Richard Brodsky: Working for the Public or the Parking Industry?

brodsky.jpgWestchester Democrat Richard Brodsky has emerged as the State Assembly’s leading critic of Mayor Bloomberg’s congestion pricing plan. Later today Brodsky will release a report on the steps of City Hall characterizing the Mayor’s congestion pricing plan as a regressive tax that puts most of the burden on poor and middle-income drivers (and ignoring the fact that only 4.6% of New York City residents drive to work in Manhattan’s Central Business District and most poor and middle-income New Yorkers use transit).

In his radio address this weekend, Mayor Bloomberg urged state lawmakers to "put aside their competing interests and come together" on the issue of congestion pricing. "To leave this half a billion dollars
just sitting on the table would be absolutely ridiculous." In response, Brodsky told the New York Times:

We don’t have any competing interests. We’re interested only in the public interest,
and the first thing the public interest requires is someone to actually
look at the mayor’s plan, fairly and thoroughly.

Yet, over the last five years Assembly Member Brodsky has accepted at least $16,700 in campaign contributions from parking garage interests, according to the New York State Board of Elections. Brodsky’s parking industry contributions far exceed those of any other state legislator (though Queens City Council Member David Weprin leads the pack with his $20,500 $40,650 haul). Specifically, Brodsky’s contributions have come from the Metropolitan Parking Association and the Mallah family, the owner of several parking companies and sometimes referred to as New York City’s "parking royalty."

The Mallah family has interests in several parking corporations including Merit Parking, Mallah Parking Corporation, Advance Parking, and Icon Parking. Shelly Mallah is also associated with New York City’s Metropolitan Parking Association and has made campaign contributions to its political action committee.

Vincent Petraro, the executive director of the Metropolitan Parking Association, a trade group representing about 800 lots and garages in New York City, has served as an intermediary for political campaign contributions for Sheldon Mallah, according to the NYC Campaign Finance Board. Petraro is also a board member of Queens Chamber of Commerce and chairman of its Legislative Advocacy Committee.

Parking industry contributions to Richard Brodsky:

$1,000 12/01/05 Sheldon Mallah
$1,000 12/01/05 Sandra Mallah
$500 3/28/05 Metro Parking Association
$400 3/25/04 Sandra Mallah
$500 5/20/04 Sheldon Mallah
$1,000 5/20/04 Sandra Mallah
$2,000 4/29/04 Sandra Mallah
$800 3/25/04 Sheldon Mallah
$500 12/30/03 Sheldon Mallah
$1,000 12/30/03 Sandra Mallah
$1,000 6/26/03 Sheldon Mallah
$2,000 6/23/03 Sandra Mallah
$1,000 3/03/03 Sandra Mallah
$1,000 11/22/02 Sandra Mallah
$1,000 8/26/02 Sandra Mallah
$1,000 8/26/02 Sandra Mallah
$1,000 5/06/02 Sandra Mallah

TOTAL: $16,700

How do Brodsky’s parking industry contributions compare? No other state legislator even comes close to the levels of contributions received by Brodsky from the Mallahs and the Metropolitan Parking Association since 2002.

Marty Golden $1,500
Denny Farrell $1,000
Sheldon Silver $1,000
Joe Lentol $750
John Sabini $500
Danny O’Donnell $500
Rory Lancman $500
Michael Cusick $250
Mark Weprin $250

Photo: Tim Roske/Associated Press via the New York Times

  • Jason

    Too bad Bloomberg didn’t bundle market rate street parking into congestion pricing. I suspect that would have dulled a good deal of the parking garage oppostion to CP.

  • JF

    Brodsky’s hypocrisy and sanctimony are galling. Surely there’s some organization of poor and middle-income transit users (preferably in his district) that could make it clear how full of shit he is?

  • James

    People are dying ecause of Manhattans pollution!

    Brodsky will have blood on his hands unless he endorses Bloomberg Congestion Pricing plan

  • comentz

    Davis Seifman of the Post reported the following:

    June 17, 2007 — A LEADING opponent of Mayor Bloom berg’s congestion- pricing plan has received more than $40,000 in campaign contributions from parking-garage interests since 2001.

    Records show that David Weprin, chairman of the City Council Finance Committee, received 28 contributions totaling $40,650 from garage companies and their owners.

  • Until we have public financing of campaigns, and/or high voter turnout, we can’t expect politicians to be heros. It is good to point out the corruption, as long as we recognize it as our failure to turn out the vote, not a moral failure of individuals.

  • JF

    True, Socialscientist, but the main point is that they shouldn’t be seen as representing their (supposed) constituents.

  • jojo

    The revolution will come from Streetsblog. When July 16th rolls by, its time to get pissed.

  • EVKeith

    How many people in Westchester drive into Manhattan to work, and how many of those are members of the lower/middle classes Brodsky claims to defend? The vast majority take Metro North or express bus services. We’ve got to find a way to wrest control of our city from the grasp of suburban politicians.

