the Kellner/Thompson plan, I would be paying an additional $50 a year to own a form of government identification. The people who can afford this plan will shrug it off and pass the costs on; the people who can’t will have to decide between relinquishing a drivers license of paying more. It’s not really equitable.
On the other hand, the Ravitch proposal would charge you for use. If you use the East River bridge tolls — if you avail yourself of a service that isn’t free to New York City but that the city refuses to charge for right now — you should have to pay. My ownership of a drivers license shouldn’t fund mass transit, but your use of the roads at the economic, social and environmental expense to everyone else should. And that’s why this registration fee plan is bogus.