Assembly Member Kellner Comes Around on Pricing

kellner.jpgHaving portrayed himself as a lukewarm supporter of congestion pricing, Upper East Side Assemblyman Micah Kellner let loose with some surprisingly pointed remarks last week, when, to paraphrase, he told the New York Times he didn’t think Governor David Paterson would try to shove the congestion pricing bill down the throats of Assembly members.

Now that Paterson has announced his support for the plan, a recent letter to a constituent seems to indicate that Kellner has had a change of heart. Rather than oppose the bill as introduced, Kellner says he will support it while "working to make it an even better bill."

The assemblyman’s sticking points include exemptions for the disabled, whether or not they own a car; exemptions for hospital patients; surcharges for drivers who don’t have E-ZPass; and "fee equity for New Jersey drivers."

The full text of the letter follows the jump.

Thank you for contacting me to let me know of your support for the congestion pricing plan as recommended by the New York State Traffic Congestion Mitigation Commission on January 31, 2008.

I agree with you on this important issue, and I look forward to voting for the Governor’s congestion pricing bill when it comes to the Assembly floor.

I am particularly proud that three changes that I testified in favor of made it into the draft bill that has been submitted to the State Legislature: 1. Residential parking permits; 2. Dedication of any and all congestion pricing revenue to funding capital improvements for our mass transit system, and; 3. Exemptions for people with disabilities who have DMV-issued disabled license plates.

Until the bill actually comes to a vote, I will be working to make it an even better bill – because although we need congestion pricing, there are still significant problems.

*People with Disabilities*

The bill contains an exemption for drivers with disabled plates, but does not include exemptions for people with disabilities who use accessible taxis or those people with disabilities who have SVIP placards (about 5000 New Yorkers have these placards; they are issued by the New York City Department of Transportation to people with
disabilities who do not own their own cars but are frequently transported by another person, usually a family member).

*Patients at Hospitals Within the Zone*

The bill contains no exemptions for drivers traveling to and from Manhattan hospitals, several of which are located on the Upper East Side.

*Low-Income Drivers*

I believe that a tax credit for low-income drivers is appropriate and in line with New York’s tradition of progressive taxation (those who can least afford to pay should not be taxed as much as those who can afford to pay more). $8 is more of a burden for a family that is low-income than for a family with a larger household income because low-income drivers are less like to have EZ-Pass. I believe it is unfair to subject these families to an additional $1 surcharge for not having EZ-Pass, on top of other related penalties.

*New Jersey** Needs To Pay Its Fair Share*

I also believe that we need to see more efforts towards fee equity for New Jersey drivers. The current plan exempts New Jersey drivers from paying the congestion pricing fee, leaving them no incentive to park their cars and take mass transit. Out of state drivers should not be getting what amounts to a discount and leaving New Yorkers to pay the lion’s share of this tax.

Last year, I sent a survey to all registered voters in my district and I compiled a report from those findings. In total there were over 400 respondents. 64 percent of residents indicated their support for some form of congestion pricing, but most had reservations about some of the details of the plan, including many of the issues I discussed in this letter. My report as well as my corresponding testimony in front of the Commission on January 16, 2008 are available for you to read on my Assembly website (go to www.assembly.state.ny.us

<http://www.assembly.state.ny.us/> and click on my name, there are links to the testimony and report there).

Congestion pricing is an important and complicated undertaking, but one that I believe is incredibly important for the environmental, health, and economic future of the entire region. I’m glad to have your support on this important issue.

Thank you again for contacting me. Your opinions and feedback are important to me and I hope that you will continue to share them.

Very truly yours,

Micah Z. Kellner

Assembly Member

  • Larry Littlefield

    On Room 8 I had suggested a $10 fee and one free trip per week for everyone.

    Our elected officials cannot resist handing out special deals, especially those that have a liberal veneer (the handicapped! the sick!) but are in fact available for abuse by those who simply matter more than anyone else.

  • Davis

    This sure as heck isn’t what I’d call “leadership” but we’ll take it. Nice to finally see you on board, Micah.

  • momos

    This push for exemptions for everyone and their mother is very disturbing. You open that can of worms, when do you stop?

    What’s a “hospital visit” exemption? Does it mean a commuter can drive to work every day as long as a buddy at a clinic somewhere initials a piece of paper?

    Why not exemptions for jurors who have to attend court? If you exempt the disabled, why not the elderly? If you exempt the elderly, why not moms dropping kids off at school?

    Come on, get real. Either we do this or we don’t.

  • Heffron

    My doctor is in Manhattan too. Can I get an exemption on mass transit to see her?

