‘Congestion pricing.” The phrase itself is classic Orwellian doublespeak.
The idea is to charge punitive tolls for driving into Manhattan anywhere south of 60th Street especially during peak travel periods.
The city Department of Transportation is the primary driver of the increasing congestion, creating ill-conceived bus lanes, bike ways and foolish no-turn signs, all of which have exacerbated traffic.
But first, let’s define congestion pricing properly. “Pricing” is taxation, and our tolling matrix is unique in the country. Where else do motorists pay tolls within their own city, and even within one borough?
Former Westchester Assemb. Richard Brodsky, a liberal Democrat, has called congestion pricing a “regressive tax on the poor and middle class.” Some elected non-Manhattan Democrats and Republicans echo Brodsky’s opposition.
Less-advantaged New Yorkers will pay thousands of dollars a year for the privilege of getting to work, medical appointments or an occasional outing. The weight of this tax will depend on the amount of each toll, perhaps up to $11.52 for each passenger auto entering the zone. Trucks may be charged $25.34.
So-called congestion pricing is patently unfair:
1. Millions of tri-state area residents live in transit deserts, more than a half mile from the nearest bus, and often miles from subways and commuter rail stations.
2. Countless people need to drive in to Manhattan for work or businesses — including contractors, caterers, florists and food-trucks entrepreneurs. If charged the truck rate, that could be more than $9,200 extra a year. Just as high income taxes have driven countless productive New Yorkers to move away, tolls will do the same.
3. Without an exemption, the disabled will be punished by congestion pricing. I know. Although I have “enjoyed” more than 25,000 subway rides, I now have mobility issues that call for a vehicle for trips in to Manhattan. When people experience disabling conditions, many also experience a drop in income. Congestion pricing could hammer the disabled and retirees hard, squeezing them just as their incomes have collapsed.
4. News reports indicate that London has some of the most clogged roadways in Europe, 10 years after congestion pricing was implemented. Why would we import this failed system?
5. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s plan would funnel revenue from the new toll to the MTA. As neglected as the MTA’s capital needs have been, this is manifestly one-sided.
6. Presume that Cuomo’s prediction of $1.1 billion in new annual revenues from the new tolls is accurate. This year, the MTA is spending $1.4 billion on pension costs alone. What are Cuomo and MTA management doing to control these legal but extravagant expenses?
Here are ideas to ameliorate traffic in Manhattan:
1. Insist that the city DOT stop contributing to congestion, thinking through the consequences of each change it makes to street vehicular patterns.
2. The DOT must consider the traffic implications of adding bicycle and bus lanes in Manhattan, and pedestrian plazas. Though these have had their salutary effects, they pinch off passenger car lanes, merging two or three lanes into one.
3. Cuomo’s committee has endorsed a reform from Bill Buckley’s 1965 campaign for mayor. He suggested moving all but emergency truck deliveries to off-hours in midtown.
Truck operators and the businesses they serve could be given tax abatements in exchange for added costs that late and early deliveries would incur.
Clearly, the proposed congestion pricing is truly a reverse Robin Hood proposal that would tangibly harm modest income people, the disabled, retirees, and small businesses struggling to meet payrolls.
The proposal sees drivers as hapless cash cows, ready to have their wallets emptied without any improvements to the roads that jangle their cars and trucks on every trip.
If implemented, the plan would be yet another suicidal step in the decline of our great city.
Herbert W. Stupp is former commissioner at the New York City Department for the Aging (1994-2002).