First Impressions of Mayor Bloomberg’s PlaNYC Testimony…

Did you watch Mayor Bloomberg’s congestion pricing testimony before the New York State legislature? If so, what did you think? Here is the initial impression of John Kaehny, former executive director of Transportation Alternatives: 

Mayor Bloomberg’s advocacy for congestion pricing and public transit to a State assembly panel was the most amazing thing I have seen in 17 years of following New York City transportation reform.

For two hours the mayor, in his new role as transportation policy reformer and environmentalist, engaged with a group of Assembly members who voiced just about every myth, bias and misconception that Livable Streets advocates encounter on a daily basis. The mayor was effective and clearly understands the importance of improving public transit and getting people out of their cars. More than that, the mayor seems to have undergone a revolution in his thinking about transportation. As a result, the gap between Bloomberg’s point of view and the deeply ingrained "windshield perspective" of his questioners was palpable. By the end it seemed that the Mayor’s temper began to fray under the barrage of illogic and distorted questioning.

While Bloomberg deftly addressed most points, questions around issues of fairness and equity could have been handled better. One Assembly member, for example, asked why it is fair to charge a mom to drive her kids from the Upper West to Upper East Side. Bloomberg’s response was not forceful.

The mayor could have answered with a question in return: How is it fair that she should be able to drive for free but would have to pay to take the bus? Or he could have asked the Assembly members what is so fair about low income subway and bus riders having to pay for their city-friendly, non-polluting trips while congestion- and pollution-generating motorists cross city bridges and drive on city streets for free.

  • JK

    This seemed not to have excited much (any) comment, but what we saw today may mark a turning point in the livable streets debate. Whether or not congestion pricing passes the legislature, Mayor Bloomberg has displayed an understanding of how transportation and traffic affect the city that absolutely transcends his predecessors and other NYC politicians. In a year or less the mayor has moved from the simplistic view that traffic=economic activity=good, to articulating a sophisticated vision of a sustainable city. It was the mayor, not his staff, who provided the most insightful and direct responses to the assembly. If pricing fails, it will be interesting to see if the mayor applies congestion pricing to on-street parking and works to reduce the surge of off-street parking.

  • Glenn

    Thanks for the Summary JK. I too am astonished at the pace of events. Kudos to all the advocates who have made this possible.

  • Ralph

    I somehow do not believe that the people that drive cars get off Scott Free. Do they not pay taxes at gas pump?

  • gecko

    Spitzer should be at Bloomberg’s side. So should Bill and Hilliary Clinton, Schumer, Obama, Scwharzenegger, Al Gore, Elizabeth Kolbert, Joseph Fromm and lots of others and with public discourse at places like the New York Academy of Sciences and at town hall meetings and the media detailing the facts, figures, and with explicit media showing what is happening and what will happen if we do not act.

    A huge amount of inertia — both human and geophysical — has to be overcome to start mitigating and adapting to global warming and it can’t be stressed too strongly that we have to act now. Making NYC a focal point for doing this will benefit us all.

    Those few people who lose money or are inconvenienced can be subsidized or assisted — offer immediate services to baby them if need be to help them adapt to the change; bring those people front and center and tell them how they will be assisted — still, the costs will be minimal compared to the benefits and the accelerating astronomical costs and extreme difficulties, pain and suffering that will be incurred if mitigation and adaptation are not done on a timely basis and now. Call in Joe Stieglitz or Jeff Sachs to run the financials and how it is many times cheaper and easier to pay now rather than later (if the resources are still available). Or scientists Cynthia Rozenswieg and Wally Broeker to describe the enormity of the environmental problem and grave concerns of the world’s scientists.

    Put in perspective, congestion pricing is a miniscule but necessary step that has to be taken now.

  • Hmmm. Is JK, the author of comment #1 not the same person as John Kaehny, who posted the blog entry? If so, why isn’t his post highlighted in green. If not, well, then, what are the odds?

