Weiner Imagines Paying for His Traffic Plan With a Gas Tax Raise

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Though reporters weren’t invited, Streetsblog managed to get a stringer into this morning’s On-and-Off-the-Record transportation policy talk with Congressman Anthony Weiner at Commerce Bank in Midtown.

During the hour-long Q&A hosted by Edward Isaac-Dovere of City Hall News, Weiner hit on familiar themes:

  • Something needs to be done about traffic but the mayor’s plan is too costly.
  • Though low and middle income New Yorkers overwhelmingly travel into Manhattan via transit, Weiner pounded away at the idea that congestion pricing is unfair to the city’s middle class and would hit city residents harder than suburban commuters.
  • Rather than imposing a fee to drive into Manhattan’s Central Business District, he would opt for improved transit and ferry service, higher truck tolls and better enforcement of blocking-the-box regulations.
  • He says that he would pay for these improvements with a federal gas tax increase.

While Weiner believes, "The Mayor got the solution wrong," he praised Bloomberg for being "innovative" and appeared to back off a bit from total opposition to pricing.

"There is a version of congestion pricing that will work," Weiner said. "My plan has ‘congestion pricing’ by increasing tolls and increasing parking fees." Unfortunately, this is probably not a version of congestion pricing for which the federal government will grant $354.5 million in start-up funds.

About 75 people showed up to the breakfast event including Queens Civic Congress president Corey Bearak, Northern Manhattan Council member Robert Jackson, the Durst Organization’s Jordan Barowitz and an assortment of advocacy people from Transportation Alternatives, Tri-State Transportation Campaign and the newly-formed SWIM Coalition.

The event started with "on-the-record" questions from Isaac-Dovere and "off-the-record" questions from audience members. Here, in reporter’s notebook format, are a bunch of Weiner’s responses to both sets of questions:

  • We need the Cross-Harbor Freight Tunnel.
  • If we had as many cops enforcing the blocking-the-box rules as we did during the Koch years our congestion problems would be solved. Likewise, we need a mass education campaign to change people’s behavior like the pooper scooper law.
  • He said that he has offered the City $19 million in federal funds for ferries but the City has not taken it.
  • Asked how he would fund his transit initiatives, Weiner proposed raising the national gas tax to fund transit.
  • The asthma problem is not in Midtown. It is in East New York, Brownsville by the Belt Parkway. Why aren’t we looking at reducing the traffic there with ferry transit?
  • Asked about Long Island City turning into a parking lot because of congestion pricing, Weiner said that the City needs to provide ferry service. We need to provide parking in the boroughs, not in Manhattan. There should be park and rides close to highways. We need to reduce parking because it causes traffic.
  • "Congestion pricing hits NYC residents harder that suburban ones." Weiner shared an anecdote in which a Connecticut congressman supports $8 charge because, he says, "My constituents would pay $80 to have the riff raff from your district off the streets." Is this $8 charge really going to deter behavior of the driving in with their SUVs, Weiner asks.
  • "The Congestion Commission can’t be a rubber stamp for the Mayor’s proposal"
  • He wants assurances that pricing revenue will benefit NYC. Joe Bruno will see that money and want some for Rensselaer county.
  • New York City needs to push against Albany and the unelected authorities and agencies. "We should every day declare a declaration of independence from Albany."
  • The SMART fund won’t work. How will the Mayor know that the MTA will build what it promises to build?
  • Congestion pricing will lead to the federal government to defund New York City because they’ll see that we’re getting the money from another source.
  • He incorrectly stated that "Ninety percent of carbon emissions in NYC are from existing buildings." The real number is 79 percent according to the City’s Long-Term Planning and Sustainability office.
  • "Advocates for the Mayor’s plan are buying into the Bush doctrine of governing: If you want something, then you should tax yourself to pay for it."
  • Congestion pricing has divided the coalition around environmental activism. This plan pits people against each other, pits neighborhoods against each other.
  • When asked about Spitzer’s undocumented immigrant drivers license scheme, Weiner quickly said that he thinks we really need it but that it’s politically unpopular. [Sounds like congestion pricing, no?]
  • Larry Littlefield

    (He would pay for these improvements with a federal gas tax increase.)

    The problem with the gas tax is that it doesn’t address congestion at all. And you are taxing trips that can only be made by motor vehicle to avoid taxing motor vehicle trips where transit is an option.

