Will Silver Defer to City Council on Congestion Pricing?

While we weren’t looking, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver apparently had a change of heart on congestion pricing, and is reportedly now willing to go along with some version of the plan, as long as it is supported by City Council Democrats.

silver.jpgThis little bombshell comes courtesy of the Sun:

The good news for Mayor Bloomberg is that he’s likely to win some sort of "congestion pricing" plan by the spring now that the Assembly speaker, Sheldon Silver, is on board with developing a plan to reduce Manhattan traffic by charging a fee to drivers. This is noteworthy because Mr. Silver has played the recurring role of obstructionist to some of Mr. Bloomberg’s boldest ideas during the past six years.

We won’t know what congestion pricing really means until much closer to the March 31 deadline for final approval from the City Council and state Legislature. We do know there’s no chance the ultimate agreement will look much like the original proposal for using hundreds of cameras to charge $8 a car for all cars below 86th Street — with a rebate for any tolls drivers paid to enter Manhattan.

That initial idea actually gives a free ride to drivers who enter Manhattan via the Triborough Bridge, Midtown Tunnel or Battery Tunnel (already exactly $8 round-trip with E-Z Pass) and a big discount to New Jersey drivers (who pay $5 round-trip) with E-Z Pass. The big losers under the original plan are those drivers from Westchester, Brooklyn and Queens who currently travel free on bridges.

The final deal will likely put a bigger burden on New Jersey drivers while adding some fee for drivers who currently pay nothing to enter Manhattan. The city council is the biggest obstacle, because 30 of the 51 members hail from Brooklyn and Queens. They understand clearly how the initial "congestion pricing" plan targets their constituents.

"Congestion pricing could be three blocks with some cameras around them," quipped one person involved in the process who doesn’t particularly like any of the ideas currently being floated. "But there will be something the mayor can call ‘congestion pricing’ by the time this is done."

Despite vocal opposition from Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz and City Council Member David Weprin, Congestion Mitigation Commission Chair Marc Shaw has insisted that East River bridge tolls remain on the table, with Assembly Member Richard Brodsky applauding them as "a step in the right direction". What remains to be seen, tolls or no tolls, is whether the plan that emerges from the commission (now meeting as of this writing) will pick up or lose support in the council, where 20 members (plus one) were warm to the original concept back in August. Then there is the $354 million dollar question of whether the federal government can also call the final version "congestion pricing."

And, of course, what of the payoff for Silver? The Sun speculates:

Mr. Bloomberg’s determination to do something about the unacceptable traffic that frustrates everyone trying to move around Manhattan is benefiting from a combination of technology and timing. Cameras can now easily read license plates to ensure drivers pay up, far different from just a few years ago when actual toll booths were needed. And there are genuine environmental benefits, making the general concept difficult to oppose in the year that green has gone mainstream.

In congestion pricing, Mr. Bloomberg seems finally to have stumbled upon a bold idea Mr. Silver will embrace. As a shrewd negotiator who’s mastered the patience of waiting until the last minute, Mr. Silver will surely extract some concessions — such as more cops on the street to prevent double parking and crack down on drivers who created gridlock by blocking the box. 

  • Mark Baker

    Read the whole Sun article. “Mr. Silver is signaling he’ll let the Assembly go along with whatever his fellow Democrats who control the City Council decide.”

    What exactly does this mean? Silver is “letting” or “telling” the assembly how to vote? Silver said months ago he would go along with the will of the caucus on congestion pricing. Many took that to mean he would let pricing fail by not agreeing to a backroom deal. Let’s hear directly from Silver on this. Does he support congestion pricing?

  • fdr

    If you expect to get a straight answer from Shelly Silver, you’re dreaming. He won’t let on until the very end.

  • da

    Why the exclusive focus on drivers?:

    “That initial idea actually gives a free ride to drivers…”

    “…and a big discount to New Jersey drivers…”

    “The big losers under the original plan are those drivers…”

    “The final deal will likely put a bigger burden on New Jersey drivers while adding some fee for drivers…”

    What about all of us NON-DRIVERS??? It’s like we don’t exist.

