Congestion Pricing: Joan Millman is Not Convinced

millman.jpgState Assembly Member Joan Millman’s Downtown and brownstone Brooklyn district includes some of the most politically progressive, environmentally-conscious and traffic-choked neighborhoods of New York City — neighborhoods that have been clamoring for traffic relief for years. Yet, Millman is, for now, opposed to Mayor Bloomberg’s congestion pricing plan. In a letter sent to constituents who contacted her office Millman cites five concerns, summed up as follows:

  • The mayor’s congestion pricing plan will create "undue hardships for many New Yorkers." 
  • The transit system is inadequate "to accommodate many of the New York City residents who currently commute to Manhattan by car," particularly the elderly and disabled.
  • The majority of traffic into Manhattan is created by commuters from outside New York City so they should pay more.
  • "Because a congestion pricing proposal of this magnitude has the
    potential to become a bureaucratic catastrophe, the details of
    administration and reinvestment must be carefully worked out well
    before the plan is approved."
  • "While several large corporations are in support of the Mayor’s plan," Millman has "not yet heard the same positive feedback from small, locally owned
    businesses."

Here is the complete text of Millman’s letter:

Dear Neighbor,

I am writing in response to your recent email message regarding the Mayor’s congestion pricing plan. I agree with you that, ideally, congestion pricing could generate much needed revenue for improvements to and expansion of our mass transit system, and significantly reduce the amount of traffic, pollution and emissions of greenhouses gases in New York City. Unfortunately, when I met with representatives of the Mayor’s Office to discuss the details of the proposal, I was not convinced that the current plan will succeed in accomplishing these goals without creating undue hardships for many New Yorkers. I have concerns with many aspects of the Mayor’s plan.

One clear concern with the plan is that the mass transit system is severely inadequate to accommodate many of the New York City residents who currently commute to Manhattan by car. In fact, the MTA’s policy of removing token booth collectors and the excessive lag times for repairs to broken elevators and escalators in subway stations, are just two of the recent examples of the transit system’s failure to meet the needs of the elderly, the disabled, and other commuters who have difficulties navigating stairs.

Additionally, the data provided by the Mayor’s Office overwhelmingly suggests that the majority of traffic into Manhattan is created by commuters from outside New York City. I am convinced that the congestion pricing plan should take this data into account by shifting a larger portion of the burden to commuters from the northern suburbs, Long Island and New Jersey.

I also questioned the Mayor’s Office about how the City would collect the fee, including administration and infrastructure changes, and they admitted that there is no firm plan to date. Under close scrutiny of estimated administration costs, implementing the proposal will be significantly more expensive and complicated than originally anticipated. There has been no concrete explanation of the process by which the generated revenues will be invested into the mass transit system, or of how much money will be used to cover the administrative costs of the program. Because a congestion pricing proposal of this magnitude has the potential to become a bureaucratic catastrophe, the details of administration and reinvestment must be carefully worked out well before the plan is approved.

Furthermore, while several large corporations are in support of the Mayor’s plan, I have not yet heard the same positive feedback from small, locally owned businesses – many of which are based in Brooklyn and other boroughs but conduct transactions in Manhattan on a daily basis. I am not convinced that these small business owners will come to the same conclusion as larger corporations that can more easily absorb the additional costs. For example, the current plan makes no distinction between a delivery truck from a multimillion dollar corporation and one from a bakery in Gowanus with fewer than a dozen employees – both would be charged the $21 commercial fee. I believe that the Mayor’s plan must incorporate exemptions or reduced rates, or otherwise take steps to account for these real differences.

I certainly agree we must take action to improve the air quality and traffic problems in our Borough and City, but for congestion pricing to work for New York, it will have to work for all New Yorkers. The Mayor’s Office agreed to supply me with additional information on the proposed congestion pricing plan, and I hope changes to the plan will be considered to address some of my reservations. While congestion pricing may prove to be the best idea, in its present form, I have many questions and concerns about the Mayor’s proposal.