  • ddartley

    send those exact comments to YOUR Assembly member and State Senator.

  • How astonishing – is it really the poor who can afford the costs of owning and operating a car, and paying for the insurance, fuel, and exorbitnat parking fees in Manhattan?

  • Ed Crotch

    Even with higher voter turn out, it won’t matter. WHo is to say that those extra voters will be smart enough to recognize what needs to be done to save this city/country/planet? They maybe jsut more people who vote for their own convenience. Who knows?

    And whatever happened to term limits?

  • Michael

    I guess there must be two assembly members Richard Brodsky? At least, it cannot be the one who was praised on his 2006 compaign webpage ( “Richard is an environmentalist’s environmentalist […] and has led the fight to reduce air pollutants.”?!! Sigh …

  • Great stat from TA’s press release on their new study:

    “Meanwhile, congestion pricing opponents, like NY State Assembly Member Richard Brodsky, whose Manhattan-bound drive-to-work constituents earn on average $176,231 annually—the highest of any New York county in the metropolitan area—claim that pricing is a regressive tax on lower and middle-income New Yorkers.”

  • Clarence
  • David

    That report appears quite compelling. I understand why libertarians, conservatives, and the incredibly wealthy would support congestion pricing. But I don’t understand why progressives in New York have been so effectively tricked into supporting something that appears to be a trojan horse. For the progressives who support this, please answer these questions: 1) Would you support congestion pricing over congestion rationing? If so, do you acknowledge the unfairness of congestion pricing? 2) Why do you think the Bush administration is willing to give the City such a large grant? How do you overcome the inference that the program is a trojan horse?

  • d

    Congestion rationing is an idea that was floated recently by opponents to congestion pricing. It basically involves dividing license plate numbers in half and allowing one half to come on, say, odd numbered days and allowing the other in on even numbered days. There are other methods that can be involved, but that’s the basic details of congestion rationing.

    There’s one small problem: it doesn’t work. Rationing typically leads to people buying a second car, if they can afford it, so that they can have one that they can drive every day. This has been addressed on Streetsblog before.

    Regarding your second question, I am a progressive, but I won’t take the bait that you dangle in the hopes of getting hysterical liberals to bite. This money comes from the federal government (read: the Bush administration) but why is it a trojan horse? Most New Yorkers, liberal and conservative, were steamed when NYC did not get its fair share of Homeland Security money. Was there something about that money that was a trojan horse? Just because the money comes from a federal government that most New Yorkers would not vote for does not mean that all money given to NYC from that government is suspect. Perhaps you should explain what it is that liberal New Yorkers should be suspicious of should this money come to NYC.

  • David

    Doesn’t congestion rationing work if the license-days are tied to a car’s owner? That would prevent the problem you mentioned.

    The Trojan horse is mentioned in the report; the Bush administration is radical-capitalist, and it supports replacing social justice with “market-based” incentives at all opportunities. The administration wants to create support for, essentially, the “auctioning” of public resources to the highest bidders, which are always the wealthiest bidders. User fees for governmental services are antithetical to social justice and fundamental fairness, and allowing a plan such as this to occur in the heart of the most influential city in the US would be devastating for progressives.

  • JTM

    The late Columbia Professor William S. Vickrey in 1992 developed twelve principles for efficient congestion pricing. They are posted in full at In brief:
    1. Congestion charges should at least equal the social cost of the vehicle being on the road.
    2. Charges should vary in small increments to avoid mini-peaks.
    3. Social cost should be determined by how long the vehicle is int he queue.
    4. Charges are best assessed based on trip segments (pairs of points) rather than single points passed.
    5. Charges are optimally based on actual congestion.
    6. All vehicles should be charged, even if it is an accounting transfer for the City.
    7. Taxicab charges should optimally appear on the meter.
    8. On-street park spaces should be based on the percentage of vacancies available.
    9. Parking charges could be assessed by assigning each vehicle an account/card.
    10. Or parking charges could be assessed using vending machines with charges based on the computed percentage of vacant spaces.
    11. Delivery vehicles should have loading bays and should be charged extra if they double park.
    12. Implementing the system requires the support of the majority of the population that will enjoy the benefits of faster buses and emergency vehicles that can get through, to offset those who feel entitled to the status quo.

  • David

    JTM, those principles all appear to implicitly accept market-based, not values-based or justice-based, pricing. None of those principles address ability to pay. That sort of confirms one’s skeptical belief that congestion pricing is a form of Trojan horse to facilitate the rapid encroachment of the market into government, and (possibly) eliminate progressive income taxation (for a shift to regressive consumption taxation).

  • d

    David, with the exception of students and seniors, every subway commuter pays the same fare. A millionaire who likes to take the subway pays the same $2 (or for his weekly MetroCard) as a teacher making forty grand a year who needs to take it. The fare rarely takes into consideration a rider’s ability to pay.

