Open Thread: Congestion Pricing Stalled

Vent your frustration with Albany here.

Photo: Jason Varone

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    What really pisses me off is the politicians who complain that the plan would “unfairly” penalize people who now take the “free” bridges. No, it would fairly penalize them. They shouldn’t be getting a free ride now, and anyone riding a bus from my neighborhood to Manhattan unfairly pays for it by getting stuck in this “free” bridge traffic.

    I emailed Cathy Nolan about this, but she has yet to stand up to Silver and get him to cut it out. It’s her constituents who suffer.

  • I Have Asthma

    What really pisses me off is the fact that Republicans lawmakers seem to be accepting the proposal far better then their counterparts. Why is Silver creating a log jam while Bruno is willing to give it a shot?

    What ever happened to Democratic party being better on the environment?

  • This will be a Assembly district by Assembly district race. I saw a list this morning with only 12 Assembly members that have announced support for congestion pricing. Please everyone reach out to your local Assembly person.

    Also, reach out to your friends Upstate to have them support congestion pricing. It’s really in their interest – it’s a way for the city to self-pay for a lot of MTA projects that would need state assistance otherwise.

  • drose

    Ah, so many legislators, so little time. I mailed Linda Rosenthal and Shelly two weeks ago and have yet to hear from either of them. Maybe she is too busy thwarting the Gansevoort Peninsula sanitation location to respond to mail. As for Shelly, I’d be surprised if I ever hear from him.

    I think Bloomberg has not done the best job politicking this plan through the swamps of Albany. That said, maybe the best one could have hoped for was that congestion pricing was part of some type of trade, similar to what was mooted last week before negotitiations collapsed.

    A question to the group: does the horse by committee/camel that now looks to be evolving satisfy the major concerns that car commuting raises? In other words, doesn’t a committee controlled by upstate politicians that will govern congestion pricing dollars without any additional state money being kicked in by said upstate politicians worry anyone here? Or is the perfect the enemy of the good.

    I’m worried that the eventual plan may be so watered down that it ends up absolving the state of any but the most minimal contribution to the MTA in the future, while not really benefitting the city through reduced traffic and additional revenues to fix mass transit. By my tone, one could guess that I am too hopeful that Albany will get this right. But I’ve only lived here for a few years, and haven’t (yet) lowered my standards on what politicians will or won’t do.

  • mork

    Seems natural, Mr or Ms Asthma, that Democrats are more willing to maintain the socialistic status quo of free road space.

  • rhubarbpie

    I think this proposal did better than anyone should have expected. There is clearly a small handful of assembly members who want congestion pricing to happen and need to have their work supported — with advocacy by the mayor and advocates. I don’t think the public “shaming” approach is a great one this time around; rather, a concerted effort to win over constituents of recalcitrant assembly members by virtue of the good arguments we have is the way to go.

    Beyond that, it may be time for Mayor Bloomberg to look at his negotiating team, which failed badly in Albany. While it’s hard to both take over a new agency and run a legislative campaign, but Commission Sadik-Khan would be my choice.

  • JF

    What bothers me most is that if this is seen as a social justice issue, it’s “the poor little guy” who can afford to drive to Manhattan during business hours. I’m glad to see on the Campaign for NYC website that there are so many churches and organizations representing poor neighborhoods, but where are the biggies? Where’s ACORN? The Nation of Islam? La Raza?

    So many of the politicians whose districts have large numbers of low-income transit users should have been pushing this from day one. Instead, they have shown tepid support (Espaillat), dithered for a long time (Carrion), or withheld support due to lingering “questions” (Ruben Diaz). They seem to have been sucked into the “borough war” frame laid out by Weprin and friends, or else they’re so out of touch with their communities that they think their constituents are drivers that are going to be hurt by the plan.

    A strong push by politicians and organizations that genuinely represent low-income, minority transit riders would have shown Weiner’s populist rhetoric for the lie that it is. Instead, we get “questions.” Sadly, as out of touch as these politicians are, I’ll bet they all get re-elected next year.

  • I think that the threat of an MTA fare hike vs. congestion pricing should be stressed to New Yorkers. Transit riders far outnumber drivers in NYC. No one wants transit fares to go up…including drivers, since a lot of NY drivers also ride the subway. If the elimination of a near future fare hike was pushed to the public as contingent upon the passing of congestion pricing, I think we’d have a lot more support from everybody.

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    I hope you’re right, Mike. When faced with a similar choice, the legislature of New Jersey chose to raise NJ Transit fares instead of the gas tax or highway tolls. But as you say, transit riders are a higher percentage of voters in NYC than in the state of NJ as a whole.

  • Jason

    Well said JF.

