Brodsky Taxes Milk! Toll Plazas Will be Named After Marc Shaw!

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With its report released the day before, there wasn’t a lot of news to be found at yesterday’s meeting of the Congestion Mitigation Commission. There was, however, some good political theater and, with the deadline to produce a recommendation approaching, influential commissioners began staking out their positions.

The day’s agenda was to discuss the four alternative traffic mitigation plans presented in the report. Assemblyman Richard Brodsky, as usual, had questions. Would the alternative plans include an exemption from environmental review or a residential parking permit program? Do they address government parking placards or include commitments to have transit improvements in place before the pricing system is turned on?

The back and forth went on for a while, Brodsky suggesting through his questions that none of the traffic mitigation plans were detailed enough for responsible legislators to take a vote.

While the tone of the discussion was spirited and collegial, at a certain point, Shaw, it seemed, had enough of Brodsky’s nitpicking. "Look," he said:

There are only two ways to reduce congestion. Less people come to work or you improve mass transit. We don’t want less people to come to work and the only way to improve mass transit is with money and resources which we don’t have. The City and State are, relatively speaking, going to be relatively broke as we put together the next MTA capital plan. This congestion pricing plan is one of the best hopes for this town to fund the next MTA capital plan.

In other words, as James Carville might put it, "It’s about the MTA capital plan, stupid."

Teamsters president Gary LaBarbera is the one commissioner who Brodsky seems to treat with a noticeable sense of deference. LaBarbera added on to Shaw’s thought:

I don’t think we should start splitting hairs over whether this is about raising funds for the MTA or improving the environment or reducing VMT. The reality is that it’s about all of those issues. Without funding for a realistic capital plan we can’t continue the economic development of this region. I think it’s important not to get bogged down. The capital funding is one of the critical issues that we as a Commission have to address, hopefully, in a way that will be palatable to the legislature in Albany and the City Council.

After a lengthy ramble from Assemblyman Denny Farrell about how toll booths on the Harlem River Bridges will "freeze up all of Northern Manhattan" on Yankee game nights (Response from a fellow commissioner: "Page 31 of the report says there would be no toll plazas or physical barriers where they don’t already exist"), Brodsky finally stopped asking questions and laid his own cards on the table. "I have a deep philosophical objection to user fees and pricing mechanisms."  (Happy Hour? Airline tickets? The electricity bill?) He went on,

Which of the five plans reduces pollution the most and congestion the most? License plate rationing. But it doesn’t generate revenues. Which is why I am for a carbon tax. Let’s get it over with. The mayor proposed $15 per ton. I support the mayor. It was a national proposal but it doesn’t have to be national. It could be in New York. The advantage is that the revenue would come from people who benefit from mass transit but don’t necessarily use mass transit.

Long-Term Sustainability Chief Rit Aggarwala replied that a carbon tax would almost certainly need to be a federal initiative to work properly. "A carbon tax would be impractical for a municipality," Aggarwala said. "If you put a high tax on electricity in New York City you’d immediately drive out electricity intensive industries. Computer data centers, for example, would move to Westchester."

The carbon tax discussion prompted Shaw to remind the commissioners that their goal is to decide "something that’s able to get accomplished."

Brodsky intensified, reminding Shaw that, traditionally, when Albany increases capital funding for transit it also gives more money to roads and bridges. "So, what’s real and politically possible, Marc?" he asked. "Any mechanism that is geographically small will not pass the Albany test of linkage between roads, bridges and mass transit and you know it."

DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, who speaks sparingly in these
meetings, chimed in, "This is not a tax commission. I understand the
context in which Assemblyman Brodsky brought this up. But a debate over carbon
taxes would more properly be considered by the State legislature. I
suggest that they move forward on this."

Well played, Madame Commissioner.

With the carbon tax idea tabled, discussion turned to the idea of license plate rationing.

LaBarbera: "How do you tell a mother that your kid can only have fresh milk four out of five days a week? License plate rationing would turn the trucking industry upside down."

Shaw: "I can see the headline in the Post tomorrow: ‘Brodsky Taxes Milk.’" Laughs.

Brodsky: "I move that we name all the toll plazas after Marc." More laughs.

Kathy Wylde: "The only place that ever tried rationing was Mexico City and it was fiasco."