  • Larry Littlefield

    Remember what the current “congestion control” is in the CBD parking. New off street parking spaces are restricted, jacking up the cost of existing spaces.

    The rich can afford garage prices — the company often pays for it so it doesn’t count as taxable income.

    The political class and associated interests gets the on-street spaces via placard.

    Everyone else can take the subway, at least until it falls apart.

    Kellner and the others want to recreate the system of favors in the new system that they have in the old. Such favors are the entire basis of political careers in New York. There really is nothing else there.

  • Dave

    Do these people with disabilities get an exemption from tolls? On the subway? Do we even know how many of them there are before we open the gates to fraud and abuse.

    Do we know how many low-income people with cars don’t have a credit card and therefore can’t easily get an EZ-Pass? They can still get one, BTW.

    All this pandering to the poor and disadvantaged is ridiculous unless we quantify that there is a large population impacted. I bet there isn’t.

  • rhubarbpie

    Whoa guys!

    Given that persons who are disabled — at least those in wheelchairs — are largely shut out of the subways (which have a dangerous gap between platform and car and often-broken elevators in the stations that even have them) and completely shut out of taxis (unless they can transfer from their chairs easily and fold them, which many cannot), you’d think there’d be just a touch of empathy here for a group that in fact does not have the same transit options as the rest of us. But I guess not.

  • rhubarbpie

    For the record, there are something like 80 accessible cabs out of a fleet of 13,000+.

  • gecko

    Whatever. Congestion pricing is a miniscule but crucial baby step that should be voted in, implemented as soon as possible, to move forward to bigger and better climate change mitigation efforts.

    By the way:
    Chunk of Antarctic Ice Collapses

    By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
    Published: March 26, 2008

    A chunk of Antarctic ice about seven times the size of Manhattan suddenly collapsed, putting an even greater portion of glacial ice at risk, scientists said. Satellite images show the runaway disintegration of a 160-square-mile chunk in western Antarctica, which started Feb. 28. It was the edge of the Wilkins ice shelf and has been there for perhaps as many as 1,500 years. The rest of the Wilkins ice shelf, which is about the size of Connecticut, is holding on by a narrow beam of thin ice. Scientists worry that it too may collapse.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/26/us/26brfs-CHUNKOFANTAR_BRF.html?scp=2&sq=antarctica&st=nyt

  • Larry Littlefield

    I have more compassion for the handicapped than I do those who would be using the placards allocated to handicapped people who do not drive under a proposal the pols are pushing.

    The handicapped who do drive will have nowhere to park if the number of placards continues to rise.

  • Heffron

    I don’t have a problem with disabled people getting some sort of pass. In fact the Mayor’s original plan had exemptions for folks with handicapped licenses, I wasn’t aware that exemption had been removed. But when you say people taking a hospital trip, that opens up a lot of questions about what kind of hospital trip, the type of patient, etc. Not everyone that goes to the hospital is so sick they can’t get there via public transit or cab. I don’t know what the stats are for people who don’t have handicap tags but can’t get around without a car, but a blanket statement like “Patients at Hospitals Within the Zone” is a little broad for me.

  • hospitals pay?

    How about the hospital-bound drivers pay out of pocket, and the hospitals reimburse the drivers a certain percentage, perhaps subsidized from Lockbox.
    The hospitals would be a little less free with their approvals, and still generating pretty nice profits…
    I wonder how many of these poor-health related trips are caused by lack of exercize due to too much time sitting in traffic??? Not to take this too far, but CP and liveable streets would actually REDUCE overall hospital visits!

    As usual, see Portland (City Commissioner Sam Adams)
    http://www.commissionersam.com/node/1423
    Bicycles, Cars, Obesity, Land Use, and Healthcare Spending: What’s the Connection?

  • If I were handicapped and not wealthy enough to have a car or able to operate one (maybe like most of the handicapped in NYC?) I would not be too excited about this outpouring of compassion. Take the funding that would be lost via this idea (outright, and by additional overhead) and send it to access-a-ride if you want to indiscriminately help the handicapped. That’s transit, so it’s still in “the lockbox.”

    But–isn’t it SO AWESOME that this guy flipped? I’m willing to look the other way on this, and a lot of other annoying but trivial things, if it means the Upper Driving Sides will support congestion pricing.

  • hospitals pay?

    Speaking of hospital visits…
    In the news today…timely and unfortunate, but sadly no mention in the press release of how bicycles could help mitigate the epidemic:

    http://www.nyc.gov/html/doh/html/pr2008/pr022-08.shtml
    OBESITY AND DIABETES RISING FASTER IN NYC THAN NATIONALLY
    New York City Adults Gained More than 10 Million Pounds over a Two-Year Period; Empty Calories from Soda and Other Sugary Drinks Contribute to City’s Obesity Epidemic
    The City’s rates of obesity and diagnosed diabetes both increased by 17% from 2002 to 2004. By contrast, the rest of the nation experienced just a 6% increase in obesity prevalence and no increase in diabetes diagnoses.