    I think it’s your argument that’s a Trojan horse. Where are all of these low-income drivers who would be so put-upon by a congestion charge that we should take some sort of moral stand on their behalf? The median income in Westchester County in 2003 was over $66,000. In Brooklyn, it’s around $33,000. Given that only 4.6% of NYC residents drive to the area that would be covered by congestion pricing, market forces are already dictating the terms of congestion, only in a backwards way: those who do not use the service (transit riders, pedestrians, etc.) are paying for those who do (drivers). The market for our city’s roads, drivers from Westchester, are getting a free ride. It’s time for that to stop.

  • David

    D, all of that was covered in Brodsky’s report. You are in a catch-22; if the congestion charge does not change behavior, then it is nothing more than a regressive replacement for a progressive income tax. If it does change behavior, it will change the behavior of the lowest margin of the current users, which is unfair, and regressive!

    You are correct to assert that the subway system should implement a form of progressive pricing, with wealthier people who reside in New York (regardless of whether they use the service) paying for all of it through a progressive income tax, and the middle class (and poor) paying nothing. However, congestion pricing will do nothing to rectify that injustice.

    Free riding is more fairly addressed through queue rationing than through price rationing.

    Assemblyman Brodsky appears to be representing more than just the naked self-interest of his Westchester constituents; he is representing a principle, and an important one for the progressive community; its time to stop the constant encroachment of the market, and concomitant marketization of humanity. Let’s advance just cross-subsidization and risk spreading, and re-incorporate dignity into American life!

  • David,
    On congestion rationing, you also lose the $400 million annual revenue generated by pricing at the outset (going up to $1B by 2030). That very money goes to transit and helps improve capital spending, which in turn reduces the MTA’s rob Peter to pay Paul action that has been going to service the debt, which in turn reduces the likelihood of a fare increase once pricing is introduced.

    If you look at the list of supporters of Campaign for NY’s Future, you’ll see progressives, conservatives, car drivers, pedestrians, cyclists, rich and poor.

    The benefits of pricing aren’t political, only the haggling in Albany that we’re currently suffering.

  • Swobo

    "David," The program that the current grants are being made from is an evolution of something that really took hold in federal transportation agencies during the Clinton administration. Moreover, making congestion pricing out to be some kind of capitalist plot is difficult to square with its implementation in London by "Red Ken" Livingstone, whose political career is the direct opposite of G.W. Bush’s and not too similar to Bloomberg’s.

  • Chris


    This is a social justice issue. Cars are a type of private encroachment on public space. They take up public streets when moving and parking and they dump pollutants into the public air.

    Your equating road usage with other government services is a false analogy. Health care and education are not physically constrained, public space is. With only a limited amount of public space, we need to find a way to distribute it more equitably. Do we want to give it to cars, a type of private property, or do we want to devote it to pedestrians, transit and low impact private vehicles such as bicycles.

    Cars ownership, albeit not a government tax, is still a regressive cost-of-living expense for most people. The average cost for owning and operating a car is over $6000 a year per vehicle. That money is largely going to private interests such as automobile manufactures and oil companies. Conversely, the yearly cost for an unlimited ride MetroCard is about $925. While higher than it should be, the barrier to entry for transit (at least in New York City) is much more accessible to the poor than car ownership. Congestion pricing would be able to maintain or possibly decrease the pricing of transit which benefits the poorest New Yorkers while improving the service.

  • Brodsky harps on the PlaNYC estimate that the congestion pricing plan would speed traffic w/i the CBD by only 0.6 mph. (See story in today’s Times.) Yet that unimpressive-seeming improvement, combined w/ the projected gains for the other boroughs, would save transit bus riders alone an estimated 14 million hours of travel + waiting time a year.

    I did that calculation a month ago for Sblog, with the intent of casting Brodsky as the enemy of NYC transit users. More’s the pity that it ended up buried in a related story (back on June 15). Sigh.

    PS — great posts by Chris and Swobo, above.

  • Adding to the pile (though, David, it’s nice to have someone who can articulate this view without resorting to populist cliches) I would argue that pricing is not “radical capitalist” but capitalist, and rationing is plainly communist. I’m surprised that people advocating rationing are comfortable calling it “rationing”; we know by now that it’s a miserable solution to the problem of limited resources. As the economic system of the U.S. is capitalism and not communism, the choice of congestion pricing should not come as a surprise or be seen as some new and evil thing.

    The reason so many of us liberals here are down with it is we have left cars behind. It’s a personal choice, but as we’ve seen through the American mythology of the necessary automobile it no longer makes any sense to think of facilitating their use in the city as a question of “social justice.” Personal cars and trucks in NYC are a social disease—killing us whether we opt-in or not—that needs to be treated.

  • Hey, David…
    you should join us at

  • David

    Socialscientist, I like the site you linked to. To respond to Doc Barnett and Swobo, progressives should have opposed (and in some cases, did oppose) Clinton’s numerous privitization schemes when they happened, too. Livinstone has been accused of “selling out” when he implemented his congestion charge. (As an aside, neoliberals have not been good for social justice. Their entry into the Democratic party caused, imo, the 12 years of Republican national legislatures that we just experienced. I would like to see them leave the party, and start their own libertarian third party. That would make for a much more vigorous democracy, no?)