  • Great point da! “Drivers” is not a suitable synonym for “PEOPLE”

  • JF

    The city council is the biggest obstacle, because 30 of the 51 members hail from Brooklyn and Queens. They understand clearly how the initial “congestion pricing” plan targets their constituents.

    No, they don’t. They understand how the plan would inconvenience them, and their friends and their biggest donors, but they really seem to have no idea how much the plan would benefit their constituents overall.

  • mf

    I agree with JF. The City Council and the Assembly need to change their understanding of whom they represent. Now they divide the people into the fat-cat car owners vs the poor and powerless. They need to understand that there’s a movement of people who want livable streets and who choose to go car-free as a lifestyle choice, rather than just because they can’t afford a car. And that these people vote.

  • Niccolo Machiavelli

    If those people “vote” mf (great acronym by the way) then there should be no problem. The problem here is the clear perception that they don’t, or at least not in as big a numbers as their car-owning brethren. This is really not any big surprise; that the Assembly will leave it up the the City Council. Thats the way it has been all along. Its a “go ahead, make my day” thing for the assembly. The problem is that term limited City Councilpeople (Fidler, DeBlasio, Liu) all want another political job and have already wired themselves into a position opposing CP. Quinn, who would be Mayor, has a heavier lift, she came out in favor or it. Now she has to determine what “it ” is and hopefully drive a winning policy or she is nowhere in the race against Weiner. It is Christine’s game to win or lose. She should get a lot to say in the form of this thing now. Weiner is wired into a opposition position and unless the thing they come up with is a raving success in the short period between implementation and the next election he is in a great position to be the next mayor.

  • Quinn should in theory be able to craft a good compromise, better than the Assembly IMHO.

    I could see a Sam Swartz-lite compromise where higher tolls coming into the CBD are matched with lower tolls on other intra-city bridges to gain support of “drivers”. The border can then change to 60th street (since you can then get all QBB traffic included) and move further up if necessary later.

    I can see a lot of Queens and Brooklyn CMs voting for this or getting something else they want from Quinn.

    Quinn vs. Weiner? Neither is worthy to be mayor IMHO.

    Stringer in 2009

  • MD

    Why does Brodsky prefers bridge tolls?

  • BicyclesOnly

    MD, Brodsky may favor the tolls because he represents Westchester commuters who enter NYC from the north over bridges that are already tolled, who would lose little or nothing from the imposition of tolls on the East River crossings.

  • Niccolo Machiavelli

    The Sam Schwartz proposal would have to cut into the TBTA/MTA toll formula, a third rail if there ever were one and our only real transfer of funds from drivers to transit riders. The cure is worse than the disease. It might eliminate some congestion but it would most certainly create huge budget holes in the MTA. After 911 Sam pitched in and helped the parking industry kill HOV lanes on those same bridges. Thanks Sam.

  • HSS

    Westchester drivers traveling south of 60th street would pay the same under mayor’s original congestion zone plan and the 60th street cordon plus East River Bridge option. Only difference seems to be whether the FDR and 9A are priced. Under the “bridges” option the FDR and 9A West Side Highway would be priced at the bridges or 60th street. Though to keep the price the same as the the MTA and PA crossings, they would have to lower the 60th st/ ERB tolls or raise the charge at the already paid crossings.

  • JF

    If those people “vote” mf […] then there should be no problem. The problem here is the clear perception that they don’t, or at least not in as big a numbers as their car-owning brethren.

    It’s a funny thing, the electeds’ perception of their constituents. I don’t think it’s so much that they think the non-drivers don’t vote. Here are my guesses:

    1. They think that the non-drivers don’t exist.

    2. They don’t see their congestion pricing stance as being anti-transit, anti-environment and anti-economy (although it’s all those things). They think that it’s all about rich drivers vs. middle-class drivers, and the non-drivers have nothing at stake.

    3. They think that non-drivers all want to be drivers, and identify with drivers enough that we’ll vote against our own interests.

    4. They don’t think any of these things, but they think there are enough gullible non-drivers that if they feed them bullshit like (1), (2) and (3) they’ll believe it.