    I’m still dumbfounded that CP opponents were able to frame this issue with the Orwellian argument that pricing stood to *hurt* the poor and working class. Driving in NYC is privilege largely enjoyed by the rich. Robust, reliable transit is most definitely a social justice issue. I can’t believe we’re even debating this point?!?!

    It’s going to be infuriating in upcomming months as the MTA gets closer and closer to bumping up fares. Expect the usual cries of outrage from Joe-on-the-street when fares go up, with little recognition that Joe rolled over and played dead during the CP fight.

  • Mike K is right. If the MTA cannot raise more money from other sources, they will have to make it up in the farebox.

  • Spud Spudly

    Go Assembly Democrats! Now please come up with some kind of alternative traffic control plan that will be effective and will affect everyone equally.

  • Drivers of the city unite! You have nothing to lose but the right to consume excessive public space and make other people sick/crippled/dead for free!

  • Felix

    I thought Silver agreed in principle to a congestion pricing plan. Wasn’t it an issue of Spitzer vs. Bruno on campaign finance that stopped this from happening?

  • rhubarbpie

    There’s some truth in what you’re saying, Felix. And there is still work going on to keep this going. It’s pretty clear that there are some hurdles to clear, though, with the assembly — and as I’ve said in other entries, I hope the Mayor will use his popularity to take the battle into Queens and Brooklyn and assign new DOT commissioner Sadik-Kahn to take over his hostile and inept Albany negotiating team.

  • Niccolo Machiavelli

    1) The Mayor”s political strategy has tried to put pressure on the Legislature to make this happen. The City Council has been left entirely off the hook, none have been asked to stand up and take a position on this. A couple have, tepid late support from Quinn, rabid opposition from Weprin. The Brooklyn City Council delegation has used the free time to push down-zoning to placate the NIMBYs and position themselves for future offices big and small. If the City Council doesn”t care enough for this plan to give it some home-rule support why should upstate legislators?

    2) Glenn takes the position that “its a way for the city to self-pay for a lot of MTA projects that would need state assistance otherwise” is probably but unfortunately correct. That becomes another reason for city people to oppose it since it lets the state off the hook for the MTA funding it has shorted through the Pataki era. And, worse, the same can be said for the Federal Funding piece which starts to look more and more like extortion. The same Federal government perennially shorting NYC on gas tax revenues now promises to give us money if we do CP. Again, letting cow country and the oil patch off the hook for transit funding. The Federal piece looks more and more like a big shell game, they “give” us money now for CP so that when the petroleum taxes are divied up they can short us later.

    3) Mike K takes the position that “transit riders far outnumber drivers in NYC”. That may be true depending on what you think “far” is. However, I have often asked the corollary question “do transit voters outnumber driver voters”? Intuitively I do not think so. I think Weiner knows this and has actually done the dirty political business of counting votes. I think the Mayor”s marketing strategy knows this too. That is why they are selling it to drivers as well, I saw a nice billboard today while gridlocked on the BQE (when I die and go to Hell the road there will be the BQE). Drivers probably have a significant majority in the registered voter category. Even more in the “likely” voter category. What has to happen politically is that the congestion pricing advocates must peel off enough drivers who don”t mind paying a couple bucks more to save the time. Funny, a lot of these people liked the Mayor because he let all the Big Box Stores park throughout the five boroughs. Now the same Mayor that was looking for space for a Wal-Mart parking lot only two years ago has now discovered greenhouse gases. Thats not much of a foundation for political support.

    4) The threat of a fare hike is largely a political threat, who is being threatened? The Mayor and a majority of the City Council are term limited anyway. The real threat is that the backlash will people City Hall with a new administration that rode to power opposing congestion pricing while Bloomberg goes on to national politics, maybe a cabinet position, maybe more.

    Also, at the MTA Finance Committee meeting today (the first web cast if you are interested) there was a lengthy presentation on economics of fare discounts and the history of fare increases chiefly showing that as the base fare has increased in the recent past discounts have more than made up the difference so the actual fare per ride is $1.298. There is a long term NYC economic principle that the subway fare must tend toward the price of a slice of pizza in the long term. My neighborhood has a pizzeria on every block. $2.00 a slice is the minimum, $3.00 is the max buying a monthly pizza won”t get you a discount.
    Theoretically the MTA doesn”t even have to raise the base fare, just end the discounts, just change the discounts.
    Again, thick with irony and hipocrisy the group that has benefitted the most from the discounts and especially the end of the two-fare zone were the “transit-poor” periphery in Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island. See how grateful they are now? (Forget the freebie Staten Island Ferry)
    Regardless, a fare hike is not the end of the world. NJT policy, briefly reviewed above has shown frequent smaller fare increases that roughly follow the regular inflationary pressures that everyone faces. MTA postpones fare increases until the sytem is ready to crumble then has a huge increase. No surprise that MTA commuters are more resistent to fare increases than NJT commuters. That was the case with the end of the two-fare zone. The pressure for a fare increase was so enormous that the Straphangers were able to leverage the free transfer with the introduction of Metro Card. I think that was a 22% increase on the base fare.