  • to #3: Gas prices and taxes do not come close to reflecting the actual costs (to others) of driving. This is what economists call “externalities,” or indirect and hidden costs. For example, increase in health problems due to exhaust, or just plain extra energy usage compared to public transit.

    So individual drivers get quite a break, but it’s little talked about because we don’t talk about middle-class subsidies for fear of alienating them.

  • Niccolo Machiavelli

    Amazing how fast a politician can move when he has nothing to win or lose being term-limited. What we really need to see is politicians supporting the Mayor’s program who have to get re-elected or at least want to, or could get realected. It will be a good program for the next administration. Of course that will be a new administration and pretty much a new City Council.

  • gecko

    Point taken but probably not true in Bloomberg’s case. It’s true he’s often picked his battles with successful outcomes dependent on chess games of political capital but he comes across as a standup guy trying to do the right thing.

    The stakes are too high for busineess as usual — which is bad business at this critical time — and as more and more people of action realize this so will the politicians; the smarter and more capable ones first.

  • Rod

    Bloomberg’s solution is NO solution its nothing more than an added tax to consumers.

    I am shocked at those who find this to be a good idea. This is a foolish step in the wrong direction by a bunch of foolish people unable to see the pending problems that should result.

    And the notion that those who drive, drive for free is shockingly stupid. One must pay to register the car, pay for insurance, pay for gas, pay to fix the car, pay to park the car, pay tolls, pay parking tickets, and endless other items yet someone attempts to tell us its free.

    I fail to see how charging someone for something in itself stops the action. Look at the price of smoking and the fact that it might kill you and people still smoke?

    Those who support this notion are fooling themselves into thinking its a solution. There are other options to consider.

    Solution NO. 1

    All public transportation should be free, including NJ Transit, bus, trains and the like.

    Why is that not an option?

    Why don’t you support that! Why don’t you suggest that? Instead of support this stupid plan. Who do you think is going to pay for the truck that has to pay $21 to deliver the goods? You so don’t be so quick to think this is such a great idea.

  • Hilary Kitasei

    Rod — Who do YOU think is going to pay for the free transit??

  • gecko

    Rod — Automotive transportation is extremely expensive despite high government subsidies and expenses and costs all the people in taxes, death and dismemberment, etc. including those that don’t use it. This is extremely unfair. The unfair tax stuff promulgated about congestion pricing is pure fabrication or at best a truly bizarre fairy tale.

  • Ricardo Montalbam

    Uh.. Rod, smoking has gone down significantly. I think you just made an argument in favor of congestion pricing.

  • pete

    The day Bloomberg proposes $5 tax on every cab and limo fare in ‘congestion’ area is the day I will support his plan. Until then, no way.
    Why should a car driver pay all the tax for congestion driving in midtown while cab riders and limo riders don’t pay the tax. Is some guys compact car more congesting or polluting then the Lincoln Town cars /yellow cabs that are far more common on streets of Manhattan during the day? Do those fleets of town cars not take up truck loading zones (forcing trucks to double park and block more traffic) while waiting for their next call?
    If Bloomberg were serious, he’d be fair.
    Taxing one group so another can zip thru traffic faster in not at all fair.

  • Taxi and hired car trips are already taxed proportionate to their length and accounting for daytime congestion. They’re so expensive, I walk and ride the subway everywhere I go! I like walking around my city, except when I’m faced with hostile drivers using their personal cars as weapons at every fourth intersection. It’s weird, because I’m doing the right thing and only using about one square foot of public space and they use about a hundred square feet, pollute the air, and fatally run down hundreds of New Yorkers a year, yet they get to push me around. They clog the streets because personal cars, big and flashy as they are, have become too cheap for New York; I could buy one with a year’s taxi fares, if I took taxis. But soon, personal car owners like taxi riders will have to pay for each trip and there will be fewer of them abusing people like me on the street. So my “group,” whatever that is, supports congestion pricing, and we’ll join anyone in supporting a taxi fare/tax increase too if that’s ever seriously proposed (and not just an embittered distraction from the present debate).


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