    Again, someone do a Public Use Microdata Sample run to compare the average income of those who drive into Manhattan to work with those who drive elsewhere in NYC to work. And although the data is not available, I’d bet the data for other kinds of trips would show the same result.

  • Chris H

    “Congestion pricing will lead to the federal government to defund New York City because they’ll see that we’re getting the money from another source.”

    Alright, now that’s just plain dishonest. Federal agencies, such as the FTA, fund on matching agreements not charity. The more money the local government puts up, the more likely they are going to get matching funds.

    Please, someone correct me if I am wrong here, but I am pretty sure that I am not…

  • d

    “He says that he would pay for these improvements with a federal gas tax increase.”

    Yeah, I’m sure drivers in suburban Atlanta, rural Wisconsin, Los Angeles, Houston, Florida, and just about everywhere else in this country will gladly pay extra taxes to reduce congestion hundreds or thousands of miles away in Manhattan.

  • It is also dishonest to say we should pay for the improvements with a federal gas tax increase.

    He is opposing something New York can do (congestion pricing) by supporting something New York can’t do (raise the federal gas tax). This is just a dishonest way of getting nothing done.

  • Niccolo Macchiaveli

    Chris, I certainly don’t find it “dishonest”. The Federal transit/road split is always a subject of contention but since we lost the D’Amato/Moynihan tag team in the Senate the power of the so-called “donor” states to cut themsleves a bigger slice of the pie. Democrats and Republicans have been complicit iun that. Who knows the way that pie will be sliced in the future.

    New York on the other hand, could and should raise our own petroleum tax by taking the cap off the formula. I believe it is capped at $2 so as the price of fuel rises the effective rate actually falls at a time when demand for mass transit increases.

    Raising the New York State tax will be a big inconvenience for the oil patch, OPEC and Osama but it a great way to raise dedicated funds for New York State transportation. Unfortunately, Albany is likely to do the exact opposite.

    And Charles, more with the dishonesty. Weiner was on the Transportation committee and knows how the game is played in Washington. Bloomberg, on the other hand, went forward with a plan with no political strategy in general and no communication with our Federal representatives on these issues whatsoever. This at a time when the frigging Michigan delegation is authoring bills proposing to increase the fuel tax. That doesn’t make Weiner dishonest it makes him knowlegable

  • Mick R

    I’ve lost respect for Weiner — who was great in the last election. Block-box enforcement moves the jam down the street and does zero to reduce the fundamental cause of congestion: too many motorists trying to use a fixed amount of street space. Weiner used to be a reformer type. This is a return to Giuliani era boneheadism.

  • Larry Littlefield

    (This is a return to Giuliani era boneheadism.)

    I consider this kind of pandering a return to pre-Koch boneheadism.

  • Mitch

    A gas tax increase might be a good idea, in principle; but it would be hard to push through in the best of times.

    In times like these, when gas prices are rising on their own, very few politicians will dare to add to cost of gas by raising taxes; it’s more likely that some pseudo-populists from car-dependent areas will start demanding a cut in the gas tax.

    So if Weiner is proposing to fund transit improvements with a gas tax increase, he’d better have a backup plan in place.

  • word to that

    good point Mick, and i’ll raise you:

    freeing intersections will just make it easier to drive, inducing more auto trips.

  • vnm

    Horrible lack of vision and ideas. Who’s the worse obstructionist, Weiner or Silver?

  • Niccolo Macchiaveli

    Unless your vision and ideas involve gaining political power. In which case Weiner has hitched his wagon to the horses that can pull the strongest. The big idea people in the Bloomberg administration couldn’t come forward with this plan during the election cycle to let the voters have their say on it. So he handed off that football, or rather fumbled it, Weiner has picked it up and is running for the endzone.

    Meanwhile, the Mayoral candidates who support CP sit on the sidelines in exquisite silence.

  • Felix

    How does Weiner expect to be taken seriously by the editorial boards at the papers if he’s not on board with congestion pricing?

  • “the frigging Michigan delegation is authoring bills proposing to increase the fuel tax”

    Many people say that the Michigan delegation was also being dishonest (or even Machiavellian) by suggesting that fuel tax increase. At the very moment that he proposed the carbon tax on fuel, Dingle said that it would cause a huge amount of pain – so maybe he was just trying to discredit the idea of a carbon tax.