    5. Non-drivers may vote, but what’s the likelihood that any of them will be voted out for not supporting congestion pricing?

    Most of these politicians won’t be facing any serious opposition at all, especially in the Assembly where elections are so frequently rigged. If there is a contested election, the challenger is most likely going to be from the same smugly car-driving class as the incumbent, and have the same opinions about congestion pricing. If there is a difference of opinion about congestion pricing, it will probably be trumped by some other issue. Even if it isn’t, the donors are probably mostly anti-congestion pricing.

    Ugh.

  • MrManhattan

    “What about all of us NON-DRIVERS??? It’s like we don’t exist.”

    “Great point da! “Drivers” is not a suitable synonym for “PEOPLE””

    Since I make a distinction between “New Yorkers” and “Americans”, I’m frequently asked how can you tell the difference?

    I say it’s easy: The American is the one with the car wrapped around it!

  • Niccolo Machiavelli

    I think your right about the elections being rigged in the Assembly and Senate, its actually pretty well established and accepted. They cut a deal a long time ago regarding districting. This is about Assemblypeople with very safe seats in any event seeking protection from term-limited City Councilpeople hungry for their next gig.

    Sad but true, one of the first things a poor person gets in New York when he gets a middle-class job (fucking miracle) is go buy a car. Sometimes, a car is a ticket to that job.

    There are two New Yorks in more ways than one. The rich and the poor seem obvious. But there are also people who work in Manhattan, or along the transit routes to Manhattan, and there are people who work elsewhere. Unfortunately, if you live outside of Manhattan, and most New Yorkers do, you have a lot of jobs within a reasonable commute in the burbs, across the periphery of the city or even Jersey. A lot of people have that commute.

    The reverse commute is almost impossible by transit from Brooklyn, or even Queens, to most of Long Island, thats a lot of jobs. Until the NIMBY’s get off their opposition to mainline third track (see NY State Senate) it will remain so. And, a lot of working class jobs that used to be in the city have moved to the burbs and Jersey. Bloomberg’s development plans, converting manufacturing districts to real estate, haven’t helped.

    So if you are a working class schmuck in Brooklyn or Queens there is a real good chance you actually do need a car to get to your job. Someday it won’t be so. Maybe after Bloomberg’s development program really takes hold changes will be made. Paris, often cited by CP New Urbanists has all the poor and working classes living in the periphery.

    There is a lot of class resentment being mined by the CP opposition. Not a small part of that is rooted in Bloomberg’s gentrification juggernaut. If you can sell it in the City Council you can win. 60% of City Council is from Brooklyn and Queens, sprinkle in Staten Island and you have Weiner’s winning formula. What City Councilpeople from Brooklyn and Queens, besides Yassky, actually support CP?

  • JF

    The reverse commute is almost impossible by transit from Brooklyn, or even Queens, to most of Long Island, thats a lot of jobs.

    Sorry, Nico, your analysis is usually pretty accurate, but I think you’re wrong here. I live in Queens and I’ve commuted to jobs in Brooklyn, Long Island and even New Jersey. I have neighbors who commute to the Bronx and Westchester. All by train and bus.

    When I was working on the Island, I saw lots and lots of people making that reverse commute from Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens to Mineola and Hempstead – among other places. Stand on the outbound platform at Jamaica in the morning, and you’ll see hundreds of commuters from Brooklyn changing trains.

    I didn’t notice anyone from Queens making the LIRR/NJ Transit transfer with me, but there certainly were – and are – many people from Manhattan heading out to Newark, Princeton, Basking Ridge, Madison and other NJ job centers. And they’re not all from the fancy parts of Manhattan.

    I think that a lot of these people had cars already and didn’t look into transit. Also, many of these suburban employers offer free or low-cost parking. That’s the main thing: if you’re a private employee going from Jackson Heights to Midtown, there’s an incentive to leave your car at home: the exorbitant cost of parking and tolls. If you’re going from Jackson Heights to Uniondale, there’s no real incentive to take the train. Even so, a lot of people do.

