Council Members Want “Blatantly Unfair” Toll Credit Corrected

The Post had a short item today, which we’ve linked to a couple of times, reporting that members of the City Council have sent a letter to Mayor Bloomberg asking for changes in the congestion pricing proposal that would raise fees for New Jersey car commuters or have the Port Authority commit more funds to the MTA.

The Daily Politics got hold of the letter [PDF], which appears below in full, including the names of its 20 signatories — some of whom, like David Yassky and Melissa Mark-Viverito, are pricing supporters.

Dear Mayor Bloomberg:

We are writing to urge you to correct an unfairness in the "congestion pricing" policy proposed by the Traffic Congestion Mitigation Commission, prior to the upcoming votes in the City Council and the State Legislature.

We are concerned that the burden of paying for congestion pricing will fall too heavily on New York City residents – and in particular on residents of Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx and Staten Island – while commuters from outside the City will remain unaffected.

Under the current proposal, bridge and tunnel toll payments would be credited against the $8 congestion charge. This means that commuters who currently pay tolls to use the Port Authority and Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority river crossings will pay no additional congestion fee. The bulk of these drivers live outside of New York City. At the same time, drivers who enter Manhattan via the Brooklyn Bridge, the Manhattan Bridge or the Williamsburg Bridge will pay the full $8 congestion charge. Most of these drivers do live within New York City.

This is blatantly unfair.

Indeed, the Final Report of the Congestion Pricing Commission itself appears to recognize the unfairness when it states: "The Commission recommends that the State Legislature consider the concerns raised by some Commissioners regarding the contribution of commuters from west of the Hudson River to the MTA Capital Plan."

We ask you, as the primary architect of the congestion pricing plan, to act to remedy the unfairness, either by amending the plan to require commuters from outside New York City to pay a congestion fee in addition to bridge and tunnel tolls, or by forcing the Port Authority to agree to devote a significant portion of their revenue from Hudson River crossings to funding mass transit in New York City (as suggested in the sentence quoted above from the Commission Report).

One proposal for addressing the unfairness would be to give drivers a full credit for bridge and tunnel tolls only if they reside in one of the five boroughs; under this proposal, drivers from outside the City would be given partial credit for toll payments but would still be required to pay some fee for entering the congestion zone. This would improve the existing plan in three ways. First, it would treat New York City residents more equitably in comparison to New Jersey commuters; while City residents would still bear the brunt of the new charges, the unfairness would be lessened. Second, it would raise substantially more revenue than the current proposal, with no additional cost; this revenue would enable more significant expansions in mass transit service than are envisioned in the Commission proposal. Third, it would make the policy more effective in reducing congestion by giving New Jersey commuters an incentive to choose mass transit.

We have been told by members of your Administration that a concern has been raised as to the constitutionality of a plan that provides a different toll credit to City residents than is provided to non-residents. After consulting with constitutional law scholars, we are confident that our proposal is constitutionally valid – just like, for example, the current practice of allowing Staten Island residents to pay a reduced fare for using the Verrazano Bridge.

As an alternative to adjusting the toll credit, another way to address the unfair burden on City residents would be to require the Port Authority to contribute a significant portion of its revenue from tolls on the Holland Tunnel, the Lincoln Tunnel and the George Washington Bridge to the Metropolitan Transit Authority, for use in funding system improvements within the City. We note that in expectation of the congestion pricing policy, the Port Authority cynically raised the tolls on the crossings it controls, so that those tolls will be exactly the same as the $8 congestion fee – thus ensuring that revenue generated from drivers who use those crossings will be spent by the Port Authority rather than on mass transit. Either of the two proposals discussed in this letter – capping the toll credit, or requiring a Port Authority contribution to the MTA – would ensure that more of the revenue generated from driving commuters goes to mass transit, and would help force the Port Authority to be a more responsible partner in planning and implementing the region’s transportation network.

Finally, we note that some of the signatories to the letter support the idea of congestion pricing; others do not, or have concerns beyond the unfairness of the plan’s burden on City residents in comparison to non-resident commuters. All of us, however, believe strongly that this unfairness must be corrected.

Sincerely,

Council Members,

Yassky

James

Mark-Viverito

Garodnick

Brewer

Koppell

Jackson

Gioia

Seabrook

Felder

Vacca

White

Mendez

Liu

Gentile

Lappin

Stewart

Vallone
Rivera

Dilan

  • Spud Spudly

    Good. Downward pressure is necessary since if CP is enacted there will soon be upward pressure to raise the fee. Advocates have already stated that they hope $8 is just the beginning.

    You guys are funny. You need to stop thinking that everyone who disagrees with you is engaged in some kind of cynical ploy.

  • He says, after cheering the outcome of the ploy.

  • spike

    All of the bridges should have a toll at least equal to the cost of traveling by subway ($4 RT). For all the public employees with free parking its cheaper to drive than to take the subway. (I pay a GW bridge toll everyday to commute to work out of the city). Other suggestions- 1) commercial buses should be allowed on the parkways for free (were possible). The buses to Rockland are more than twice as slow as a car because they can’t use the parkways. Its nuts to discourage bus use like that 2) Promote carpooling- quicker toll lanes at the bridge for cars that have two or more passengers. (two not three, three is much harder to organize on a daily basis than two and still halves the number of cars). 3) Charge public employees $4 per day for parking (same as a subway RT).

  • Cindy

    I am not a native of New York, so I truly consider myself to be a more objective party than anyone having to do with the issue of congestion/pricing in NYC. I am constantly amazed at the ignorance of double parkers throughout all boroughs, but most specifically Manhattan. I find it absolutely ludicrous that those policy makers don’t “get it” that when you are in a 2 lane road in Manhattan, and all of a sudden there is a couble parker, that THAT is what causes congestion! I just don’t get why this isn’t obvious to people!!! It’s amazing that people have TOTALLY ignored this as one of thee prime reasons for congestions. You say this isn’t enough to cause congestion…then be open minded and realize that this happens AT LEAST one time per block as you travel anywhere in Manahttan. So in essence, rather than having a 2 lane road to move the millions of people in the city, we only have a 1 lane road. Check out the backup of traffic due to just 1 double parker. And multiply this by how many times you see this on your average commute. So my question is…WHY is it that NYPD doesn’t spend a good majority of their time ticketing those double parkers. If that answer is that they do, I hardly believe that, as if they were CONSISTENTLY TICKETING these people, the issue of double parking would at the very least, be minimized. I’ve seen NYPD pass by double parkers all the time, and not stop to ticket them. What makes this so difficult to understand? Don’t you see how this affects congestion with your very own eyes, policy makers???? How hard is it to see this??

  • James Goldberg

    And yet, Cindy, how hard is it to see that rampant double-parking is also the result of policies that encourage too many motor vehicles to cram into too small of a space?

    Enforcement is chemotherapy. Congestion pricing is preventative medicine.

  • JP

    Spike,
    The reason buses can’t use the parkway is because they can’t fit under the bridges. One wonderful legacy left by Robert Moses, who’s elitist transportation policy still plagues us today.

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