Thank you for sharing your ideas with me.

  • “the mass transit system is severely inadequate to accommodate many of the New York City residents who currently commute to Manhattan by car.”

    and that is why she is against our best opportunity to raise more revenue to improve transit.

  • greg

    nice job
    totally ignore your constituemts
    clueless hack

  • Manhattan commute #’s for Millman’s 52nd district:

    – 3.5% drive alone
    – 1.7% carpool
    – 92% mass transit
    – 2.9% other (Streetsblog readers)

    [2000 Census via PlaNYC]

    These numbers are likely conservative from the transit share point of view due to strong ridership growth in recent years.

    Kate Slevin of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign pointed these numbers out to the Assemblymember in a May 9 letter, so if she is still citing the “undue hardship” stuff in current correspondence with people in the district, they should write back again asking her to support the statement with facts.

    The contention that “the majority of traffic into Manhattan is created by commuters outside New York City” is wrong. According to expert Bruce Schaller, 60% of all auto trips to the Central Business District are conducted by NYC residents (17% originating in the CBD and 43% originating in other parts of NYC). Only 40% are suburban in origin. So a plan that charges a fee to drive into Manhattan will indeed spread the burden of paying for transportation infrastructure throughout the region.

    The points about subway conditions etc. point to the need for transit upkeep funding, which the plan helps pay for.

  • Clarence

    I sent her a letter. I hope everyone in my district does the same.

    Maybe if we stand outside her office (just up the street from me) with a sign with Orcutt’s #s it would make for a great convincer.

  • Steve

    The “large corporations” and “bureaucratic nightmare” rhetoric is an absurd mismatch for her relatively flush and sophisticated constituency. Give me a break with the disingenuous populism.

    Spoke to State Senator Liz Kruger’s transpo staffer Pat McCamber today and he said the Senator is on board with congestion pricing in principle, but would like to see some of the linked mass transit improvements come sooner rather than later (in particular, Sen. Kruger would like to see citywide BRT routes increased from 5 to 10 before congestion pricing goes into effect, though it was not clear is this was a sine qua non for her support of CP).

    Sounds good to me! Wake up Millman!

  • I sent a follow up letter to Millman yesterday citing the Schaller report with all the pertinent #s…

  • In all fairness, that’s not anti-congestion pricing . . . sounds to me more like tweaking the proposal.

    I live in her district, so I’ll be contacting her on this as well as re-opening express service on the F line and extending the V line to Brooklyn as a local.

    I think we can all agree that the subway system is miserably and chronically underfunded, and if we expect congestion pricing to work, it’s going to take a higher level of service to make it happen.

    My line, the F, is “moderately” overcrowded. I say “moderately” because I took the Lexington Ave line from Fulton to 51st at rush hour and felt like I was in Tokyo. How the hell are we going to pack more people into the existing cars? It’s impossible. (I am aware that the SAS will alleviate crowding on the Lex – but that is years away.)

    And what about the L? That is a disaster at rush hour.

    I am 100% in favor of congestion pricing, but let’s be honest: for it to work, service problems will need to be addressed.

    Thanks Aaron for posting this.

  • Nona

    And who develops the budget for state-run public authorities? The State Legislature!!!

    What is the Assembly’s plan for dealing with transit funding issues?

  • OK, I sent a letter as well.

    As a rep of my district, I expect her to do what’s right, both in general and for our district. For me that means supporting congestion pricing BUT demanding improved service on our transit lines.

    I sent my recommendation (cribbed from the 2003 Community Consulting slideshow) for re-instating express service on the F and extending the V.

    It’s cheap, it can be done easily, and if I were in her shoes, I would demand it in exchange for my support of congestion pricing.

  • My understanding is that the G is going to be extended pretty far south from Smith/9th in the next year or so, though I don’t have details.

  • Orcutt,

    Well and good. KensingtonBrooklyn blogged some rumblings about that recently.