  • Great comments all Although “drivers are not a synonym for people,” we have to start focusing on how drivers will benefit from CP-Tolls (CPT). Shorter commutes and less congestion throughout the boroughs due to ripple effect of fewer phalanxes of vehicles clogging roads going toward free bridges–and on FDR and 9A. Making them free “bypasses” would only make them worse. And they’re the only place to catch the auto commuters on free brides from the north. They and the ER bridge people will be “hardest hit” because they have had a free ride for so long.

  • Larry Littlefield

    (Why the exclusive focus on drivers?)

    In a way, this is all about drivers. They aren’t just those paying. They are also the beneficiaries of less congestion, except that bus travel in Manhattan may be speeded up.

    Either proposal would eliminate the incentive to travel through Downtown Brooklyn or Long Island City if the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel or Queens Midtown Tunnel is more direct. Thus, there would be a big reduction in traffic in those areas. If the cost were equal, I doubt I would every drive over the bridges.

  • Niccolo Machiavelli

    The reverse commute is the fastest growing segment of the commuter rail market. What I say does not contradict that. Nonetheless the Queens – LIRR market is capped by the failure to separate the grades in near Nassau and the construction of a main line third track. The NIMBY neighbors in Floral Park have aligned the Republican Mayors along the Main Line in opposition and they are essentially holding the Queens reverse commuters hostage to the election calendar. Main Line 3rd track is absolutely essential for East Side Access not only for the reverse commute but the inbound as well.

    Maybe you have a differnt personal experience. My experience is that once people have the sunk expense of vehicle ownership they are going to drive. Not to midtown, clearly. But a lot of people live in Bay Ridge, work in Long Island, Staten Island or Jersey. Thats just one neighborhood, but you could cite Marine Park, Fresh Meadows, Rosedale. What percentage of those neighborhoods commute to Manhattan? All of them you can get a pretty good shot into Manhattan by mass transit, most people take it and they would be foolish not too. On the other hand, they aren’t abandoning the labor market along the peripheral routes. If you live in Bay Ridge and work in Farmingdale it is 45-75 minutes depending on when you drive. Try it by transit. And how many Farmingdale jobs are near the LIRR stop? There used to be a couple. Even so its a couple hours at best. You are right about suburban land use patterns, however you can’t just erase those parking lots and run buses. How you could muster the political will of all those office park developers and drivers when you can’t even get the upper east side behind congestion pricing is completely beyond me.

    You can look at all those people as being foolish and not understanding the complex harmonies and counterpoints of congestion pricing if you want. Thats OK with me. I think they are voters who own cars often drive them to work and will continue doing so for the rest of my life regardless of the price of oil and the effects on the ozone layer. I think those votes have been counted by Weiner.

  • Jonathan

    Niccolo is on the money. Parking is the biggest cost of car ownership in NYC. If you have a job site with a parking spot, then you don’t have to worry about ASP. All those jobs in Farmingdale or Ronkonkoma or Morris County, NJ have parking spaces.

    they are voters who own cars, often drive them to work and will continue doing so for the rest of my life regardless of the price of oil and the effects on the ozone layer.

    Well put.

  • Ian Turner

    JF, I think you’ve hit the issue pretty well. Like the farm bill, people tend to think of congestion pricing as a “driver’s issue”, and non-drivers don’t really see how it affects them at all.

    If the farm bill is an accurate analogy, then the future does not look so bright, because agricultural subsidies are hugely destructive and show no sign of slowing.

  • Jack B

    Congestion pricing is not like the farm bill. Lots of non-drivers oppose congestion pricing or it would have 50% plus support. Non-farmers don’t oppose farm subsidies, they don’t care.

  • reverse commuter

    Niccolo is spot on. Parking is the key. I reverse commute to Stamford from Manhattan, just over one hour door to door by transit.

    I don’t own a car but am about to buy one. Why? I have free parking in Stamford, why not?

    I might end up driving once a week tops into the city (saves about 20 min in the morning, it’s about flat in the evening) but I’ll stay on the train for the most part. You can’t chat with friends and have a beer in a car and the train saves a lot of aggrivation.