    Is it easier to pass a congestion fee in New York, which would make only a small percent of residents pay, or a national gas tax increase, which would make hundreds of millions of Americans pay?

    I am a strong backer of a carbon tax myself, but the House Democratic leadership is backing cap-and-trade rather than a carbon tax, because they think the tax is not feasible politically.

  • Chris H

    Niccolo,

    My point is that federal agencies fund on available matching funds (and merit), not because of financial need. Having less local funds does not make you more likely to receive federal funding. Insofar as earmarks put on by senators and representatives, I don’t think that congresspeople from other states are charitable either, but I could be wrong.

  • Gary

    Weiner can and should introduce legislation to increase the gas tax. What’s stopping him?

    Meanwhile he raises a bunch of red herrings about CP.

  • Chris H

    And this does not have anything to do with the road/transit split. This is for competing for funds by the FTA or the FRA (cross harbor freight).

  • Larry Littlefield

    (Who’s the worse obstructionist, Weiner or Silver?)

    Really, with regard to CP and the garbage plan Joe Bruno was prepared to do the right thing, a rare opportunity not to be missed. But perhaps Silver and Bruno have a deal to take turns.

  • Niccolo Machiavelli

    No, it doesn’t have anything to do with the extant road/transit split but it has a lot to do with the future road/transit split in the next Transportation Bill. It could help build an ideological foundation for road privatization. Jersey’s ability to transfer tolls to transit hangs by a thread. Turning over the turnpike to private capital for the next century will privatize our will to toll. If CP goes down maybe selling the Brooklyn Bridge will be next. Thats probably going to be what the Manhattan Institute will say.

    Regardless, none of that concerns Weiner who remains precisely focused on the next election cycle and it doesn’t make him dishonest. He is honestly coming forward to protect automobiles access to your street. I’m still waiting for someone to tell me where the pro-CP Mayoral candidates are. Maybe laying in the bushes? That, in my book, makes him just as honest as those who favor it in the abstract but don’t support it in public. Christine Quinn maybe be an out front proud lesbian but as far as congestion pricing goes she is deep in the closet.

  • Isn’t he worried that his national gas tax to fund New York’s transportation system is “regressive”? (In addition to being impossible.)

    N.M., not sure why you’re so proud of your hero for fighting to keep NYC free for automotive rampage, but from this transcript I’m starting to get the impression he’s budging on the issue. The fact that reporters weren’t invited, and the absence of anything really nasty about pricing like we were hearing from him in the spring; that gives me some hope. (He’ll need to do a lot more to repair the damage he’s done though.) Anyone in NYC politics who isn’t at least a “closeted” supporter of some form of c.p. now is too stupid to vote for anyway.

  • Chris H

    Niccolo,

    As far as NJ is concerned, I think that’s a bit of a stretch. From the details that I have heard, asset monetization would keep the roads in the state’s hands. What it would do is dedicate a portion of toll revenue to paying off bonds held by a state-owned non-profit. If the state wanted to raise the tolls above and beyond that for another purpose, that would still be possible. In any case, very little money is transferred from toll roads to transit. $12 million out of the $895 million revenue for the NJ Transportation Trust Fund (TTF) comes from toll roads. The $1.6 billion capital program funding that the TTF supports is roughly evenly split between roads and transit.

    NJ Transit’s operating funding, IIRC, comes partly from the gas tax and partly from appropriated general revenue.

    Here’s the link to the info about the TTF:
    http://www.state.nj.us/ttfa/financing/apprevenues.shtm

  • Niccolo Machiavelli

    Well Doc, no one here is a hero to me. More like Lenny Bruce’s line “just another schmuck”. But I do respect politics and have always questioned Bloomberg’s epiphany regarding PlaNYC after he was re-elected by a landslide and after he took the HOV lanes off the bridges subsequent to 911.

    Maybe politicians who are out front opposing CP are too stupid for you. My point is that closeted supporters do not help you and will not help Quinn, Stringer or Thompson when it comes election time. I certainly don’t think Weiner is stupid, far from it. And, you are correct, his position continues to evolve and become more nuanced. Thats one way to deflect the issue. I think its safe to assume Weiner is ready to let your vote go.

