Brodsky Sows Doubt, Misinformation at Brooklyn Pricing Debate

siegel_brodsky.jpg
Fred Siegel of the Progressive Policy Institute moderated Sunday’s debate.

On Sunday, Temple Beth Emeth in Ditmas Park, Brooklyn hosted a classic congestion pricing match-up: Michael O’Loughlin of the Campaign for New York’s Future vs. Assemblyman Richard Brodsky (who, it turns out, went to shul at Beth Emeth until age ten).

The crowd of 50 could best be described as congestion pricing agnostics. An informal survey indicated that most take the subway to work (the temple is a short walk from the B and Q trains). They wanted proof that the plan would work as advertised, and based on the Q & A that followed the debate, they still need to be convinced.

The two opponents knew each other’s talking points almost by heart. Each had rejoinders ready for nearly every argument and statistic thrown his way. When Brodsky claimed that his license plate rationing scheme would reduce more traffic than pricing, O’Loughlin effectively skewered the idea, using rhetoric usually reserved for the other side. "How do you tell someone who has to drive to the hospital that they can’t, because they have the wrong license plate number?" he asked.

During the Q & A, the crowd asked pointed questions that probed deeper than the usual anti-pricing tirades. But as they moved the discussion away from broad pro-and-con arguments, and toward the nitty gritty specifics of the proposal now before the City Council, the Westchester Assemblyman who represents some of the wealthiest car commuters in the metropolitan region, pounced on every opportunity to raise doubts about whether congestion pricing would work as projected.

When someone asked how many pedestrian fatalities would be averted by pricing, for instance, it gave Brodsky a window to call the existing data into question and issue his familiar call for state environmental review.* When someone asked how much of the $8 fee would go towards enforcement and how much towards capital improvements, he played up the $125 million annual administration cost. O’Loughlin rebutted many of Brodsky’s claims, but the Assemblyman tossed a lot of spaghetti against the wall and some of it stuck. He returned to one particular stat a few times — "commuters are only 18 percent of the [congestion] load" — implying that the congestion fee wouldn’t affect the other 82 percent of trips very much.

A quick check of the facts shows that Brodsky’s heavily repeated 18 percent figure is way off the mark. DOT Deputy Commissioner Bruce Schaller’s February 2006 study, "Necessity or Choice" (download it) reported that "personal autos comprise an estimated 60 percent of vehicles with Central Business District destinations." A year later, Schaller’s intercept surveys of 1,600 Manhattan motorists showed an even higher rate — 74 percent of drivers approaching the bridges and tunnels in the Manhattan CBD between noon and 6 pm said they were making work-related trips (download it).

Though not everyone bought into Westchester Assemblyman’s obfuscations, pricing skeptics weren’t exactly won over either. They remained especially reluctant to believe that a dedicated funding stream for transit would not get raided for other purposes, with or without a lock box. One woman I spoke to after the Q & A, a regular subway rider, said, "I’m very dubious now… We don’t know if it’s going to work. I’m not convinced that traffic and air quality would be improved." Richard Brodsky: Mission Accomplished.

* In London, congestion charging has led to a net reduction of between 40 and 70 personal injury accidents per year and significant reductions in pedestrian injuries and fatalities inside the charging zone. For more detail, download the annual TfL monitoring report and check out page 70.

  • Larry Littlefield

    (They remained especially reluctant to believe that a dedicated funding stream for transit would not get raided for other purposes, with or without a lock box.)

    Hey Brodsky, are you prepared to admit that you and your associates are a lying cabal who suck out more in taxes than anyone else and provide as little in public services and benefits as possible?

    It’s the unwinable argument. “If you give more money to the government, you are giving it to people like me and my backers. We’ll screw you again.”

  • Dave

    Where is the official rebuttal to Brodsky? Come on Mike, respond to him and mention the facts:

    – Brodsky panders to the wealthiest set of commuters into Manhattan who can drive to Manhattan for free. Why don’t the Jersey pols mention that?
    – Brodsky supported the commuter tax repeal that irreparably damaged the city’s finances.
    – Brodsky gets a lot of money from parking garage operators in the city. Conflict there maybe?

    It’s one thing to try to do the best for your constituents but Brodsky does too much. Come on Mayor Mike, put him in line!

  • We clearly had the Wizard of Oz in our midst on Sunday. The first statement out of Brodsky’s mouth was a flagrant lie: “the Mayor wants to charge YOU $8 to ENTER Midtown Manhattan”… no mention of HOW you get there!!

    Though I think the audience was by no means uncritical, this man has been pulling strings from behind the curtain for many years and knows what he’s doing. O’Loughlin made a convincing argument and even pulled a few good punches (including mentioning the commuter tax repeal), but he didn’t go so far as to use Dave’s point 1 and 3. [And Larry, though Brodsky did confess to using non-tolled bridges to drive to the debate, that was the extent of his admissions.]

    Ironically, I think Brodsky played to the audience’s skepticism toward the very government he is part of, by stating that “lock boxes don’t work” (lots of knodding heads in the room) and that the numbers used by the pricing commission are not “real data” (then quoting the same numbers a few minutes later to support his own argument). The guy is a brilliant dissembler. As Agent 86 would say, “Too bad he didn’t use his skills for niceness, instead of evil.”

  • anonymous

    People don’t understand what NYC would be like without cars- how it would sound, look, and smell and what an improvement it would be. As long as people like Brodsky can keep the discussion to accounting and inconvenience, we will lose.

  • Hilary

    Instead of rationing cars, we might counter-propose rationing roads. The city simply closes them to vehicular traffic for given periods. This is a concept that Brodsky will understand, as it is done with great success in Westchester with the Bronx River Parkway on Sunday mornings. We should be able to easily determine when and where we can do this to achieve the 6.8% reduction in VMT.

  • Dave

    Hilary:

    NYC already does that by having those dreaded street fairs…makes traffic REALLY bad.

    How about rationing access by stopping the lane reversals on bridges and tunnels weekday mornings and evenings. Would actually save money on overtime and seems a no-brainer.

  • Mark

    The street fairs make traffic really good — they eliminate it. I’d love to have them every weekend. Close Broadway on the UWS every Sat and Sun? Pinch me, I’m in heaven!

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    Mark, if you could find a way to do it without fried dough or tube socks…

  • Hilary

    Street fairs are too random and too local to reduce VMT. I’d like to know what the impact of the marathon is.

  • Larry Littlefield

    How about rationing traffic by doing construction during the weekday, saving OT, rather than on weekends, which is when I drive?

  • Heffron

    But I love fried dough and tube socks.

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