  • Ian Turner

    Jack,

    Congestion pricing is like the farm bill in the sense that non-drivers (as non-farmers) don’t see it as something that affects them personally. New Yorkers as a group may oppose congestion pricing, but that reaction comes out of affinity with driver friends, aspirations to the driving class, or a gut opposition to any new tax. People don’t see congestion pricing as something with any benefits other than to those who could afford the fee.

  • rhubarbpie

    I don’t see Silver’s position as having changed all that much, though maybe he is a touch more explicit. Nor do I see him having played the role of the heavy as some here suggest. (And I’m no fan of his, as I’ve said on this site before.)

    Back in July, he agreed to a commission that was heavily weighted on the pro-pricing side. Now he may be letting the Assembly off the hook and making it easier for pro-pricing advocates, who would have to focus only on the Council (not that that’s any joy and easy lift either) for a plan’s approval.

  • Jack B

    “People don’t see congestion pricing as something with any benefits other than to those who could afford the fee.” Yep. This seems to be the problem. At least you can eat cheap bread. The Second ave subway isnt quite as digestible.

    With you Pie — don’t see Silver as saying anything new here. Reporter who wrote this is putting an optimistic spin on this non-event.

  • Niccolo Machiavelli

    The practical political-economy here is not as bad as maybe I stated it. I think about 34% takes mass transit to work in the CBD from the outer boroughs, 30% drives to work outside the CBD, like 5% drives to the CBD and another 30% commute inside the CBD by mass transit. However, I stand by my assumption, no one has given me any data on it, that more than half of the voters own cars even though more than half of the citizens don’t. My distinction is not between drivers and non-drivers but between voters and non-voters.

    Build CP-New Urbanist political clubs to support Quinn now. Hope she runs with the ball but it doesn’t look good to me.

  • Old Urbanist

    If you love NYC, you are probably an Old Urbanist, since the new guys are more worried about retrofitting suburbs around light rail and promoting mixed use zoning. All good, but not central to NYC.

    Since 44% of NYC households have a car, and the newest immigrants don’t, your bet that 50% of voters are car owners is probably low. We could probably crunch it out based on income/car ownership and income/voting shares. Though a thing to consider is that voting participation is more affected by age than income and lots of old people in NYC dont have cars, but its a good bet that lots of 50-65 yr olds do. (Age may also be a partial surrogate for recent immigrant/non-immigrant since recent immigrants are younger.)

  • JF

    Maybe you have a differnt personal experience. My experience is that once people have the sunk expense of vehicle ownership they are going to drive. Not to midtown, clearly. But a lot of people live in Bay Ridge, work in Long Island, Staten Island or Jersey.

    No, I agree with you there. I was mainly responding to your statement, “the reverse commute is almost impossible by transit.” It is for many job-home pairs, but for many others it’s very straightforward.

    You’re absolutely right about the costs people sink into their cars, and there’s also the prestige factor. In general, it seems that people from all over the city will drive to work in the outer boroughs and suburbs, and the factor that makes the difference is the relative inconvenience of driving and parking in Manhattan vs. the relative inconvenience of transit in the suburbs. If you could somehow create giant swathes of free parking throughout Midtown Manhattan, you’d get people driving all the time, and conversely if you could somehow charge Manhattan rates for parking on Long Island, you’d get people taking transit.

    And now I understand a bit better how the anti-pricing feeling seems to be so widespread. If you look at the Tri-State factsheets, most of the anti-pricing politicians have a majority of car-owning households among their constitutents. Many of them have at least a quarter of their constituents driving alone to work outside of Midtown and Lower Manhattan. I think that the pricing proponents assumed that people who drive to the suburbs wouldn’t be opposed to CP, but they are, by and large. Maybe they can imagine getting a new job in the city and would want to be able to drive there.

    Unfortunately, pro-CP people have largely failed to get it across to transit riders how CP would benefit them. Although not completely. I’m always amazed at how politicians can make blanket statements about how “Queens is against this,” when support for CP has never been below 30% in the polls. Thirty percent is far from a majority, or even a force to be reckoned with, but it’s also far from the unanimity that these statements imply.

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