It’s the Bus Riders, Stupid.

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Is Mayor Bloomberg’s congestion pricing plan, a regressive tax, unfair to New York City’s poor and working class?

That’s what Westchester Assembly member Richard Brodsky and quite a few of the other critics claim. Before last week’s public hearing before the state legislature Brodsky cited a study commissioned by City Hall showing the mayor’s plan would increase the average speed of vehicles in Manhattan from 8 mph to 8.6 mph, and said to the Daily News, "Why is this worth a regressive tax on the middle class and a new invasion of privacy to go only six-tenths of a mile further in an hour?"

There are a lot of different ways to address the equity question and rebut the claim that congestion pricing is a regressive tax. Bruce Schaller did a nice job of it for Gotham Gazette. And the Drum Major Institute has made a strong case as well.

But the best case of all might be made simply by handing Richard Brodsky and his fellow State Assembly members Metrocards and loading them all up on the M14 crosstown bus, winner of last year’s Pokey Award for its 3.9 mph average speed.

New York City’s fare-paying bus riders account for nearly 2.3 million trips on the average weekday. As a group, they are among New York’s most disadvantaged — disproportionately women, seniors, children and the disabled. Even relatively well-off bus commuters with full-time jobs, have household incomes $10,000, on average, lower than car commuters (see chart above). While bus ridership is surging, bus speeds are plummeting. Some New York City buses travel slower than a walking pace.

When London Mayor Ken
Livingstone was mustering public support for congestion pricing, he made sure that the public and the critics knew that bus riders would be some of the biggest beneficiaries of his traffic reduction plan. Mayor Bloomberg ought to do the same.

How much will bus riders benefit? While six-tenths of a mile per hour speed increase may not sound like much to Brodsky, it adds up to nearly 14 million hours a year in time savings for bus riders, according to calculations by economist Charles Komanoff.

Applying the speed-up projected in the mayor’s PlaNYC report — ranging from 1 percent in Staten Island to 7.5 percent in Manhattan — Komanoff estimates that once congestion pricing gets under way, bus riders annually will spend 3.2 million fewer hours waiting at bus stops and 10.7 million fewer hours stuck in bus crawl (Download Komanoff’s detailed spreadsheet).

The mayor needs to develop specific constituencies that feel they will benefit directly from pricing. If the city’s one million plus regular bus riders feel they have a stake in pricing, it would help create a reservoir of support outside of Manhattan. Most New Yorkers outside of Manhattan seem to perceive pricing’s benefits as diffuse and its costs as very specific. This is why a proposal that costs nothing to 95 percent of the public is having political trouble.

When underdog Bill Clinton ran for president, his campaign kept itself focused with the slogan "It’s the economy, stupid." Similarly, Mayor Bloomberg’s slogan could be, "It’s the bus riders, stu… um, Brodsky."

Photo: Birdfarm on Flickr

  • momos

    An important point regarding average speed increases: at the assembly hearing last week Bruce Shaller explained that this stat easily obscures the picture.

    Areas with high levels of congestion will experience far more than a 0.6 mph increase in speed, especially during hours when congestion is worst.

    This is because the average speed stat is calculated city-wide over a 24hr period. As a result, the far greater change in speed on 42nd St at 4pm is obscured when averaged with the lack of change in speed on roads in Queens or Staten Island at 2am.

    The bottom line: the unbelievably slow Manhattan crosstown buses will see speed increases of well over 0.6 mph, while traffic in less congested areas will see essentially no change at all.

    Not surprisingly, Brodsky and co. don’t allow for these facts in their complaints.

  • gecko

    There were all kinds of justifications for going into Iraq (besides the bogus ones of weapons of mass destruction and the links with terrorism and 9/11) like how many tens of thousands of people were dying annually because of the regime.

    After the US committed the utter tragedy that continues to this day, Desmond Tutu made a statement which rings true in this case also “that it is not about the numbers.”

    It is about doing what is right. And, the issues here are ultimately on a much larger scale with humanity facing full square the dire need for immediate adaptation to and mitigation of global warming.

  • TOM BALISH

    BEAT THE TRAFFIC CONGESTION!

    AMERICANS: GUILTY OF EXTRAVAGANT OVER-INDULGENCE–TOO MANY CARS

    It is time for local governments to start increasing the taxes on car ownership–a progressive tax. If a household owns more than one car, there should be an increasingly higher annual tax percentage on every car after the first one.

    This would be a fair way to encourage a reduction of cars on the road, to increase revenues for road and transit system improvements, and to fight Global Warming.

    This progressive tax would also provide the revenue needed to lower or eliminate the cost of transit passes.

    Additional help in establishing an effective plan can be found in the new book:

    “HOW TO LIVE WELL WITHOUT OWNING A CAR” by Chris Balish….

    “With all the media hype about Climate Change, Traffic Congestion, and Oil Addiction, there aren’t many out there talking about doing something really worth while about the major culprit–the CAR. This book has a great, completely voluntary, plan that not only helps to achieve National Energy Independence, but also helps all people to achieve Personal Financial Freedom.”

    EXAMPLE: We are all familiar with Car Rentals, but how many know anything about the rapidly growing Car Sharing Companies and Car Sharing Neighborhood Groups?

    Tom Balish
    Ledyard, CT

  • After 9/11, strict carpooling regulations went into effect for all traffic entering Manhattan during peak hours. This simple act had a profound effect on reducing excessive traffic in Manhattan. For some stupid reason, these regulations were rescinded, and the severe congestion problems returned.

    It’s time for Mayor Bloomberg to realize the public sector is not his private personal empire. This new pricing plan is nothing but a new tax where no new tax is needed. It’s not going to reduce congestion, it’s just an addtional tax on people who can least afford it, and will only add more $$ to Bloomberg’s coffers.

    Where is the proof that this new tax will actually reduce congestion anyway? I have seen NONE.

    I am a low income musician who must cart a lot of equipment in a car in order to work. There is no other way for me to make my livelihood. I cannot cart large amounts of equipment on the subway or bus. There are many, many low income workers such as myself who need a vehicle to transport tools of their trade, and this new law is going to punish us, and benefit the rich who will continue to drive their cars anyway.

    Taxing those who can least afford it is NOT the way to solve environmental crises in this city. There are other more practical solutions that don’t cost anything, such as carpooling rules, dedicated bicycle lanes, hiring more traffic cops, and better mass transit management.

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Richard Brodsky is using this letter to rally opposition to congestion pricing. To get a sense of the issues that congestion pricing advocates will have to address in the State Assembly, download this letter that Westchester Assemblyman Richard Brodsky circulated to his fellow Democrats yesterday. In it, Brodsky repeats the debunked claim that congestion pricing […]