    But (1) I understand that’s temporary and (2) the G is the Pauly Shore of subways.

  • A train is a train if you’re sitting at Smith/9th. I think it’s possible that folks who want more subway service in that area to get behind making the G service change permanent once it’s been there for a while.

  • Clarence

    Pauly Shore? What about Yahoo Serious? Or Johnny Five? El DeBarge?

    The G has come a long way from when I started riding it to do lap swims at Metropolitan Pool from Carroll Street. Back then you had to wait forever. Not so bad now.

  • MD

    According to my recollection, when she first ran for this office, an environmental group pointed out that she was the only candidate without a “green” vision for Brooklyn.

    But Brooklyn Democrats do love their hacks.

  • David

    To beat a dead horse, David Yassky’s newsletter says, “I want you to know that I have decided to support the Mayor’s congestion pricing proposal. I firmly believe that the ever more pressing danger of climate change, and the immediate threat to the City’s economic and respiratory health posed by excessive traffic, require a serious response.”

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  • re: the G train…

    service within brooklyn seems a lot better than in the past; BUT, as the only train that goes from brooklyn to queens directly, it is sadly lacking on the queens end, especially on the weekends. it is ridiculous to be required to go to manhattan to get from downtown brooklyn to downtown queens (let alone beyond) but every weekend for what must be years the G has been terminating at court square, one stop from the huge transit hub at queens plaza. VERY frustrating for all the queens folks i know.

  • Ben In Brooklyn

    Great to see your article. I also wrote to Millman and received the same reply, so I wrote back responding to her off-base criticisms – see my responses below in CAPS interspersed in her letter:
    ***

    I am writing in response to your recent email message regarding the Mayor’s congestion pricing plan. I agree with you that, ideally,
    congestion pricing could generate much needed revenue for improvements to and expansion of our mass transit system, and significantly reduce the amount of traffic, pollution and emissions of greenhouses gases in
    New York City. Unfortunately, when I met with representatives of the
    Mayor’s Office to discuss the details of the proposal, I was not
    convinced that the current plan will succeed in accomplishing these
    goals without creating undue hardships for many New Yorkers. I have
    concerns with many aspects of the Mayor’s plan.

    One clear concern with the plan is that the mass transit system is
    severely inadequate to accommodate many of the New York City residents
    who currently commute to Manhattan by car. In fact, the MTA’s policy of
    removing token booth collectors and the excessive lag times for repairs
    to broken elevators and escalators in subway stations, are just two of
    the recent examples of the transit system’s failure to meet the needs of
    the elderly, the disabled, and other commuters who have difficulties
    navigating stairs.

    THERE IS NO DOUBT THAT SOME SMALL % OF IN-CITY CAR COMMUTERS DRIVE BECAUSE THEY CANNOT TAKE THE BUS OR TRAIN, BUT I WOULD ARGUE THAT IS A VERY SMALL % OF CAR COMMUTERS. A GOOD MANY CAR COMMUTERS COULD EASILY SWITCH TO MASS TRANSIT, BUT HAVE JUST CHOSEN NOT TO FOR SOME PERCEIVED CONVENIENCE (UNFORTUNATELY, MANY AMERICANS ARE OK WITH JUST SITTING ALONE IN TRAFFIC).

    Additionally, the data provided by the Mayor’s Office overwhelmingly
    suggests that the majority of traffic into Manhattan is created by
    commuters from outside New York City. I am convinced that the congestion
    pricing plan should take this data into account by shifting a larger
    portion of the burden to commuters from the northern suburbs, Long
    Island and New Jersey.

    YOU KNOW AS MUCH AS I DO THAT CHARGING SUBURBAN COMMUTERS MORE IS A RED HERRING TO APPEAL TO YOUR CONSTITUENTS. MAKING DISTINCTIONS BETWEEN COMMUTERS IS A POLITICAL NON-STARTER THAT WOULD CAUSE POWERFUL OUT OF CITY POLITICIANS TO KILL THE PLAN.

