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Bloomberg’s Order of the Day: Defense of Congestion Pricing, Call for Swift Legislative Action

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Bloomberg’s Order of the Day: Defense of Congestion Pricing, Call for Swift Legislative Action

Mayor Bloomberg used today’s Crain’s Breakfast Forum to urge lawmakers to promptly approve his congestion pricing plan.  The Mayor’s proposal to create a Manhattan “congestion zone” needs approval from the State Legislature and New York City Council by March 31 in order for New York to qualify for $354.5 million in Department of Transportation “pilot program” funds (though technically this deadline comes with a one-week extension to April 7).
 
In brief remarks, Mayor Bloomberg strongly advocated his proposal to impose an $8 daily charge on cars entering or leaving Manhattan below 86th Street between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m., Monday through Friday (trucks would pay $21 a day).  After describing the burdens Manhattan traffic places on New Yorkers – an estimated $13 billion in lost time and fuel, reduced business productivity, increased emissions of carbon monoxide (which cause asthma) and carbon dioxide (which contributes to global warming) – the Mayor addressed four criticisms of his plan.  He responded that:

  • Congestion pricing fees will indeed raise significant revenue for mass transit improvements.  Mayor Bloomberg estimated that the revenue stream would bond out to $4.2 billion, and that without this stream the MTA will be unable to fund needed capital investments – such as Second Avenue Subway construction – without again raising fares.
  • Congestion pricing will not create parking lots on the boundaries of the zone (mostly because there no parking spaces in these neighborhoods anyway), though the Mayor mentioned the possibility of residential parking zones to deal with such problems.
  • The congestion pricing scheme is not regressive, because the small minority of New Yorkers who drive to work are on average well above median income (as Independent Budget Office studies show). 
  • Exemption of New Jersey drivers from congestion fees is reasonable since they already pay $8 tolls to the Port Authority to enter Manhattan, with half of that money going toward New York’s transportation needs. 

Mayor Bloomberg concluded by noting that he was meeting with Governor Patterson this afternoon to seek his support for the NYC congestion pricing plan.  In a preview of his pitch, Bloomberg described a swing in public attitudes toward congestion pricing, claiming that – when the health, economic, and environmental benefits are explained – 60 percent of New Yorkers favor congestion pricing fees, whereas as recently as August 2007 60 percent opposed the plan.

Following Mayor Bloomberg was U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters, who noted the success of congestion pricing in other cities (London, Singapore, Stockholm) and observed that the average NYC resident spends 49 hours in traffic each year.  Secretary Peters reminded the audience of the many cities vying for federal transportation dollars, and described the $354 million grant a unique chance that New York ought to seize.

Journalists Q&A elicited from Mayor Bloomberg some feisty responses, in particular to a question that relayed criticisms from Congressman Anthony Weiner.  Congressman Weiner denies that congestion pricing will augment MTA revenues, arguing that whatever money the City raises through fees will be exactly offset by declines in federal transportation grants.  Bloomberg appeared dumbfounded at the question, noting that by Weiner’s logic New York City should eliminate all taxes and wait for federal money to fill the void. 
 
In response to a final question, Mayor Bloomberg acknowledged that a logistically easier way to reduce Manhattan congestion and raise revenue for mass transit would be to simply place tolls on East River bridges.  The Mayor explained his reluctance to pursue this policy by noting that “toll politics are extremely difficult”; he did suggest, however, that as the economic climate grows gloomier City and State officials might revaluate new tolls and other “third rail” revenue-raising measures.
 
Throughout the breakfast the Mayor’s advocacies met strong audience applause; the fate of congestion pricing now depends on whether he can whip up comparable enthusiasim in Albany.

Update:  The Campaign for New York’s Future has produced fact sheets which specifically identify – by city and state legislative district – the MTA transit improvements that congestion pricing revenues would help fund.  The Fact Sheets emerged from analysis of the proposed $29.5 capital plan that the MTA announced earlier this month; the results are broken down by legislative districts at the New York City and New York State levels.  Access the Fact Sheets at www.campaignfornewyork.org

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