  • fdr

    Brodsky’s question, will transit improvements be in place before congestion pricing is implemented, is key to the differences in the polls. If people believe the transit improvements will happen, they support CP. If not, they don’t. So what’s the answer? As for license plates, who’s going to be standing at all the entry points to Manhattan turning around the cars that can’t come in?

  • billy bob

    I find it hard to believe that politicians such as Assemblyman Denny Farrell still are under the mistaken impression that there will toll booths under any congestion pricing plan. Has he read *any* of the plan documents? As a member of the Commission, that is a basic duty of his, and the ignorance belied in his comments shows that he has obviously failed in that requirement.

    Also, if Brodsky is so fundamentally opposed to user fees of any kind, why does he support a subway fare? Electric bills? Prices for food and clothing? For a rich guy representing a rich district, he sure sounds like a socialist to me.

  • srock

    License place rationing would certainly turn the city upside down. I commute to work every day by bicycle, but co-own a van with a band I am a part of. License plate rationing would mean we could only play concerts on certain days of the week, and the same would be true for any other business that actually needs to drive from time to time. Congestion reportedly costs the city $13 billion annually. While license plate rationing would cut down on congestion (and therefore trim that number), I wonder what financial ramifications that system would have on the the local economy. The complete inability to drive into the city must have some negative effect for delivery businesses, etc.

  • fdr

    Brodsky and Farrell were both appointed to the commission by Shelly Silver. If they are reflecting his position, the Assembly isn’t going to vote for any plan that the commission comes up with.

  • andrew

    Brodsky is a clown, why do we have to see his angry face all the time on the news, he is a huge stone in the path of progress.

    Why does all the local news only choose to show the opinion against pricing.

    Is the media pro car?

  • srock

    The New York Times appears to be pro car (http://www.streetsblog.org/2008/01/11/times-real-estate-vp-joke-betrays-anti-bike-bias/#comments) and I have a hard time believing that the Post or the Sun is going to come out as more progressive than the Times.

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    I just want to point out, per page 31 of the report, that these are nonexistent toll plazas that will be named for Marc Shaw.

  • andrew, I don’t see mass transit doing a lot of advertising, do you?

  • andrew

    gary: point taken.
    I suppose that is a great example of how unbridled capatalism is the true enemy to a free press.
    So with the understanding that big corps rule, how will anything ever change for the better?

  • vnm
  • Bwah

    Bogota and Sao Paulo have also tried license plate based rationing schemes – last I heard they were unable to enforce it and had narrowed to focus on peak hour rationing…

  • Larry Littlefield

    (The City and State are, relatively speaking, going to be relatively broke as we put together the next MTA capital plan.)

    Stop talking about “improvements.” Did any of you read the Financial Times today? The lead story, in a publication published all over the world, is that the government of the United States might very will lose it’s triple A credit rating.

    We’ll be lucky if we keep the transit system we have. This country, as a result of the public and private debts run up by past generations, is getting massively poorer as we speak. I’m not just talking about a recession. I’m talking about a recession that is a ratchet downward in the standard of living.

    So they need money from wherever they can get it. Lots of fun for people like Brodsky who can say that are for the people and against anything. Not so fun if disaster strikes and they can be blamed.

    The transit modes most likely to expand are bicycles and telecommuting. Little if any public capital costs, no operating costs.

  • Niccolo Machiavelli

    fdr – it is impossible to put much in the way of transit capacity improvements before CP is done because there is simply not enough money to go around. Some stuff could and will be accomplished, many new buses but really, this is about paying for the capital plan commitments that the public has already been promised. And, the main thing Shelly Silver got out of the commission approach is the home rule piece that will require City Council approval before the Assembly takes a position. If the term limited City Council goes for it the Assembly will feel safe in supporting it.

    BillyBob – Believe it BB, Denny Farrel has lost a lot off his fast ball. However, Brodsky opposed the fare increase and has made a career of smearing the MTA. Those tendencies he shares with the Straphangers and the Daily News.

    Andrew – yes the media is pro-car, my only question is why you have to ask. You must not have a TV or look at the ads in the newspaper. Good for you if that is the case.

    Looks like one of the stronger players has become Gary LaBarbera a Bruno appointee and head of the influential central labor council. Hope that is the case and that he can bring along the Labor chiefs and use his juice with the City Council and the Assembly.