    I also questioned the Mayor’s Office about how the City would collect
    the fee, including administration and infrastructure changes, and they
    admitted that there is no firm plan to date. Under close scrutiny of
    estimated administration costs, implementing the proposal will be
    significantly more expensive and complicated than originally
    anticipated. There has been no concrete explanation of the process by
    which the generated revenues will be invested into the mass transit
    system, or of how much money will be used to cover the administrative
    costs of the program. Because a congestion pricing proposal of this
    magnitude has the potential to become a bureaucratic catastrophe, the
    details of administration and reinvestment must be carefully worked out
    well before the plan is approved.

    I THINK LONDON’S EXPERIENCE IS TOTALLY THE OPPOSITE – WHAT’S YOUR EVIDENCE THAT THIS CANNOT BE DONE W/OUT CREATING A “BUREAUCRATIC CATASTROPHE”?
    Furthermore, while several large corporations are in support of the
    Mayor’s plan, I have not yet heard the same positive feedback from
    small, locally owned businesses – many of which are based in Brooklyn
    and other boroughs but conduct transactions in Manhattan on a daily
    basis. I am not convinced that these small business owners will come to
    the same conclusion as larger corporations that can more easily absorb
    the additional costs. For example, the current plan makes no distinction
    between a delivery truck from a multimillion dollar corporation and one
    from a bakery in Gowanus with fewer than a dozen employees – both would
    be charged the $21 commercial fee. I believe that the Mayor’s plan must
    incorporate exemptions or reduced rates, or otherwise take steps to
    account for these real differences.

    YES, THIS WILL INCREASE COSTS FOR SOME LOCAL BUSINESSES. HOWEVER, BECAUSE YOU ONLY PAY 1 TIME PER DAY – YOU DON’T PAY AGAIN IF YOU LEAVE AND RETURN, THE EXTRA COST WOULD BE MINIMAL. THIS COST WILL BE OFFSET FOR COMMERCIAL DRIVERS IS THE TOLLS REDUCED TRAFFIC AND MADE THEIR TRIPS TO MANHATTAN FASTER AND MORE EFFICIENT. FOR COMMERCIAL DELIVERY DRIVERS, TIME SITTING IN TRAFFIC AND WASTING GAS IS MONEY DOWN THE TUBES.

    I certainly agree we must take action to improve the air quality and
    traffic problems in our Borough and City, but for congestion pricing to
    work for New York, it will have to work for all New Yorkers. The Mayor’s
    Office agreed to supply me with additional information on the proposed
    congestion pricing plan, and I hope changes to the plan will be
    considered to address some of my reservations. While congestion pricing
    may prove to be the best idea, in its present form, I have many
    questions and concerns about the Mayor’s proposal.

    I AGREE THE PLAN IS NOT PERFECT AND THAT ADJUSTMENTS NEED TO BE MADE. BUT I WISH YOUR TONE WAS MORE SUPPORTIVE OF THE PREMISE (“MEND IT DONT END IT”). AND, AS i SAID, I DISAGREE WITH THE PREMISE OF SOME OF YOUR CRITICISMS.

    THANK YOU.

  • pete

    I wrote to her before, against the congestion plan. For many of same reasons she mentioned.
    Those of us in neighborhood have good mass transit option, so easy to ignore areas of NYC that don’t. If you live in Canarsie and worked at Bellevue Hospital – getting out of work at 11PM (but had to be at work at 3PM)would you be so interested in using mass transit?
    If you had small business in our neighborhood that made deliveries to Manhattan, why not just move to New Jersey if all pay same amount?
    Why are taxi riders and limo riders in ‘congestion area’ not asked to pay more also? They have excellent mass transit options yet choose use big congesting polluting vehicles. In fact, they constitute majority of traffic in midtown. But they are a constituency closer to mayors heart, not those bridge and tunnel folk.

