Thursday, April 3, 2008

Congestion pricing—a great idea, a terrible plan

I support congestion pricing, but have extreme reservations about this version they’re trying to ram down our throats. There are serious drawbacks to this plan; most importantly, it will not produce substantial reductions in traffic and pollution, nor will the plan provide sufficient revenues to enable the necessary improvements to mass transit necessitated by congestion pricing.

The plan may also be unconstitutional—how do you justify making outer-borough residents de facto second-class citizens of the city in which they live? What additional tax burden do Manhattanites living within the zone pay, that they should receive preferential treatment above and beyond other city residents? Yet the state assembly was the direct cause of this—the original agreement with the federal DOT did not specifically restrict congestion pricing to the borough of Manhattan (as I read it), but the bill approved by the state assembly and senate authorized the Traffic Congestion Mitigation Commission to devise a plan restricted to Manhattan. We outer-borough residents already receive inferior city services compared to Manhattan.

There are insufficient disincentives to discourage drivers coming from Westchester, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Long Island to forgo travel to Manhattan by car; most would receive a credit for tolls paid, and would only pay an additional $2.00 to enter the congestion zone. Do you really think that a $2.00 charge will stop drivers from coming? There are no incentives in the plan for the use of hybrid vehicles and other, non-polluting and alternative methods of transportation (how about eliminating sales tax on bicycles and helmets?). Only those who live within the congestion zone will benefit from improved air quality—those who live in neighborhoods outside the zone, who already suffer disproportionately higher rates of asthma and COPD due to high concentrations of particulate matter will continue to do so—the rates of asthma and COPD may even rise. As New York City has the highest rate of asthma in the United States and the Hunts Point neighborhood in the Bronx has the highest asthma rate in the world, I, and many others find this green-wash solution completely unacceptable.

New York City residents have the lowest car-ownership rates in the area, and account for the lowest percentage of drivers in Manhattan, yet the lion’s share of costs of this plan will inequitably fall on them.

I will not go into all the alternatives here, but many spoke out to the Traffic Congestion Mitigation Commission, including myself, and that testimony is part of the record, and I urge you to read all of it—there are many excellent suggestions, most of which were ignored by the commission.

Please read my report on Traffic and Mass Transit in New York City, which I originally sent to Governor Spitzer in May of 2007, but I ask you to also read the letter to the Traffic Congestion Mitigation Commission, which also appears here:

I also request that you read my other posts, too.

I’d like to point out that 40% of the City Council did not approve of this plan, and I would like to say, once again, that drastic reforms at the MTA (ignored in the plan) are necessary if congestion pricing is to be an effective means of reducing congestion, pollution and improving the quality of life for all New Yorkers, both upstate and down. Driver reform is also entirely necessary, and is also completely ignored in the current plan.

Please, don't buy into the current plan. Note that City Councilmember and Environmental Committee Chair James F. Gennaro voted against this proposal—he's well aware that this is a bogus bill that will only increase the tax burden on outer-borough residents, and will fail in providing the promised benefits of decreased pollution and traffic that we city residents deserve. It will only decrease congestion in select neighborhoods (if at all) while increasing pollution in most other areas, will only marginally improve mass transit; again, only in a few places, and will not benefit the majority of New York City residents. Write your state assemblymember, your state senator, Senator Bruno, Assemblymember Silver, and Governor Patterson, and let them know we need a real plan that benefits all the residents of New York City.

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