    So someone started out saying Weiner was dishonest and as the debate has continued he has become stupid. I think he is making progress. Transportation issues are very complex politically and often counter-intuitive. A lot of people hold the beliefs that Weiner and others perpetuate. Calling them dishonest and stupid will only help them in the eyes of their automobile favoring voters.

    By starting a fight he seems unable to finish the wise and honest (in your eyes at least) Mayor Bloomberg may have assured that the next administration will get elected by poking holes in his poorly developed proposal. And, by waving the Federal contribution under the voters noses he thought they would automatically follow the trail. It hasn’t happened yet.

  • Chris H

    Niccolo,

    The way that federal transit funding works is the exact opposite as the way he describes it, is it not? If so, he is either being dishonest or “uninformed” and should not be making the claims that he does.

    Your theories about how future federal transit formulas might work may or may not turn out to be true. I have not heard anything about any legislation pending that would change FTA new starts funding to need based rather than merit (and local contribution) based. Given the lack of concrete evidence showing such a dramatic change is in the books, I think that its pretty evident that his statement is patently false.

  • JTF

    Nic, good point about pro-pricing pols laying low. But there is nothing “honest” about Weiner’s October anti-pricing press release. This “plan to reduce congestion by focusing on reducing the number of trucks” is premised on the falsehood that “Truck traffic is the biggest cause of congestion in the City.” Trucks are 3% of traffic. Even if truck traffic increases by a projected 64% by 2030, trucks will still be around 4.5% of traffic. Big as they are, there are just too few trucks to hang our congestion woes on. The rest of Weiner’s misleading press statement implies that motorists displaced by congestion pricing will swamp the transit system. (Unless of course $750mil is found.) Not mentioned is that the feds will kick in half that and pricing should easily serve to raise the other half. Weiner is a smart politician and smart guy. That’s why his false claims, misleading statements and distortions are particularly galling.

  • Niccolo Machiavelli

    Touche, those numbers were pretty ridiculous. And I don’t think honesty really characterizes anyones expectations that fuel taxes are going to increase, I agree with you all there. I’ve always tried to be honest here and honestly I don’t think CP is going anywhere right now. Hopefully conditions will change.

    But it does not follow to say that it was dishonest to say that the federal matching piece is a red herring. Was it honest of the Mayor to hold it over Silver’s head as if it was a threat. That line fell like a led zepplin and weakened the good government thrust of what was being proposed. My point is that the name calling only strengthens the opponents although I understand your frustration when what seem like plain and simple facts are ignored.

    There are vested interests in the outer boroughs especially in the former two fare zones who clearly, and honestly believe that CP disadvantages them. Their position is being hardened and deepened. Calling them stupid isn’t doing helping win them over. They have lots of votes and Weiner is counting them.

    Turns out there is a very high administrative cost to the system proposed by the Mayor and Port Authority is going to skim $2 of it from the get go. Everyone knows that tolling the bridges has a much greater bang for the buck but prevailing wisdom had that it wouldn’t go through Albany.

    The political beauty in what Weiner argues about the Federal Government is that it marries so nicely with the basic thrust of everyone in this argument “someone else should pay” for the MTA capital plan. It can even qualify as polygamy if you include the basic thrust of the anti-fare increase jihad led by the tabloids today cheered on by the NYTimes.

    The longer we postpone identifying where the future MTA Capital money will come from the more likely that it will continue to be increasingly from the fare box. Thats where the dishonesty in the everyone’s arguments lies.

  • Chris H

    Niccolo,

    I concede that you are correct about the name calling. That being said, I still maintain that the statement itself is dishonest. This is different than Bloomberg, at least at the public level because USDOT was the one that set the deadline and Bloomberg was repeating what USDOT said. To say that federal funding will decrease as a result of more available local funding is in direct contradiction of publically available information about how federal transit funding works is more than misleading and quite frankly, insults the intelligence of anyone who follows these things.