    However, back to the point; queue rationing is not necessarily “communist.” It is clearly a more equitable way of rationing scarce resources than price rationing, because instead of favoring the wealthy, it favors nobody. I strongly dispute your assertion that “we know by know” that queue rationing is a “miserable” system of allocation. Its worse for the wealthy, and better for the poor! All are treated fairly. It has been used in socialist systems (with a better record than you acknowledge, I might add), but that does not mean that the implementation of queue rationing (such as congestion rationing for cars in New York) will turn us into the USSR overnight. Because of our country’s (and New York’s) ever shifting governing parties, we have elements of both a harsh capitalist system, and elements of a socially just system, in most facets of society. Progressives must fight to prevent harsh measures of privitization from encroaching on our hard-fought gains at every possible opportunity.

    Chris, if you wanted to ban ALL cars from the City, I’d be completely in favor. Conversly, price rationing simply bans the cars of the marinally less wealthy, in favor the marginally wealthier.

    The Bush administration is no fool. They are only offering this carrot (the 400 or 500 million dollars) because they want to implement price rationing for all scarce resources. That will increase hardship, while reducing social justice. Their ultimate goal is the elimination of the progressive income tax, which is obvious from the frequent attempts to introduce the “Fair Tax Act.” Every battle progressives cede in this fight will increase that bill’s momentum. This has to be our Rubicon; a consumption tax will be the ultimate repudiation of social justice, and relative social equality. As an aside, “single issue” progressives need to see the forest instead of the trees; if environmentalists and social justice advocates don’t stand together, we’ll fall. If we fall, we will grow apart.

  • rlb

    While I wholeheartedly favor congestion pricing over alternative plans, it’s impossible to deny that there are a number of people out there whose lives will be messed up by it. Those people have three qualities:
    1) Modest salaries
    2) Poor access to mass transit
    3) Drive to work in the CBD
    Those three qualities combined with congestion pricing will result in fiscal problems.
    It seems pretty simple and agreeable to compromise and say come tax time anybody who makes below a certain amount and lives in the zipcodes which have poor mass transit coverage get reimbursed for half of the congestion charge (which coincidently is the cost of taking the subway).
    Then, as transit coverage encroaches on those areas, the reimbursement goes away.

  • David, I reject your “neoliberal” labeling, your offer to leave the Democratic party, and most of all your absurd blaming of moderate liberalism for the “Republican revolution.” Please come back to Earth.

    Some people might go for rationing of necessities like health care or food. But here we are talking about driving a personal car around Manhattan, which is not a life necessity for anyone.

    You claim that all are treated fairly under a road rationing scheme; I heartily disagree that those without cars are treated fairly under a system that divvies up vast swaths of city property for exclusive, free use by car owners. Some of us don’t have cars because they are wasteful in so many ways (including time); others simply can not afford them. How is it fair to have a special, rationed-out perk that is only available to those above a certain income threshold that don’t mind being extremely wasteful in their daily lives?

    I would urge a little more flexible thinking in reaching your progressive objectives; you dismiss FairTax and so presumably its (p)rebate system, which is exactly what you should be asking for here. Start every city resident off with enough of a rebate to drive a few times a month–available in cash for those who DO THE RIGHT THING by not driving at all. This would help the poor more than any rationing you can cook up, because in real life the NYC poor do not drive and so would be able to spend the money as they need.

    Congestion pricing on its own would be vastly more fair than the mechanized warfare that currently passes for allocation of street resources, but if rebates are what it takes to get some progressives on board I’m all for it.

  • Chris


    First off, lets be realistic here. You are not going to ban all cars from Manhattan in the foreseeable future. Not going to happen. Being left with the choice between the status quo and congestion pricing, congestion pricing is more equitable because it give priority to more equitable modes (walking, transit, biking, etc.) over less equitable modes (car usage).

    Secondly, there is no other way that I can see of right now for New York to raise the money for mass transit improvement that is not subject to year-to-year infighting in the allocation process. Large capital investment projects need a steady source of funding to work correctly.

    Finally, rationing is not more equitable. In fact, it is less equitable than pricing. It allows people who own a second car, the more wealthy, a higher priority than people who only own one. It is more regressive because the marginal annual cost of each additional vehicle ($6000) is higher than the congestion charge ($2000). They used this system in Mexico City and it did not reduce congestion but it did lead to a increase in the demand for used cars. Also, since it does not reduce congestion or increase revenue for transit, it is discriminatory against people with the lowest income levels who do not drive at all.

    I am pretty much as “progressive” (although I generally find labels problematic) as they come but I think that we should think practically. If you oppose congestion pricing, please give an alternative that is realistic and more equitable. I do not think that rationing is more equitable for the reasons that I have stated. If you disagree, please explain why it is a more equitable system than congestion pricing. If you cannot, please consider this: what is more equitable, the status quo where people who do not own cars are discriminated against or a system with congestion pricing. I think that congestion pricing is.

