Mayor Bloomberg (far, far background) at the Battery Park City Ritz-Carlton this morning
It’s now or never for congestion pricing, the MTA, and maybe even the city itself, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said this morning.
Speaking before a sold-out crowd at the Battery Park City Ritz-Carlton, Bloomberg and U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters were the guests of honor at today’s Crain’s New York Business Breakfast Forum, where the mayor painted a bleak picture for a city transit system without congestion revenues and the $354 million in federal funds that hinge on the adoption of a pricing plan by March 31.
"Refusing those funds is basically saying that there will be next to no MTA capital projects in our immediate future," said Bloomberg. "It’s just the truth of the matter. There is no money short of this."
Bloomberg said there are "only four significant issues" left to address in the current pricing plan. As to doubts that revenues will be dedicated to transit, the mayor implied there would be no alternative, other than "a steep increase in fares." The MTA has borrowed all that is "feasible," he said, noting that even with pricing funds, there is a $9 billion gap in the agency’s capital plan.
Residential parking zones will guard against park-and-ride problems, Bloomberg said. Responding to criticism of a toll credit for New Jersey car commuters, the mayor cited estimates that indicate the new $8 toll is already reducing peak hour traffic. "So, in a very real sense, there’s already a congestion pricing fee for New Jersey drivers," he said, pointing out that the State of New York receives a 50 percent share of Port Authority tolls.
According to Bloomberg, his administration is working with lawmakers on a possible refund for low-income city commuters "that offsets what they’d pay in congestion pricing fees that are over and above the comparable cost of commuting by subway" — a significant compromise reportedly insisted upon by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. He gave no further details.
Though he said the city needs to "make sure our governor is on board," Bloomberg bristled at the notion that recent turmoil in Albany could stall the plan, since the makeup of the legislature has not changed. "There’s nothing new here," he said. "Either you’re going to do it or you’re not."
Asked if there was any possibility that the plan could be passed now but implemented during better economic times, as has been suggested by Comptroller William Thompson, Secretary Peters responded simply: "No." For her part, Peters said she is "optimistic" congestion pricing will pass. If not, she said, New Yorkers will have missed out on a "once in a generation" opportunity.
Playing to his business-friendly audience, Bloomberg elicited rueful chuckles when he pointed out that while New York has four earth-boring machines at work on subterranean transportation tunnels, Shanghai has 90.
"Cities that are our competitors in the global economy are making investments that will ensure their future," he said. "So must we."