Thompson: Car Commuters Should Pay Their Fair Share

City comptroller and mayoral candidate William Thompson is urging the Ravitch Commission today to push for a revival of the commuter tax to help stave off an MTA "doomsday scenario," expected to unfold next spring unless the agency gets help.

Thompson is also advocating a new surcharge on vehicle registrations in 12 counties served by the authority, which he estimates would raise an additional $1 billion a year for transit. As explained by Thompson’s chief economist Frank Braconi on WNYC’s "The Brian Lehrer Show" this morning, the surcharge, like the existing state fee, would be based on vehicle weight, and would result in an average fee of $200. Currently, motorists pay $30 in city registration fees every two years.

Naturally, Braconi was peppered with questions from indignant motorists, one of whom asked why he should "subsidize" transit. Braconi’s reply:

"There are many hidden subsidies of auto drivers … But the truth is that mass transit [riders] subsidize auto drivers in many ways. For example, the fact that we can park free on our streets for the most part … But the fact is we are all one city, and we all benefit from mass transit. Parking and driving would be virtually impossible in this city, it would be so congested, without a functioning mass transit system, and vice versa. I think mass transit users benefit that there are automobiles to deliver goods, and taxis, et cetera, et cetera … [Drivers and transit users should] realize there is some fair way to distribute the costs of making the city work properly."

Fielding a call about motorists dodging the fee through registration fraud, Braconi said that residential parking permits are included in Thompson’s proposal.

  • Streetsman

    Again, it would seem much more fair to charge for driving than for simply owning a vehicle. Congestion pricing was labeled a “regressive tax on the middle class”, yet it only charged drivers coming into an 8-square mile area of Manhattan during rush hours – a choice they could make (or not). This just forces everyone who wants to own a car to pay more, as a captive audience with no alternatives and no vote. That is truly a regressive tax, and bad practice for governance – financing operations with state-imposed administrative fees. Is this what we can expect from Thompson as mayor? Higher fees for bureaucratic process? I much prefer Bloomberg’s approach of pricing based on usership, or seeking sponsorship or partnership from the private sector.

  • ddartley

    Last night there was TV news report on this, and the reporter’s last words were, “still many motorists wonder why they should be made to pay for a transit system they don’t even use.”

    My head exploded.

  • ben

    We need to find a way to end the gas tax and funnel it into a with what, where and when tax and parking fees in congested or abused areas.

    We need to solve motor congestion,and also some cars may not use gas in the future.

  • rlb

    The highlight of his plan is the weight adjustment. Heavier cars have a host of social problems, one of which is increased damage to roads. The plan could conceivably be more palatable, and even slightly less regressive, if the $30 remained fixed, but the weight adjustment were doubled. I imagine heavier cars tend to be more expensive, implying higher fees to those with more money.

  • Car Free Nation

    I like this in combination with congestion pricing, as it discourages car ownership. Once someone owns a car, they will use the car for trips better made with a bicycle or with transit. My family and I were really surprised how much our behavior changed when we got rid of the car. We buy more locally, think differently about vacation, etc.

    It’s the only way to really make a marked difference in the amount of driving people do in neighborhoods like mine, which are outside of the congestion zone, but also have great transit options.

    We should charge for parking as well…

  • Jeffrey Hymen

    Aren’t car owners (myself included) “using” their cars even when they are parked?

  • James

    I like the registration surcharge idea in theory. I own a car and use it because I work in the northern suburbs, where mass transit is relatively poor. However, in my case, it’s not like there is another option out there for me besides driving. I’d ditch the cage in a second if I could but that’s not an option for me (and no, “find a new job” is not a valid response). I’d gladly take my bike on the train with me and ride from the nearest train station up there to the office, but MTA regs prohibit this for all but folding bikes. Those who live in one of the outer boroughs and work in another outer borough are in the same boat. The transit links are just not there unless you’re headed downtown.

    The beauty of congestion pricing is that for those who work in the Manhattan core, there are numerous transit options available no matter where you are in the city – even if you are located far from a subway stop, there’s always the express buses and Metro North. The revenue stream would beef up the existing modes to add the necessary capacity for the new transit riders and could potentially fund improvements. I could go on, but the moral of the story is that if you work in one of Manhattan’s CBDs, you don’t need a car and don’t even really have any business using one to get to work. Those of us who work elsewhere have to make do the best we can.

  • I don’t know where Mr Thompson got his $30 registration figure but according to the DMV website, passenger vehicle owners who live in New York City already pay a $30 use tax on registration, those outside the city pay $10 to $20, in addition to registration which the dmv website lists as $20.50 to $112 for a two year renewal.

    Adding a $100 tax, on top of the current use tax, for people who may never even drive their cars into the City, seems a bit unreasonable.

  • N.

    I know I’m speaking to the choir here, but owning a car is expensive in New York already, and mass transit is available, utilized and cheap, so how can anyone argue that this is somehow a middle class issue?

    When I owned a car, I was spending about an average of $500/month on transportation costs, including gas, tolls, fees and maintenance, and this takes into account my efforts to bike to work whenever I could because I was so broke. Now, without a car I, spend under $100.

    Maybe you could argue that it’s a middle class issue in Dallas, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Detroit or other cities without great mass transit options and more sprawling development patterns. (The outer boroughs have areas that aren’t well served by transit, but they’re a far cry from Dallas et al.)

    And this argument only works if there is a true lack of viable transportation alternatives, which becomes more debatable as cities look to light rail, bus rapid transit and commuter biking (take Los Angeles, Minneapolis and Houston, for example). I was surprised at the number of bike commuters in cold Minneapolis in the winter.

    I think this “debate” is just people dragging their heels at the prospect of change, especially those who currently benefit from transportation policies that favor cars, such as free curbside parking and toll-free roads.

    I have to admit that I felt guilty when I owned a car in New York. I knew that I was getting more than I was paying for, considering the premium space I got for curbside parking, the wear and tear I caused on the roads, the pollution that was coming out of my old car’s exhaust pipe, and the long distances I drove to work and back.

    When I couldn’t quit my job, I got a share with a coworker for a few days a week and biked to work whenever I could. Then I quit my job and worked somewhere accessible by transit. There’s always a way, and likely the alternative is cheaper.

  • This is a great idea! Why would anyone drive a car in NYC, other than to leave. I am surprised there isn’t more an emphasis on solutions to shore up the budget that include taxes on auto owners.

    People who own a car in NYC have to be rich. There are too many fiscal disincentives not to already.

  • lee

    That’s just the thing. All the people who “need” cars so they can leave the city on weekends do not think of themselves as wealthy and therefor object to being taxed based on that justification.

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