  • NixIllegalPermitAbuse_Then let’s talk

    “When asked about his theory that the Bloomberg Administration has purposely ordered the NYPD not to enforce traffic regulations to aid the passage of its congestion pricing plan…” The answer is a resounding YES! Bloomberg and the NYPD have invited 150,000 government sector commuters to park in Manhattan and ignore parking permit regulations for years, and because of this NYC has lost $300-million in parking meter revenue alone due to illegal use of parking permits by government sector commuters [Bruce Schaller report, 2006 – NYC loses $46-million every year due to illegal parking on meters by government sector vehicles]. We don’t need any more taxes – The almost no-cost answer is simple: PERMANENT “NO PERMIT PARKING” SIGNS – especially in D.O.T. designated No Permit Areas. Put up some cheap tin NO PERMIT PARKING signs and reduce (instead of invite) traffic congestion by many, many thousands into Manhattan everyday. Please, let’s wake up and tell Bloomberg and the NYPD to enforce, instead of ignore, the LAW – save us some money and lots of traffic congestion. Nobody needs this congestion tax.

  • ddartley

    NixIllegal: permit abuse and absent enforcement pre-date Bloomberg. I’m afraid they’re quasi-constants, and yes, reasons to support some sort of congestion pricing scheme.

  • ddartley

    Oh, and seriously, NixIllegal, you want to see some REALLY interesting “no parking signs”? Go by any police precinct in Manhattan, and check out the no parking signs there–they’re DOT-made signs, but they all have another small sign fastened to the bottom of them, which say things like, “police vehicles,” or “except police vehicles.” Nice, vague toothless language that pretty much allows any vehicle with any kind of permit to park anywhere nearby. Including, often, park on sidewalks, with stripes painted half on them, half on the street. The signs almost look homemade, like the cops fastened them on themselves, but I doubt that; I bet the precincts just asked DOT to do it, and DOT obliged.

    See, it’s stuff like that that makes me think NYPD and Traffic Enforcement will NEVER, EVER, without radical changes, have any integrity when it comes to enforcing traffic/parking rules.

  • Larry Littlefield

    As for selling and leasing roads, don’t be confused.

    The goal is to take all of the money those tolls would provide for transportation in the future and spending it right now. That is the only real difference, aside from having some private entity to blame for toll increases.

    New Jersey has already been doing this by borrowing against future transportation revenues, and using those revenues to pay for past transportation spending rather than current transportation spending.

    So has NY. Look at the budget NY State road “trust fund.” More and more of the money goes for interest. In New Jersey, they are approaching a point where ALL of the money will go for interest, and NONE to maintain the roads or funds transit. NOTHING, except those tolls, and now they want to blow those.

    It’s a generational war.

  • Chris H

    Larry,

    I’m not sure where you are getting your information, but NJ does not really fund transit through tolls. As I mentioned earlier, only $12 million of the $895 trust fund revenue comes from tolling. The other $40 million that the toll road agencies contribute to the state go to NJDOT, not NJ Transit specifically. AFAICT, most of the $300 million in direct operating assistance that NJ Transit is appropriated from general revenue. If you have any evidence to support your claim, please give it. I don’t think its intentional, but that type of unsubstantiated rhetoric ends up being used as FUD just like the wild claims of C.P. opponents.

    The plan that Corzine is supposed unveil, as far as I can tell, neither sells nor leases the roads. They still would be owned and operated by the state. It is also incorrect to suggest that it is stealing from current transportation funding. It is not a zero-sum game. Because raising tolls is a political issue, toll hikes have been irregular and not indexed in any sense to inflation (for example, the Parkway tolls have not risen since the 1980s). Asset monetization would force regular toll raises that would likely not have occurred otherwise.

  • Will P.

    Asset monetization boils down to paying a ton of money to a business to provide the political will to raise tolls that the government lacks. If the NJ monetization happens, we will be able to put a an actual dollar figure on the price of that political will.

  • Larry Littlefield

    (It is also incorrect to suggest that it is stealing from current transportation funding.)

    No, I believe it is stealing from FUTURE transportation funding. That is the state would get money up front, which would cover transporation needs over the next few years, but would give up tolls for a much longer period of time.

    That’s the way it worked on the Chicago Tollway. That is what happened to all future New York tobacco settlement money, which has already been spent.

    And that is what I fear. What a way for current pols to become popular — something for nothing!

    If all this means is that a private entity charges tolls instead of a public one, than it is indeed ridiculous but not catastrophic.

  • Chris H

    I don’t think it is stealing from the future because the roads would remain in state hands and more can funding could be extracted from them in the future by accelrating the toll schedule.

    Its different than the tobbaco settlement or the skyway because the revenue can be adjusted with asset monetization whereas the others it is one time and fixed.

