Home MTA EconomicsRavitch Commission What’s the better idea?

What’s the better idea?

by Benjamin Kabak

While I study for my 1L law school exams, I’ve recruited a guest post or two for the next few weeks. Today, Chris Carrera, better know as the East Village Idiot, offers up his take on the response to the Ravitch Plan. As a general note, if anyone reading wants to contribute to SAS, feel free to contact me.

Now that the Ravich Report is out, New York’s politicians are lashing out in defense of “the little guy.” Unfortunately, it seems that those speaking out against the recommendations aren’t clear on who “the little guy” is. Here’s a glimpse of their perception of this mysterious citizen:

“Raising annual fees for driver licenses to $50 would yield nearly $300 million.” – Micah Kellner, Assemblyman (D-Manhattan)

Kellner’s perception of the little guy: a Manhattanite in his district who never, ever drives, and sees absolutely no need for a drivers’ license. He never drives for work, he never drives when he travels, and he never drives to relocate. Everyone else, however, should be forced to pay outrageous annual fees – nearly five times what any other state’s resident pays – isn’t the little guy, and should be screwed, even though they too rely daily on the transit system that this fee would fund.

“Placing tolls along these bridges penalizes people for living in The Bronx, Queens, Staten Island and Brooklyn boroughs, especially those who don’t have the best access to subway and bus transportation.” – Bill DeBlasio, City Councilman (D-Brooklyn)

DeBlasio’s perception of the little guy: someone lives and works in the outer boroughs. If you live and work in the same outer borough, East River tolls are of no consequence to you. If you live in, say, Queens and work in the Bronx, you have to pay $10 in tolls every day during your commute (unless you severely inconvenience yourself via the Queensboro Bridge, FDR, and Harlem River bridges). If you live in, say, Brooklyn and work on Staten Island, you have to pay a $10 toll every day during your commute. Forget about those people, because the real “little guy” is the one who lives in Brooklyn or Queens and works in Manhattan, an island with quite possibly the best mass transit in the world… who doesn’t take the Queens Midtown or Brooklyn Battery Tunnel (also $10 in tolls every day).

“How can you tax people to enter Manhattan when you don’t provide them reasonable alternatives?” – Simcha Felder, City Councilman (D-Brooklyn)

Felder’s perception of the little guy: someone who lives in an outer borough and wants to get to Manhattan who lacks “reasonable alternatives.” This “little guy” does not find 23 subway lines, 38 express and local bus routes, or 5 commuter rail lines to be “reasonable alternatives.” These are all infinitely less expensive alternatives than driving to Manhattan under any circumstances now, before any tolls are instituted on East River crossings. But they’re unreasonable to this “little guy,” and are therefore not the best choice for solving the MTA’s fiscal crisis.

It’s time for opponents to the Ravich plan to fess up: They don’t have a good explanation as to why they’re against tolling the East River crossings, they don’t have a reasonable suggestion to raise the revenue needed otherwise, and they don’t really know or care that a small group of people, if any at all, will be inconvenienced by the Ravich plan, which literally millions of New Yorkers will stand to benefit from. “Just because” is not a reason to block a plan that will keep our city’s lifeline from falling into an irreparable fiscal crisis.

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Boris December 11, 2008 - 10:38 am

These are all good points, but your description of Felder’s little guy is somewhat contrived. The sad truth is, outside of rush hour it is often cheaper to drive to Manhattan than to take transit. The only form of transportation we have that comes close to matching the car for comfort and convenience is the express bus, but at $10 for the round trip it is equal to the toll. For Staten Island residents, who pay $4.98 for the bridge, it is cheaper to drive even after accounting for gas and wear on the car. (Assuming free parking, but again, I’m talking about off-peak hours).

The only time driving truly doesn’t make sense financially is the time congestion pricing would be in effect, roughly 6 am to 6 pm weekdays. Which is why I would prefer congestion pricing or variable tolls over flat tolls.

Another problem is, income from congestion pricing was originally intended to include additional service to underserved neighborhoods. (And where did you get 5 commuter rail lines in Brooklyn?) Now it is clear any additional money would be barely enough to keep the status quo. So while I support the Ravitch plan since it’s the best we’ve got, we have to understand that underserved areas will continue to be underserved, and some other concessions have to be made, such as loosening rules for gypsy cabs or providing park and rides near key outer borough transit stops.

Chris December 11, 2008 - 12:12 pm

I agree that peak-hour tolls would be more agreeable, but we’re left with the plan that we’ve got.

As for additional service to underserved neighborhoods, that’s in the Ravitch Plan, too. In fact, the Ravitch plan mandates new service to these neighborhoods BEFORE the tolls are implented on the East River bridges.

As for the “5 commuter rail lines,” I wasn’t referring to Brooklyn specifically in that example, but rather the entire of the outer boroughs.

cmdrtebok December 11, 2008 - 6:33 pm

I got a good reason. As someone who lives at the foot of the Queensboro bridge, the traffic rolling through here is already unbearable this is going to create 24/7 noise. But I know that is super personal oh well. Seriously though where are they going to place these toll plazas? How long is it going to take them to build it? It seems to me camera enforcement for congestion pricing on the grid is a better idea. Thats where the problem is anyway.

Benjamin Kabak December 11, 2008 - 6:36 pm

I don’t understand why people are so resistant to understanding how this is going to work. There aren’t going to be toll-collection booth plazas. There will be high-speed E-ZPass lanes and traffic cameras for those without E-ZPass. It will have a negligible impact on traffic and there won’t be back ups into the neighborhood. This just another annoying Red Herring argument.

Chris December 11, 2008 - 7:13 pm

I couldn’t have said it better myself, Ben. It’s abundantly clear that most of the people opposed to this toll proposal have not even bothered to read how it’s going to work.

cmdrtebok December 11, 2008 - 6:34 pm

Oh and if Detroit is going to get money for their outdated business models, why can’t the MTA get a break? The BMT subway operated as a money making business for its entire run, what happened?

Chris December 11, 2008 - 7:15 pm

Well, the Federal government was willing to throw millions of dollars at the MTA if Congestion Pricing had been approved. But who do we have to blame for that? These same local politicians.


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