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Congestion Pricing: Time For Car Owners To Pay

Julie Raskin Jul 24, 2007

By Julie Raskin

Congestion pricing was resurrected three days after opponents declared its death. On July 19, Governor Spitzer announced the creation of a 17-member Traffic Congestion Mitigation Commission to implement the pricing scheme. City and state officials will appoint members of the commission to set fees and oversee implementation of the plan and other proposals to reduce traffic congestion.

Hanging like smog above a skyline, congestion- pricing opponents could stagnate the process in the commission by appointing members to oppose the plan. The legislature will have final say over any agreement.

Congestion pricing still makes a lot of sense. Here is why.

$111,000 is the average annual income of a Westchester County resident who commutes to Manhattan by car.

Only 4.6 percent of New Yorkers drive to work in Manhattan while virtually everybody else takes the subway, bus, walks or rides a bike to work.

$400 million is the annual revenue generated by instituting congestion pricing in New York City, and that money would be used exclusively to improve and expand mass transit for the supermajority of New Yorkers who rely on it each day.

When you look at those numbers it becomes hard to see congestion pricing as unfairly targeting the lower and middle classes, as its critics claim. That false assertion is perhaps the biggest piece of misinformation circulated by critics.

The program, which would charge cars $8 to drive into Manhattan’s central business district between 6am and 6pm, is a progressive tax. Unfortunately, bad news travels fast, and the proposal’s critics continue to pump out misinformed attacks. Here are some of those false critiques dispelled.

Critics say: The city has no plans to improve mass transit before implementing congestion pricing, leaving cash-strapped folks in the boroughs stranded when they can’t afford to drive to work.

The truth is: The City could receive a $500 million grant from the federal government for implementation. $300 million of the $500 million is earmarked for immediate improvements and additions to the bus system, starting in the neighborhoods currently underserved by mass transit. This means middle- and working-class New Yorkers in outer boroughs will see 400 new buses and improved technology to quicken bus trips.

Critics say: The congestion fee for trucks ($21) will cripple small business.

The truth is: First, this fee only applies to trucks carrying 7000 lbs or more, which means that many delivery vehicles serving small businesses will only be charged the normal $8 fee. Second, for trucks that are charged $21, the fee is small compared to the company’s profit. In either case, the charge is a one-time fee, so trucks pay once and can make deliveries all day.

Critics say: OK, so congestion pricing will reduce traffic in Midtown, making daily life more pleasant for some Manhattan- bound commuters and some of the wealthiest Manhattanites who live in the zone, but what about the rest of New York?

The truth is: According to the NYC Department of Transportation’s analysis, 72 percent of the time saved resulting from reduced traffic will occur on streets outside the pricing zone. Because fewer people each day will be leaving their homes outside the zone by car and driving into Manhattan, traffic will be reduced throughout the city. Substantial traffic reductions are predicted for downtown Brooklyn, Williamsburg/ Greenpoint, Long Island City, Harlem, the South Bronx and Flushing.

Critics say: Neighborhoods along the pricing zone will be turned into parking lots as commuters drive close to the zone and then take mass transit.

The truth is: The city could implement residential parking zones allowing neighborhood residents to obtain permits to park in their neighborhood while ticketing others. Parking lots are already scarce in many of these neighbors due to real estate pressures. There’s just no space to park cars.

Congestion pricing could remove over 100,000 cars each day from our streets. That means better breathing and more room for New Yorkers to bike and walk to work. See you in the bike lane.

Julie Raskin is a student of Urban Studies and Environmental Policy, and an intern at Transportation Alternatives, an advocacy group for cycling, walking and environmentally sensible transportation.