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Pricing Hearing: Sadik-Khan and Aggarwala Explain the Details

Yesterday morning's hearing at City Hall, which garnered much press today, gave Janette Sadik-Khan and Rohit Aggarwala the chance to clarify a number of misconceptions about congestion pricing in front of a sizable contingent of City Council members. As expected, one of the first points to come up was whether drivers from New Jersey will contribute anything to the congestion pricing revenue stream. Turns out they will.

In her opening remarks, Sadik-Khan mentioned that drivers entering Manhattan through the Lincoln and Holland tunnels will pay $45 million per year as a result of pricing. When Council member Joel Rivera asked about the logic behind the number, Sadik-Khan and Aggarwala explained that drivers who pay with cash instead of EZPass will not be eligible for the pricing offset. In other words, those drivers will pay both the Port Authority toll and the full pricing fee.

Pricing revenue would also come from drivers who use the tunnels during the Port Authority's daytime off-peak hours (9 a.m. - 4 p.m.), when the toll is $6. During those times, even drivers who take advantage of the pricing offset would still pay $2 towards the congestion fee. Aggarwala noted that two-thirds of all drivers who use the Hudson River tunnels would pay all or part of the fee.

In another exchange, Council member Melissa Mark-Viverito, a pricing supporter, asked whether the 367 buses to be added before pricing takes effect would be on new or existing lines. Sadik-Khan revealed that the buses will be spread among 33 existing lines and 12 new lines.

Mark-Viverito also wanted to know who would be able to veto any changes to the way congestion pricing revenue is spent. That power, said Sadik-Khan, would reside with the MTA Capital Program Review Board, currently a four-member panel that would grow to five members under the congestion pricing bill. (A rep appointed by the City Council speaker would join appointees of the governor, mayor, Senate majority leader, and Assembly speaker.) To change how congestion pricing revenue is spent, Aggarwala explained, the MTA would have to make a distinct proposal that would in turn have to be approved by the review board.

After the jump -- more from yesterday's hearing, including a back-and-forth with Streetsblog sparring partner Lew Fidler.

Before posing his allotted two questions, Fidler took the opportunity to proclaim that "PlaNYC has 120 good ideas out of 121." After pricing takes effect, he then asked, "is there anything that will guarantee that the state gives
the same amount to the MTA and transportation [as it did previously]?"

Aggarwala referred Fidler to page 23 of the congestion pricing bill, which specifically says that pricing revenue will not
be used to offset any state funding
. This seemed to catch the council member somewhat off guard. "Wonderful, but that's not a guarantee," he said.

When Sadik-Khan brought up the latest Quinnipiac poll, which showed that New Yorkers support pricing by a 2-1 margin if the revenues are spent on transit, Fidler conjured his own -- hypothetical -- survey results: "I think if you polled New Yorkers and asked them
if they think the MTA will spend that money effectively, they would say,
10-1, 'No.' You'd find a strong number of New Yorkers that would be dubious of
the claim that the state won't reduce transportation funding."

Fidler's second question had to do with the cost of administering residential parking permits, which will be available to residents at no charge in the current version of the congestion pricing bill. "Other cities charge a fee for parking permits," he said. "How much will taxpayers pay for RPP if there's no fee?"

"It was made very clear to us from public input that RPP
should be free," replied Sadik-Khan. She added that DOT is still developing the specifics of how RPP will operate, but that "the early estimate is $1.8 million for administration costs citywide."

Other noteworthy exchanges and facts:

    • 110,000 fewer vehicles will enter the central business districtevery day once pricing takes effect, according to the commissioner.
    • In response to a question from Quinn about mitigating the park-and-ride effect, Sadik-Khan said, "We don't anticipate that this will be a problem. Parking is already at 98% capacity in these neighborhoods [adjacent to the zone]. We think it's unlikely that people will drive to these neighborhoods just to park and get on the subway, but we are mindful of those concerns, so we proposed RPP so that residents have priority to park in those neighborhoods."
    • When Maria Baez, chair of the State and Federal Legislation Committee, asked if the proposed $65 late fee might be lowered, the commissioner said "No," explaining that $65 is the same fine levied for a parking violation.
    • Asked by Staten Island Council member Michael McMahon whether police and firefighters would be granted congestion fee exemptions, Sadik-Khan responded: "That's not our intent right now. The exemption route is a slipperyslope. We are trying to make a system that makes it easier for firetrucks to get around so they can save lives. Right now they arecompeting with traffic."
    • When McMahon opined that the proposed transit improvements for Staten Island "didn't seem like much," Aggarwala said, "The expansion in express bus service -- that's a significant investment in the secondmost frequent means of getting to the CBD from Staten Island [after the ferry]. For the first time in a longtime, the MTA has made a commitment to look at regions that aredisadvantaged in terms of transit access."

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