Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Congestion Pricing Hits Heavy Traffic

Another New York Times Editorial bemoaning the most recent hurdle toward establishing "Congestion Pricing" in midtown and lower Manhattan -- i.e. charging motorists an additional toll to drive into certain parts of Manhattan during weekdays.

The current proposed car toll of $8, and the truck toll of $20, was supposed to be an incentive for a less crowded, greener Manhattan. The MTA, perpetually "cash strapped" (according to the MTA that is. An honest audit of their books awaits the End of Days), would use these fees to make capital improvements throughout the mass transit system, providing further incentives for people to us mass transit.

What the MTA is doing with the $2 a day it gets (one-way) from the millions of people it services? Apparently it invests the money in mortgage-backed securities. Three days after the last round of fare increases went into effect, the MTA announced that due to downturns in the real estate market (?), the capital improvements it promised in exchange for the fare increase would have to be cancelled. The fare increase itself remains in full force and effect.

The U.S. Department of Transportation supports congestion pricing, and offered the City of New York $354 million dollars in transportation funds. The deadline for receiving these funds was yesterday. What was so magic about yesterday is -- well I guess you have to know more about magic than I do. One suspects that Mayor Bloomberg asked the Dept of Transportation to put deadline pressure on the New York State Legislature.

Sheldon Silver, the Democratic Speaker of the State Assembly, killed the legislation yesterday afternoon without bringing it up for a vote. He claimed he didn't have the votes. I sort of believe him. He may have been able to cobble together a majority using Republicans, but New York State does not cross aisles that way.

I strongly doubt Silver had, in the famous words of Denny Hastert, "a majority of the majority". Too many outer-borough Democrats opposed congestion pricing.

The sticking point here is that

a. Congestion Pricing means less cars in Manhattan, more cars, congestion and pollution here in Queens as thousands of commuters from the suburbs park their cars here in Forest Hills or Jamaica or Astoria (or whatever the corresponding areas are in Brooklyn and the Bronx) and take the subway the rest of the way.

b. Congestion Pricing, therefore, is simply a scheme to raise the
quality of living standards for the people living in certain parts of
Manhattan at the price (and the costs and fees) of dumping the problems of traffic, congestion, noise and pollution to less politically savvy people.

c. A Congestion Pricing scheme that was really designed to benefit the greatest number of New Yorkers would be more integrated into the Mayor's NYC2030 Plan. No one has heard the words "NYC2030" in over a year. (People say that Bloomberg is a RINO; but like George Bush he spends massive amounts of time and money unveiling plans that he completely forgets about the next day.)

d. The notion that the MTA can be depended on to keep its promises, or keep tabs on the windfall amount of congestion pricing income, is a complete joke, unless the New York Times keeps saying it, in which case it is simply a massive sign of disrespect to those of us who know better. (Everyone)

e. As no one seems to remember from either 9-11 or Hurricane Katrina, when the Federal Government promises "new money", it is normally money that they previously promised -- repackaged.

f. The Mayor is less cynical than I. He expects to see the Federal money. Which may mean that he already knows which of his friends will get the contracts to "privatize mass transit." Which means, of course, that here in the outer boroughs we will soon get to make the switch from adequate mass transportation to no mass transportation. Some friends of the Mayor, however, are about to get richer, richer, richer. As they like to say in The Sopranos "Where's my taste?"

Eventually there will be a congestion pricing plan. And I will bemoan the destruction of so many beautiful neighborhoods in Queens and Brooklyn to a barrage of pollution, traffic and noise. But the Manhattan-based newspapers will talk about how much nicer Midtown is for tourists. Which counts for something -- but not at the heavy price proposed.

However, I am glad that my elected Representatives, Congressman Weiner, State Senator Stavisky, Assemblyman Hevesi, and City Councilwoman Katz, keep holding out for the best deal possible.

No taxation without services.