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Aaron Naparstek

Congestion Pricing Q&A With Rohit Aggarwala, Part 3

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Rohit Aggarwala, New York City's Director of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability, sat down to answer some of the more frequently asked questions about Mayor Bloomberg's proposal for a three-year congestion pricing pilot program. Below is the third part of our four part interview. Here is Part 1 and Part 2.

Aaron Naparstek: Mayor Bloomberg's plan proposes that all of the congestion pricing revenue would go to a new public authority called the SMART Fund. Why not let the MTA receive the funds? Why is it a good idea to create a new bureaucracy?

Rohit Aggarwala: I think that's one of those things that has to be discussed and worked out. Our proposal was to create the SMART Fund. Roughly half of its revenue would come from congestion pricing, the other half would be a joint contribution from the city and state. By devoting the revenue to a new financing board that would make regional decisions about transportation investment priorities, that would be one way that you can prevent the money from disappearing.

There are a variety of other ways you can do it. I think the commission and the state legislature and the governor are going to wind up weighing in on whether the SMART Fund is the right way. But I think there is near universal agreement that congestion pricing revenue should be dedicated to transit investment.

AN: What transit enhancements will the City undertake prior to the launch of congestion pricing?

RA: The proposal that we submitted jointly with the MTA and the State to the U.S. Department of Transportation envisioned a number of things, the most important was the roll out of more than 300 new buses. The buses would be used for increasing the frequency of bus service, new express routes, and some enhanced express bus service to specific areas within the suburbs.

What's particularly important in terms of making those buses move quickly are some of the Bus Rapid Transit improvements that the City will do, like signal prioritization, automated bus lane enforcement, and some of the incremental improvements that, for example, could facilitate easier transfers from certain bus lines to certain subway stations, things like that.

AN: If congestion pricing is so successful that it removes 112,000 daily car trips from the streets, will the subway system have the capacity to handle all of the new riders?

RA: Yes. On those few lines where there's truly no more capacity during rush hour, the plan takes that into account and creates new capacity on the bus routes that would allow people who use those crowded subway lines to switch over to buses. We think that we can enhance bus service so that it's faster and more attractive.

I think one of things that most people miss is that it's not like all 112,000 drivers are going to switch over to the 7 train or the Lexington Line during rush hour. There are lots of subway lines that, even at rush hour, have the capacity for more frequency or more cars and a lot of the people who will switch will actually be riding during the middle of the day. That is a time when the river crossings are not at capacity, but the street grid in Manhattan is at its most congested. So, that's a time when it's very easy to switch somebody onto the subway system because the subways are by no means at capacity at lunchtime.

AN: Will congestion pricing funds be used for public space, bicycling, and pedestrian improvements?

RA: We envisioned congestion pricing partially funding the completion of the city's Bike Master Plan. The Bike Master Plan is, of course, a tiny about of money compared to the Second Avenue Subway. But because bicycling contributes to a reduction in auto-based transportation, bike projects are something that I think should be eligible. We didn't include pedestrian plazas or things like that in the financing but we made a commitment in PlaNYC to do those projects. There's a lot that DOT is already beginning to work on. The concrete changes do take time but it's a new regime over there, and I think they are really pushing that kind of thinking as quickly as it goes.

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