  • mikes

    I live in her district and sent a letter supporting congestion pricing. The problems with pricing seem minor compared to the potential advantages of increased revenue, reduced pollution, more livable streets, and improved mass transit.

  • Besides its widely discussed benefits, congestion pricing is also an excellent and crucial energy security measure. Most of its critics and supporters implicitly assume that the price of gas will remain basically stable, but a growing number of observers, including military analysts and national security advocates, worry that even slight disruptions to our oil imports will cause abrupt price spikes to over $100 a barrel, leading gasoline and heating oil prices to rise to over $5 per gallon. Gasoline prices could rise suddenly for many reasons: an attack on Iran causing a blockade of the Straits of Hormuz, the shipping channel for over a third of the world’s oil, turmoil in Nigeria or Venezuela, terrorist attacks on oil shipping and refining infrastructure, or Gulf Coast hurricanes. Even without a crisis, the U.S. Government Accountability Office warns that depleting world oil supplies, combined with rising demand, will make energy markets increasingly volatile – and supply disruptions inevitable.

    Our addiction to oil and our growing dependence on imported fuel are dangerous security liabilities with severe economic consequences if the flow of foreign oil is disrupted. Now it’s not just environmentalists calling for massive increases in energy conservation and renewable energy – it’s the Council on Foreign Relations and the Army Corps of Engineers. A new Pentagon study warns that the military must take immediate steps toward running on alternative and renewable fuels or the US military’s ability to respond to hot spots around the world will become “unsustainable in the long term”.

    We can imagine what those Pentagon analysts might tell outer-borough commuters. How would a sharp spike in oil prices affect trucks bringing groceries to supermarkets? Winter heating fuel prices? The restaurants and theaters dependent on tourists? Fire, police, ambulances, and garbage trucks? Would commuters still choose to drive into Manhattan, or would they flock to mass transit?

    With the threat of price shocks and fuel shortages, efforts to shift our transit needs to less fuel-guzzling modes is as vital to our future as NYPD’s anti-terror task force. By getting more drivers out of cars and onto mass transit, congestion pricing increases our economic resiliency. Can it be reframed? Congestion pricing could be more accurately called the transit relief fund, the mass transit incentive, or the rush hour fee, according to Joe Brewer, research fellow at George Lakoff’s Rockridge Institute. It could also be called security pricing.

    While we need both short-term and long-term responses, the critical starting point of all energy policy should be rapid energy conservation planning. The newly released Sierra Club NYC report, “Moving New York City toward Sustainable Energy Independence” – available at http://www.beyondoilnyc.org – urges PlaNYC and City Council to follow San Francisco and Portland, Oregon, already creating municipal plans for energy volatility. Highway speed limits, reduced public transit fees, car pooling, telecommuting, and compressed work weeks of fewer but longer days are some responses recommended by the International Energy Agency and the engineering firm Parsons Brinkerhoff.
    Many of the issues raised by congestion pricing critics will enhance PlaNYC implementation as they are addressed, but opponents should consider future energy scenarios and connect the dots. With the matter reframed, perhaps they will join efforts to implement congestion pricing as a step in moving NYC toward better mass transit, and beyond oil.

    Dan Miner
    Sierra Club NYC Group
    energy committee chair

    “Moving NYC Toward Sustainable Energy Independence” has been endorsed by a number of groups, including New York Public Interest Research Group, INFORM, Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, the Pace Energy Project and Sustainable South Bronx. It was cited as a Report of the Day by Gotham Gazette.

  • Ed Mannix

    Knowing Joan since her first campaign and always — sometimes with reluctance — voting for her, I won’t anymore. I have no idea who she represents. Certainly not me. We’ll all get to hear (again) about the 52 things she did for the 52nd AD but she’s out of touch with mass transit riders.