  • Chris H

    From what I understand, it won’t be a private entity in the traditional sense. It would be a government owned non-profit. It would depoliticize the toll schedule and allow it to be raised to what it is needed to cover costs and pay off the debts with which it is burdened. Is that completely ridicules? How so?

    The situation as you describe where pols get something for nothing has been going on for years. That’s why NJ is in $30 billion of debt. The 2008 budget has $2.7 billion in debt service payments. Hopefully freeing this up would allow the state to go more PAYGO.

  • Chris H

    Larry,

    If I am wrong on any of this, please let me know.

  • mmm. I smell money

    increased transportation, and higher truck tolls were already a part of the bloomberg congestion plan.

    congestion needs to be discouraged. higher truck tolls are not going to keep trucks out, without establishing a cheaper alternative to trucking.

    cheaper mass transit isn’t going to solve the problem without other changes such as tolls, road regulations, and parking regulations.

  • NixIllegalPermitAbuse_Then let’s talk

    TO: ddartley, above (^ 27. and 28.^)
    Time to bring you up to speed – times are changing, reality check – NO PERMIT PARKING SIGNS already exist in Chinatown NYC right now! The local precinct there has ticketed, towed, booted and confiscated placards of illegal parkers. People here constantly document complaints by calling 311 to report illegal permit parking. Chinatown is in a D.O.T. designated No Permit Area. I don’t care if permit abuse pre-dated Bloomberg, this is happening NOW on Bloomberg’s watch and he needs to fix this before congestion taxing. NYC has lost $300-million due to illegal permit abuse on parking meters alone during Bloomberg’s watch [Bruce Schaller report – NYC loses $46-million/year due to government sector commuters illegally parked on meters – go ahead, Google it]. Community Board 3 just passed a resolution requesting Permanent No Permit Parking signs for Chinatown. Community Board 1 will be doing that in the near future – Permanent “No Permit Parking” signs will change everyone’s quality of life for the better, and get some of the parking meter money back.

  • Bugg

    I’d only note-

    There’s zero chance of a federal gas tax increase. ZERO. Weiner may as well suggest building a bridge to the moon; equally feasible politically.

    And about permits-when does Weiner take his constituents of a mostly of a certain religious background who all claim to be “emergency” vehicles complete with light and sirens and parking plaques zipping in and out of traffic across Brooklyn and Queens? It’s frankly a miracle oen or more of these knuckleheads haven’t yet killed pedestrians, cyclists or motorists.

    If you want to buy what Weiner is selling you, good luck. Just don’t complain when he totally dissappoints you.

  • JF

    From a livable streets and well-supported transit perspective, Weiner as mayor would be a disaster. He’s obviously been told that there are people in New York who don’t own cars, but from everything he’s said and written, he doesn’t seem to be able to make any sense out of that fact, let alone understand what it’s like to not go everywhere in your personal motor vehicle. Can anyone imagine him keeping Sadik-Khan as transportation commissioner?

    Anyone who cares about sustainable transportation in this city had better be prepared to support someone else if Weiner wins the Democratic nomination. I don’t think we can trust the Republicans to nominate someone as thoughtful as Bloomberg any time soon. Can we agree now on finding a competent pro-livable streets, pro-congestion-pricing candidate who would be willing to run against Weiner on the Green, and hopefully Working Families, lines?

  • “I think its safe to assume Weiner is ready to let your vote go.”

    Funny thing is, he HAD my vote, when he didn’t have many others. I voted for him in the last primary, going against the foolish win-by-race calculus that so many Democrats embarrassingly embraced. And so much has changed since then! Thanks to Streetsblog we can know very well (without being city politics spectators) where candidates stand on street-level issues. On and off the internet people are rapidly changing how they think about the streets they own and the cars they don’t, and if Weiner doesn’t get with it he’s going to lose a lot of votes aside from mine.

    “So someone started out saying Weiner was dishonest and as the debate has continued he has become stupid.”

    Actually, I think he’s turning into one of those horrible closeted pricing supporters. So he’s back to “dishonest”–along with everyone else in the game. But I object to the idea that we should get behind a man who has been particularly destructive to pricing instead of those who have been silent or lukewarm in their support. (I also object to throwing coming-out metaphors at a prominent lesbian that in fact apply to everyone, for what that’s worth.)

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