Tug of war
Usually, the committee that handles both the Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North coalesces around similar viewpoints and issues. Most of the time, there’s far more agreement than disagreement.
But the committee’s discussion of the MTA’s proposed capital plan became testy toward the end of Monday’s meeting, when representatives who support Metro-North, or represent communities on Metro-North’s lines, lamented how the funding was allocated. The 2020-24 capital plan provides the LIRR with $1 billion more than for Metro-North.
“A billion-dollar discrepancy is a tipping point. It’s too big a miss. It’s too big a discrepancy,” said committee co-chair Susan Metzger, the MTA board’s Orange County representative, who casts a joint vote with the representatives from Dutchess, Rockland and Putnam counties.
Echoing that lament was Veronica Vanterpool, a Mayor Bill de Blasio appointee, and Neal Zuckerman, the Putnam County representative.
In response, Kevin Law, the Long Island Association’s chief executive and an MTA board member, noted that one of the LIRR’s key projects — the East Side Access effort to connect the railroad to Grand Central Terminal — would help the entire system, including Metro-North. That project also will pave the way for Metro-North’s future extension into Penn Station. There’s $798 million allocated for East Side Access in the next capital plan — about three-fourths of the discrepancy between the two railroads.
“We can’t be pitting Long Island Rail Road versus Metro-North,” Law said. “We are one system.”
To which Metzger said, “We need to have a much longer discussion.”
Expect more fireworks on Wednesday, when the full MTA board is expected to vote on the capital plan.
- Randi F. Marshall @RandiMarshall
Congestion pricing: All about the details
Even as Metro-North and the LIRR fight over the same pot of money, they’re both helped by one of the biggest sources of funding for the MTA’s $51.5 billion capital plan. That is, the tolling of Manhattan’s central business district, known as congestion pricing.
But even as the MTA is counting on congestion pricing, there are still a lot of questions about how that revenue scheme should work. In a new report, the Regional Plan Association focuses on details such as who should be exempt, and whether pricing should vary depending on the time of day.
The RPA recommends: Tolling should be instituted both ways, so customers are charged when entering and exiting the zone, rather than one lump sum just when going into the business district. The association said that if drivers were charged in both directions, it would help to stop “toll shopping”; be more equitable because drivers are charged whether they’re heading into and out of the zone; and allow for additional differentiation, as the classification of peak times would be different for incoming traffic versus outgoing traffic.
The RPA also recommends shifting the congestion fee based on time of day, so drivers are charged more during peak times, and by the size of vehicle, which especially could stop clogged streets by encouraging off-peak deliveries. One scenario could involve a toll that ranges from $3.06 to $9.18 each way depending on the time of day, with no toll during weekend overnight hours.
But the RPA didn’t provide recommendations on what is perhaps the most controversial decision still to be made: When do drivers get credit when traveling into the congestion zone?
That becomes an issue for drivers, for instance, who pay a tool to get through the Queens-Midtown Tunnel and then into the central business district. Should their tunnel toll be credited against the congestion-pricing fee? And what about drivers outside the zone? Should those traveling over the RFK Bridge, for instance, have to pay the bridge toll, and then the full congestion zone toll? Then there are those in other boroughs, crossing bridges like the Verrazzano, to consider.
In any of those scenarios, the association says, credits would in turn reduce revenue, which in turn would mean higher congestion tolls to make up for the loss.
Lucky for the RPA, it’s not responsible for answering the tough questions. That job is in the hands of the Traffic Mobility Review Board — and its recommendations aren’t due until the end of 2020.
- Randi F. Marshall @RandiMarshall
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