  • Chris

    Also, before you suggest city funds to pay for mass transit, realize that this must go through the annual budgeting process. I would rather have the progressive community focus on things such as fighting for better health care and better education and let mass transit skip this process through dedicated funding. Unless we are going to ban all conservatives from the city, progressives should focus their energy on winning better funding for these issues.

  • David

    Chris: I read the World Bank’s analysis of the Mexico City program, and I was unimpressed. The World Bank did not review the data objectively; the authors appeared to start with the assumption that price rationing is “more effecient” than queue rationing, which would be consistent with the Bretton Woods institutions’ (World Bank, IMF) perpetual recommendations to aid recipients to implement “user fees” for all government programs. In fact, I think that at least one structural adjustment programs involved such a recommendation as a mandatory prerequisite for future aid.

    Regardless, queue rationing can be implemented far better than it was implemented in Mexico City. First of all, license days should follow the driver, not the auto. That would easily eliminate drivers’ incentive to purchase additional vehicles to overcome the charge. Second, fines for violating the rationing program could be implemented progressively, as they are in Finland. In Finalnd, traffic fines are not stationary; they vary by the incomes of the drivers. For example, a director of Nokia was assessed a $103,000 speeding fine in 2002.

    Third, expansion of the current mass transit system could be financed by an progressive increase in the city income tax. All governments should be funded by progressive income tax. That is the core progressive value; social responsibility from those who can pay the most. User fees are antithetical to that principle, and the precedential value of having such a system implemented in the most important city in the US cannot be overstated. They are just another attempt by the wealthy to avoid their social responsibility.

    I disagree with your notion that the fairest method to allocate access to a limited resource is by selling it off to the highest bidder, or by devoting access to the wealthy. There has been far too much stratification of American society in the past 30 years. That’s the tragedy of neoliberalism; by undermining and attacking the fundamental concepts of cross-subsidization and social responsibility, neoliberals tarnished the word “liberal” to the point where nobody running for public office can or will use the term.

  • Jack

    David, how would queue rationing be enforced by driver? It seems to me that this would involve massive amounts of work. If someone who does not drive into Manhattan regularly wants to do so but is has to drive a car for whatever reason, couldn’t that person be deterred until the next day if it’s not their turn to drive? Sometimes people do need to drive; what if I’m travelling with more than I can carry? I should have that right to drive a car to my destination, but I should also pay the costs of the environmental, social, and economic effects that my actions would cause. And businesses will have a lot of trouble too. They would have to double their fleet size just to do business.

    Fines in the U.S. cannot be made relative to the driver’s income. If a rich person had a 6-figure fine for speeding, you bet he/she would fight the ticket and have it overturned because it violates the Eighth Amendment.

  • dave

    David, your goals are noble but your reasoning is upside-down. You regard roads as a special case — are they the only scarce resource that needs rationing? Are they the only case in which a user fee amounts to “selling it off to the highest bidder”? If roads should be free, and should just be rationed, should the same be true of mass transit? How about food? Electricity? All of these things are “scarce” to a greater or lesser extent, and all of them charge fees to users. Why should roads be the free exception, especially considering most drivers are wealthier than non-drivers in this city? You say you are progressive but the outcome you are seeking seems regressive to me.

    Also, why do you feel that it is progressive to tax people based on what they earn versus what they consume?

  • stu

    Tying queue rationing to drivers punishes those in car sharing programs. I co-own a car with a friend because we both use it to drive in to the city every day. If we were both designated as being unable to drive on a particular day, we might buy another car, maybe in one of our wives’ names, to get around this restriction. I’m happy to pay $8 to get into the city, but don’t really want to have to buy another car.

  • David

    Jack, first of all, if multiple people are travelling with “more than they can carry,” a user fee will allow the wealthier people to do so in cars, while forcing the rest to use less desirable methods (desirable for that immediate traveller, not desirable on a macro level). That is unfair. Queue rationing gives all people equal access to the limited resources, instead of giving preferrential access to the wealthy.

    Second, Jack, the 8th amendment does not prohibit steep fines. If the amendment does not prohibit 20 year prison sentences for passing checks with insufficient funds, then steep fines are fine. Plus, the fact that such a thing occurs in Finland would make it more likely to be considered acceptable under 8th amendment jurisprudence. Maybe the 8th amendment should be beefed up somewhat, but that’s a different story (for a different blog)