    Ed Mannix

  • William Sievers

    I lived in London when they passed their congestion plan, I lived in Singapore where there is a hefty surcharge on automobile ownership and a congestion plan as well. I can assure you that the subway system in NY is far better than the tube in London at that time. The improved quality of life is well worth the temporary pain. Failure to pass this plan is a failure of leadership, pure and simple. Ms. Millman sould be held accountable by residents of Manhattan, myself included.

  • Mike

    I live in nj and drive and deliver to midtown all day long. Congestion pricing would do nothing more than raise more money and line the pockets of the corrupt. TAKE MY WORD I KNOW WHAT CAUSES CONGESTION. There are far more easier measures that can be taken to ease congestion before pulling money out my pockets.
    1. reduce the taxi limo population. They occupy 60% or more of midtown traffic.
    2. designate a portion of taxis to delivering up and down town only, and another portion to delivering accross town only. kind of like the buses.
    3. stiff fines for taxis or any vehicle that block more than one lane when picking up or dropping off.
    4. super stiff fines for triple parking, and this applies to the NYPD as well.
    5. Open up more parking spaces between 7am and 7pm. the city has the most assinign parking restrictions ever.
    6. road repairs suck. when these guys patch up a dig they have to do a better job of finishing the road top.
    7. those big ass orange smoke vents that hover over manholes in the middle of streets for days at a time, need to be replaced with drive over smoke diverters.
    8. ALL right turn arrow lights need to be removed. they serve no purpose. except create congestion when 2 cars wait in line for the friggin thing to turn green and when it does pedestrians hold up the remaining travel time.
    9. Pedestrians HAVE to pitch in TOO! They cause a lot of delays.
    10. block the box laws need to be enforced.
    11. WHY OH WHY does the tunnel authority allow overheight trucks to get within 10 feet of the lincoln tunnel??? then it takes 10 minutes to turn the poor bastard around. there are only 2 ways for a truck to approach the tunnel put the friggin alarms at the 2 approach point then its as simple as making a turn instead of almost getting into the tunnel.
    12. WHY OH WHY does the tunnel authority wait until 6AM to open the center tube into the city???
    13. WHY OH WHY does the tunnel authority screw with the lincoln toll booth configurations???

    Want more????

  • bill

    Congestion pricing will be a major economic disaster, and the ones who will suffer will be the businesses and the taxpayers of NYC. Businesses that need to have goods delivered into or out of the pricing zone will be forced to pay higher fees and charge customers more to cover the costs. The truckers are not going to absorb the cost, so they will pass it on to the businesses they deliver to, and in turn the taxpayers of NY will ultimately wind up footing the bill as always!. With all due respect, the Mayor of NYC has flipped his wig on this one.

  • mork

    London is burning, bill.

  • Sproule Love

    Bill, spend a little more time on this website and you see persuasive arguments and data to refute your points. Businesses and taxpayers will prosper, not suffer. The businesses in the congestion zone in London and Stockholm were behind the proposals to implement congestion pricing in the first place and experience has shown they haven’t suffered from fewer customers – if anything they enjoyed a mild uptick in business.

    I bet that if you polled anyone involved in the trucking supply chain here in NYC and asked them how much they would pay to get their freight delivered faster and more reliably, the sum would be higher than $21 a day, which is maybe equivalent to 30 minutes of the cost of a driver’s time, let alone the cost of the truck.

    Taxpayers, even those paying the congestion fee, will enjoy less traffic, better air quality, less stress, and on and on. I’m chagrined that we are still talking about benefits vs. cost on this topic.

    The real question is what we can do now that our elected officials let us down.

  • question

    If a truck comes in and out of Manhattan from a NJ tunnel several times in one day, would each toll be subtracted from the $21 congestion fee? Will this be like giving trucks a day-pass, which would encourage more trips??

  • mork

    #28 — Trucks pay $5 or $6 *per axle* during the proposed congestion charging period on the PA crossings:

    http://www.panynj.gov/CommutingTravel/tunnels/pdfs/01_08_05_TollRatesFile.pdf

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