    5) Unfortunately Spud Spudly is right down the line with Brodsky. Bodsky is historically a strong supporter of MTA financing and one of the first things he did in his opposition to PlaNYC was to propose increasing state funding.

    6) And, an angle not covered in this evenings debate was the politics of the Transportation Bond Act. The state voters just supported the Transportation Bond act last session with all of the usual suspects leading the charge. Now they are presented with a new way to finance, tax and spend. Clearly they preferred the “just borrow the money” plan that carried Pataki for all those years. Now Scrooges Bloomberg and Spitzer tell them that funds must be raised after all that we can”t just borrow our way out of the projected deficit.

    I yield to no one in my irritation at the phony, knee-jerk populism that drives the opposition to CP. However, Bloomberg and Spitzer both won by fucking landslides. They both knew that congestion pricing was good policy when they ran for office. Why couldn”t they have burned up a dozen or so points on their landslide to let the voters have a shot at this then? Wouldn”t 55-45 been a big enough majority? Hell Bush would have called that a landslide.

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    Good points, Nicco, but on the issue of voters: Voters who own cars may well outnumber voters who don’t own cars, and I’ll bet that they donate more money. But people who commute by private car to Manhattan are a minority of drivers, and I’m guessing that they don’t constitute a majority of anyone’s constituents.

    The problem is that for some reason a lot of people identify with the car commuters, even if they themselves commute by transit. And even if their car-commuting neighbors are making their transit commutes worse.

  • frank

    While the goals of Mayor Bloomberg’s Congestion Pricing Scheme, namely reduced traffic and presumably better air quality, may be noble and worthy of pursuit, the suggested tactics to achieve them are unfair and violate a civic contract a city has with its inhabitants.

    Simply put, congestion pricing, is unfair and it is especially unfair to people of lower economic means. The city is a physical manifestation of the ‘common good.’ As such, all citizens should have equal right of access, and that access should be free. The city was built, and is maintained, with taxes raised from ALL of its citizens. This new tax would disproportionately hurt people of lesser means. Its easy to say that everyone must pay the same amount, but a Wall Street Banker will shoulder the burden of the tax far more easily than the salespeople who serve us in stores, the people who serve our food, and the countless other service providers who make our daily life easier.

    I will note two other important points:
    1) Many other easily implementable and more fair methods to reduce congestion have not been adequately tried or enforced.

    2) During my recent travels to London, I have personally confirmed no improvement in their traffic both through my own observation (I lived there 15 yrs ago) and through conversation with cabbies who said the same.

    What can be done instead of congestion pricing to reduce traffic and congestion? While I suspect that the people who are behind this idea do not drive much through the city on their own, frequent drivers can give a very informed perspective on what can and should be done. Here is subset of ideas that should be tried prior to congestion pricing:

    1) Greater Enforcement of Current Rules and Regulations. One needn’t travel more than 10 blocks on any given day to see the following ubiquitous infractions:
    a) Cars, trucks, and even city buses “blocking the box” and not allowing cross traffic to pass when the lights have changed, and
    b) Double and even triple parking by cars and trucks;
    c) Cabs picking up or dropping off passengers while blocking traffic,
    d) Anti-social driving behavior which violates NY State law
    e) Pedestrians showing blatant disregard for cars that have green lights and room to move
    f) Police officers blocking traffic to write tickets while they could pull over to the curb to do the same

    Each of these could be huge revenue sources to the city if they were better policed, and more importantly would be FAIR in their implementation.

    2) New rules & regulations. The city has implemented new rules such as ‘no turn’ streets and the like, and it should go further. For example, commercial deliveries seem to occur with immunity throughout the day, whether double or triple parked, whether permitted or not. The city streets are empty at night, yet very few deliveries are done at night (save for supermarkets). Why? Could regulation be an answer? Bus lanes (open to cabs) are common in European cities, but minimal in NYC? Why? Bus lanes keep traffic moving for public transport and encourage bus usage. Further, bus lane violations can be ticketed for increased revenues.

    Certainly, there are many more ideas than these. The point is the congestion pricing scheme is both unfair and represents skipping to a ‘last ditch’ solution without trying any reasonable and incremental solutions.

    this plan is misguided and misconceived and Mayor Bloomberg should look for more common sense and less draconian solutions first.


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