    Dave, a consumption tax is antithetical to the several fundamental premises of progressive social justice. First of all, progressive incomes taxes can eliminate inequality of income, while consumption taxes cannot. Second, consumption taxes are regressive. Third, consumption taxes ignore “wealth effects;” they allow untaxed wealth to be passed from generation to generation, allowing successive generations to have a signficant advantage in all economic competitions (“an unequal playing field”). Progressive income taxes allow government to amelieorate some of those “wealth effects” by tranferring wealth from families to the state, regardless of whether it was spent or saved. Fourth, consmuption taxes are another step in the direction of pushing the state away from worrying about production, and in the direction of merely attempting to counter secondary effects of injustice. For example, all other things being held constant, it would be positive for government to tax income earned by consultants (whose suggestions usually involving overseas outsourcing, downsizing, or other socially unjust methods of production enhancement) at an higher rate than income earned by librarians or teachers. Blind income taxes (such as our current tax) don’t do that, but consumption taxes take production out of the equation entirely. Traditional economists think that by shouting loud enough with their fingers in their ears, they can force society to simply ignore behavior during production and focus solely on behavior during consumption. Witness how they ignore non-traditional economics at places like Notre Dame! They have been wildly successful so far, because progressives have been too timid to challenge them. Its time for that to stop.

    Stu, you raise an itneresting point that should be addressed in any implementation of queue rationing. Ride sharing is positive, at least compared with solo drivers. I would have no problem completely banning solo drivers from the City. Registering a car in your spouse’s name, though, would be easy to detect, and easy to deter.

  • Had Enough

    The whole idea of rationing is so absurd that it is driving me crazy that we’re even giving it air time (and that RPA actually devoted its resources on a straight-faced analysis of it). The goal is to reduce overall traffic. Some traffic HAS to come in every day or even on certain days. You can not ban either automobiles or their drivers from doing so. You want to tell the person who has dialysis at NYU when it must be scheduled? You want to tell the person who doesn’t have a Wednesday number that there won’t be any Broadway matinees? When someone has to schedule moving day? We want to reduce vehicular travel to the most necessary — but not eliminate the necessary. And the only way of doing that is by price. So give up the rationing balogna.

  • stu

    This argument is getting ridiculous and is off on so many tangents that I’m reluctant to address David directly.

    That being said, he and other opponents of congestion pricing are focusing too much on the $8 as some sort of social injustice. Yes, it will be hard on some people, but guess what? Sometimes the benefits to the many outweigh the inconvenience of the few. We should have compassion for those for whom this charge will be a hardship, but the plan is not set in stone. It can be adjusted to accommodate the poor, just as discount MetroCards are available for students and the elderly. It’s not hard to envision discounts for those who can’t always take transit, such as the handicapped. The plan is not set in stone.

    Still, I find it hard to believe that eight bucks in and of itself violates the ideals of progressive social justice. What about the hundreds or even thousands of dollars that some families spend to treat asthma in their children? What is socially progressive about traffic that makes buses so slow that it takes an hour for an elderly or handicapped person to cross town at 34th Street? What is socially progressive about traffic so thick that we have to open city parks to cars during rush hours?

    Yes, David, if you narrowly focus on $8 coming out of someone’s wallet then you might be right. But you are wrong to call this a tax. It is a fee for a service that has so far been free. Is the subway fare a tax? Is cab fare a tax?

  • David

    Had Enough, the only way to reduce use of a limited resource is through rationing. One form of rationing is price rationing, another form is queue rationing. Price rationing benefits the wealthy to the disadvantage of the poor/middle classes. Queue rationing benefits nobody. As for your specific examples, I would assume that ambulences would not be subject to the date limitation, so your medical scenario is irrelevant. Otherwise, it sounds like you want wealthy non-emergency paitents to have better access to the public streets than less wealthy paitents. Such an opinion is not even remotely progressive. You want to limit traffic not to the “most necessary,” but to the “most necessary who have resources to pay.” That’s not progressive, and is antithetical to social justice.

  • Jack

    David, you’re missing the whole point. I used the words ”more than they can carry” as an example of a scenario in which a person has to drive. And what you’re proposing is far more regressive and has absolutely no benefit. Observe: again, lets imagine that a person is forced to drive. I don’t know, maybe I have to move a billiards table. And I have to do it today, no questions asked. Now, under congestion pricing I pay $8 if I’m rich or if I’m poor. But under congestion rationing, lets say that my car has the wrong plate number to drive. If I’m rich I’ll drive my other car. But if I’m poor, I’ll have to rent a car. And the cost of renting a car will always be much more than a congestion fee. I’m not even going near your proposal that we enforce it by name, simply because there’s no way to enforce that.

    And a fine relative to a person’s income is definitely unconstitutional. The punishment is supposed to fit the crime, not the perpetrator’s wallet. Is it more heinous for a rich man to speed than a poor person?

  • David

    Jack, do you understand diminishing utility of money? Assessing a 10 dollar fine against a man who has $50 is much more deleterious than assessing a fine against a man who has $50,000. If anything, a progressive should understand that flat fines are the only type of fines that could be rendered “excessive” under the “excessive fines” portion of the 8th amendment. Furthermore, a fine is only “excessive” if it is “arbitrary or capricious,” meaning that the fining entity neither took into account deterrence nor retribution. Assessing progressive proportional fines likely takes both justifications into account, and thus would not be deemed “excessive.”