  • Charlie D.

    The MTA has a paratransit service for those who are unable to use other mass transit.

    http://www.mta.info/mta/ada/paratransit.htm

    I’m guessing that people who use these services would not pay the congestion charge. Perhaps these services could be exempted from the charge?

  • Jim N

    Definitely a net gain for the disabled, even without some sort of exemption, if finding a usable parking spot is made easier. Disabled who can’t use mass transit, and who drive into Manhattan or take cabs, and are able to afford this in New York City, probably can afford the fee. Anecdotally, I know two such men, and they both could afford it.

    We who can use mass transit will benefit from easier crossing of wide streets, faster buses, and of course cleaner air and less noise, as will everyone else.

    The impoverished, disabled, outer borough regular car commuter sounds like a made-up obstacle.

  • momos

    Re: Rhubarb pie

    I don’t have a problem with the disabled (meaning cars with handicapped plates) getting an exemption.

    But not everyone making a “hospital visit” is disabled. How would you possibly enforce a hospital visit exemption?

    Meanwhile, there is a comprehensive 24/7 service for people who can’t use subways or buses due to disabilities, called Access-a-Ride
    http://www.mta.info/nyct/paratran/guide.htm

  • rhubarbpie

    I’m not a fan of the hospital visit exemption — it’s a bit much — but I do think we don’t need to be silly about whether there’s an exemption or two.

    The key goal: get this passed in some form that brings in a bunch of dough and reduces traffic. If that involves some reasonable give-and-take, so be it.

    I’m told that the Bloomberg administration has (haughtily, in my view) declared the kind of exemption Kellner wants out of the question. That’s a great way of winning friends and influencing people. Or is it, with friends like these…?

  • MrManhattan

    If I were a Martian reading this blog my main question would be: Why are there no hospitals on earth except from South Ferry to 60th Street on tiny little Manhattan Island?

    As a real New Yorker, I’m wondering what hospitals they’re talking about? All the “Big Name” hospitals (Sloan Kettering, Columbia Presbyterian, Mt Sinai) are above 60th Street.

    If folks from Brooklyn, Queens, The Bronx and America don’t think their hospitals are good enough, well then I don’t think congestion pricing is their problem.

    Lack of (what they consider) adequate health care is. (write your congressman)

    In fact, one of the prime benefits of congestion pricing will be to allow ambulances to get people who REALLY need to get to a Manhattan hospital to get there before they die.

    Sorry if charging Aunt Millie $8.00 extra because she needs to schedule an appointment with Dr. Snuffulupugus in Manhattan to get her hangnail removed instead of Dr. Cookie Monster in Bay Ridge sounds harsh…

    Just kidding, its not harsh, and I’m not sorry, its only $8.00.

    I’m sure Aunt Millie pays her Manhattan doctor WAY over $ 8.00 more per visit than she would in The Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens or America. So, obviously, she can afford it.

  • Isaac

    Also, are these hospital exemption advocates aware of how much it costs to park in a hospital parking garage and the private garages around, say, NYU Hospital down around 2nd Ave and 18th Street? The parking costs are astronomical. If you’re driving a private car to a hospital, the congestion charge is the least of your worries, cost-wise. This whole hospital exemption argument is just ridiculous.

  • Niccolo Machiavelli

    I think there plan is to double park like the guy whose wife had to use the Dialysis clinic in Bklyn.

  • anon

    Refresh my memory…Did he double park for three hours while she was having the treatment?? The press reports made it sound like a simple pick up.

  • Larry Littlefield

    (If I were a Martian reading this blog my main question would be: Why are there no hospitals on earth except from South Ferry to 60th Street on tiny little Manhattan Island?)

    Damn good question.

    Back when we were doing it ourselves, I was amazed how many would-be parents were choosing to have their babies in Manhattan. I wouldn’t have wanted that long a trip under the circumstances. Every now and then, one would end up giving birth stuck in traffic on a bridge (something congestion pricing would help!) It is as if my fellow 718ers thought giving birth in Manhattan would confer Manhattan citizenship on their child.

    Basically, all the outer-borough hospitals are now partnered with the big Manhattan ones. The need to travel to the CBD for health care should be limited to very rare and specific services.

    One possible issue here — the hospitals in bedpan alley around Stuyvesant Square could be worried about losing business to those above 96th Street, among those who MUST drive and WON’T pay. How many such people are there, however.

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