  • License plate rationing is one of the worst ideas I have ever heard.

    1. Not a nickel raised for transit to abate the underlying problem.

    2. Piss people off to no end, and would shortly fail.

    3. Implementation nightmare.

    4. Anyone with two cars (or more), i.e. Brodsky’s wealthy Westchester constituents, just switches cars on day 5.

    Mind-bogglingly bad idea.

  • JK

    Two encouraging stories here: First, union big, and Teamsters leader, Gary LaBarbera finding his voice.The unions have major pull in City Council and the Assembly. Second Pricing/transit funding package gets 60% approval in the lastest poll. This especially encouraging given the last couple months of media coverage, which has amplified the most ignorant, cynical and even false criticism of pricing. All and all, I think pricing has a good chance. We get the mayor to sell a bit harder and this could be the big surprise of the year.

  • Michael Steiner

    Apropos rationing: I was surprised to see how positively the interim report was treating the Rationing Plan in the strenght/weakness analysis (e.g., page 56) and then noticed something interesting. The main part of the interim report (pdf version) only referenced Appendix A-I. However, the main online page
    (https://www.nysdot.gov/portal/page/portal/programs/congestion_mitigation_commission/interim-report) contained also an index J which contained an IMHO rather damning evaluation of rationing, with none of the mentioned issues showing up in the weakness section of the main report? Political pressure …?!

  • Michael Steiner

    Oops, the link to the report page I used above was cut off and also not in “clicky-style”: Hopefully now a better link to the Traffic Congestion Mitigation Commission’s complete Interim Report for Public Comment containing the mentioned Appendix J.

  • Kate

    How long can Brodsky really keep playing games like this. Shelly will at least hear this out. That is not to say he will support the plan as-is, but something that resembles the Mayor’s plan should at least be considered. Maybe we should go back to selling fuel off with a rationing plan? Lots of good that did, eh?

  • Larry Littlefield

    The generation now in charge has screwed the future, and those who will be living in it, to benefit the people and interests that mattered in the past. All this posturing on congestion pricing, transit fares, etc. is about trying to make someone else to blame for it.

    To take the transportation example, the MTA will be going down the tubes, and we will be paying more for less, to offset all the wonderful things done for us — or for someone, back when. But gee, because Brodsky and Weiner are still fighting for something for nothing, they are on our side, right?

    But just remember — every debt, pension enhancement and tax break passed the state legislature by 212 to 0.

    And everyone who was saying Yes! give us fare discounts! Take down toll booths and freeze tolls! Give us tax cuts! Give us tax breaks! Spend more on seniors! Give us pension enhancements! Shares in the responsiblity for what has happened. But they won’t be the ones sacrificing.

  • glennQ

    I used the “pro-car” term in response to Andrew’s post (#5). Actually, I think people are really just pro-personal transportation devices.
    Whether its horseback, stagecoach, bicycle, motorcycle, automobile, airplane, etc., people like the freedom to go where they want, when they want. I’d guess isn’t about status or prestige, as much as it’s about convenience and efficiency.

  • Hilary

    Glenn Q: I think the stagecoach should be considered transit, not personal transportation device. It conveyed unrelated passengers on fixed routes, usually long-distance.

  • JF

    I used the “pro-car” term in response to Andrew’s post (#5). Actually, I think people are really just pro-personal transportation devices.

    Well, since we’re expounding on what “people” want without any data, let me say that I think people want to give me money. Since this is what people all around the world want, we should waste no time getting that project off the ground.

    Whether its horseback, stagecoach, bicycle, motorcycle, automobile, airplane, etc., people like the freedom to go where they want, when they want. I’d guess isn’t about status or prestige, as much as it’s about convenience and efficiency.

    Of course people want convenience and efficiency, and where there’s enough investment in transit to make it convenient and efficient so they can go where they want when they want, guess what? People want transit.

  • Vince

    There won’t be “toll plazas” to name for Marc Shaw. There will be cameras, but no gates and no plazas. Brodsky and co will want to scare everyone with fears of Lincoln Tunnel style back-ups, but that’s not what modern congestion pricing looks like. Maybe Streetsblog can run a couple pics of London and Stockholm pricing camera arrays.

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