    Jack, if there are two people trying to move pianos, and one person can afford the charge better than the other one can, appropriating the public streets to the wealthier user is unfair. If you want to reduce traffic, there are going to be hardships; those hardships can either be bourne by everyone equally, or primarily by the less wealthy. Enforcing congestion rationing by name simply requires license-days to be issued by family/name, and some short term cross-referencing to root out people who attempt to evade the system. Do you understand that allowing one to buy one’s way out of a system inherently favors the wealthy?

    HE, your arguments don’t make sense. If you want to limit access to resources, you favor rationing of some form. The two we have been discussing are queue rationing and price rationing. Price rationing favors the wealthy at the expense of the poor, while queue rationing favors nobody. You seem to favor allowing wealthy people with doctors’ appointments access to the public streets, but not less wealthy. That is regressive, not progressive.

    Subway fare is a regressive tax/user fee. Mass transit should be paid for by a progressive income tax. Taxi fare is not a tax, unless the taxis are owned by the City.

    Stu, the precedential value of this plan alone is far more deleterious than the current $8 charge. That’s why the Bush administration is willing to pay $500 million dollars for it.

  • d

    You’re ignoring the post that stated that the $500 million comes from money that was set aside during the Clinton administration. It hardly has its roots in the current White House.

  • Chris


    You never answered the question on how rationing would be enforced at the driver level. At the license plate level it is at least feasible. Please, tell us how it you would enforce it.

    Secondly, I also find the structural adjustment programs and privatization ideology of the world bank and IMF morally repugnant. But the question is why. Take the example of the Cochabamba water privatization. The issue there, at least as I see it, was that

  • Chris


    You never answered the question on how rationing would be enforced at the driver level. At the license plate level it is at least feasible. Please, tell us how it you would enforce it.

    Secondly, I also find the structural adjustment programs and privatization ideology of the world bank and IMF morally repugnant. But the question is why. Take the example of the Cochabamba water privatization. The issue there, at least as I see it, was that a publicly owned utility was being sold off to the highest bidder. That private company was going to raise the price of water to about one quarter of the wage of the average worker. It also involved the monopoly on all water supply, including rainwater collection. That is the price of a necessary resource for all people were raised to be beyond the means of most people, all in the name of financial stabilization.

    New York’s streets are different. The resource in question is transportation. Unlike water in Cochabamba, transportation can come from a variety of sources be it car, bike, train, bus, ferry etc. Charging to drive in Manhattan does not reduce someone’s access to transportation generally, just a particular mode. Moreover, the roads are not being privatized, they are still in public hands and still subject to public scrutiny and control, something you do not get with privatization (especially when it occurs in third world countries).

    Right now, all New Yorkers are paying to subsidize car travel, on one level or another despite the fact that about 50% of households do not own a car (the figure is 75% in Manhattan). This includes the NYCDOT capital program, NYPD traffic enforcement, snow removal, street cleaning, etc. I personally do not have a problem with subsidizing something as long it is something that should be encouraged: Health care, Education, and Mass Transit, for example. Private automobiles, on the other hand, do tremendous damage to the environment, public health, and communities, especially in a city environment. We should not encourage this behavior and in fact we should discourage it.

    Also, I have a very hard time with your argument that the congestion charge is regressive. Automobile ownership itself is a regressive cost. Many of the costs of owning and operating a vehicle are fixed or at least not progressive. Do most auto mechanics give a discount based on income? Is gas cheaper? Is insurance progressively tied to income? Again, you complain about the congestion charge being regressive at $2,000 per year yet you ignore the $6,000 a year average cost of ownership for a car. Honestly, if you want to look at regressive nature, don’t just look at the government percentage, look at the big picture. Do you think that the government should give away free cars to everyone, fill their tanks and pay their maintenance bills? If not, you are ignoring a much larger regressive cost.

    Also, by subsidizing roads, you are giving away to large, multinational corporations. By making driving roads free, you are encouraging people to waste more gas and buy more cars, increasing the revenue of such lovely institutions as Shell, Exxon and GM.

    I do not agree with the free market fanatics that the market “knows” best (a truly free market is pretty much impossible with collusion and how can the market know anything, it is a model used for understanding economics, not a sentient being), but I think that markets can be a useful and important tool of public policy. A free good has the tendency of overuse (or at least excessive use). While I would not be opposed to this for lets say, health care or education, as I said before, we do not want to encourage people to drive.

    You want to address the regressive nature of our current economic system, fine I’m with you with that, but this is a terrible place to start. By improving transit, congestion pricing will actually reduce the regressive nature of transportation by transferring funds from a hopelessly regressive mode, cars, to a much more egalitarian one, transit in that it will improve service and hold fares in check.

    Finally, I think that we need to face reality here. We can talk all day about making a system that is perfectly fair to everyone, but with the economic reality that we live in, this is not possible. New York City is not going to become a communist utopia (and I do not mean this a pejorative, I just mean that as what it seems you are describing) any time in the foreseeable future. Any changes the basic economic system needs to be done at a much larger level to be effective. If personal income tax is driven too high in the city, people will move out and the city will be in dire economic straits and the transit system, which is, again used by almost all the poor in New York, will suffer, just like it did with the 1970s financial crisis. If you want to raise the progressive income tax significantly, you really need to do it at the national level, not at the state and certainly not at the city level. You need to acknowledge the reality that conservatives and moderates live in the city too and that you will never, in the foreseeable future get a huge tax increase that would be necessary to support both free transit and transit capital program. Do you really think otherwise? Please, tell me that it would be feasible in the political reality that we live in.

    So left with the choice of the status quo, which unfairly subsidizes drivers, who are on average 33% poorer than the average transit user in New York, and encourages them to drive excessively which pollutes the air, kills pedestrians, takes up public space, etc. versus a system (congestion pricing), while superficially regressive, benefits the poor more than the status quo and is politically feasible, I think that congestion pricing is a more equitable solution. It will make a better city and a better world in general and I would rather have that than have the status quo and remain self-righteous.

  • Chris

    Correction, I said drivers are 33% poorer, I meant 33% richer.

  • Jack

    David, I understand that flat fines hit poorer people harder. I’m just saying it won’t happen in this country. Seriously, do you expect that every public service should be paid on a progressive scale? Do you even know how much it would cost to implement that? Riding the subway isn’t a tax.

    And you still haven’t answered a very important part of your proposal: if we have congestion rationing enacted by using surnames, how in the world are you going to enforce that? The only way that I can see such a system being enforced is if it’s by license plate number instead, and we’ve gone over many times that it favors the rich more than congestion pricing ever would.

  • t

    Subway fares would be a tax if those who did not use it were charged. Obviously, some of our state tax dollars go back to the MTA, but some of our state tax dollars also go back to the DOT to provide road services, repairs, etc. But the fare is a charge for usage, plain and simple. Use the subway once per week and you pay only $2. Use it ten times and you pay $20. Congestion pricing is exactly the same thing.

    This “tax” nonsense is just a convenient talking point, meant to raise the hackles of everyone who hates excessive taxation, ie. everyone.

  • Hilary Kitasei

    We offer subway riders a small discount for multiple uses. But it is a pittance compared to the break that car commuters get: discounted tolls and declining marginal cost over the huge cost of simply owning their car. Car commuters also enjoy the economy of scale when they take other riders. We have to reverse this stacked advantage if we want the most entrenched drivers to shift modes. Tax and toll and discount every component of each mode until it makes sense for a car owner to make the change. Congestion pricing is really just nibbling around the edge, but nibble we must.

  • David

    T and Jack, any fee paid to a government is a tax; thus subway fees are taxes. They are a form of tax called a user fee. Flat user fees are regressive, either to society as a whole, or within the subset that pays the fees.

    Jack and Chris, licenses would be reissued in conjuction with surname, and a criminal penalty would have to be applied to people who drove on prohibited days. Excessive elaboration on this is premature; I would have to think about it more than I currently have. Suffice it to say that I don’t think this is a significant impediment to congestion rationing.

    Chris, I initially asked why progressives would support something that appears to be a blatant Trojan Horse, the precedential value of which could have incredibly deleterious consequences for social justice. You answered that quite well in your final post, and it is clear that at least some progressives are going in with eyes open. We have probably reached a point where our prognostications of the future are simply going to differ. I think that the market-teers and privatizers are going to use this, if it occurs, as precedent for a massive increase in “value pricing” for everything. I note that, in England, for example, the London congestion charge has been cited as precedent for a nation-wide road pricing scheme. That said, I respect your perspective.

    I will say this; we didn’t arrive at this point accidentally. As recently as 1979, the top federal income tax rate was 70%, and in 1954 it was 91%. American attitudes about income inequality were drastically different then, too. Libertarians and conservatives tried to change those attitudes for 50 years prior, but were unsuccesful, until the neoliberals began agreeing with them. If neoliberals had not attacked the Democratic party from within (the DLC “bargain with business”), government funding wouldn’t be an issue, and the rampant income and opportunity inequality we currently have would not exist. The neoliberals stabbed progressives in the back not globally, but issue-by-issue, agreeing with conservatives’ fallacous premises but claiming that they could do things more effeciently (“good government”). Conversely, however, by agreeing with conservative premises (support for the market, rejection of unions, teacher blaming, etc.) neoliberals have caused an overwhelming lack of faith in government. I believe that practice manfests itself in this situation by the casual acceptance of technocratic economists’ assertions of the “effeciency” of regressive value procing, while ignoring (or minimizing) its regressive and unjust tendencies. In other words, I reject the notion that we can only fight environmental problems with the tools given to us by economists. It is tragic that progressives have shied away from addressing environmental and QOL problems with tools found in the toolkit of social justice.


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