Robots Against Congestion Pricing

A Streetsblog reader on the Upper West Side of Manhattan tells us that he just received an anti-congestion pricing robo-call on his home phone. No word on whose voice was being used, who is funding it, or what districts are being called. This much we know: 

I just received an automated call opposing congestion pricing.

I wasn’t able to record or write down the message (I was in the middle of another call), but the gist was that the money from congestion pricing would go to the MTA, and "you know how trustworthy they are" (paraphrase from call). The script also cited the recent decision by the MTA to pull back on the $30 million in improvements that were promised with the fare hike as evidence that we shouldn’t trust the MTA and, therefore, congestion pricing.

The call concluded by urging calls to "your Council member" to vote against congestion pricing. I did call my Council member in response, but urged her to vote FOR congestion pricing.

If you are the recipient of one of these automated calls, shoot an email to and give us whatever additional details you happen to catch.  

  • Dowd

    Got my call a half hour ago (Brooklyn, Prospect Heights) and let the machine pick it up. The first part was cut off, but I think I can guess what I missed. It was roughly like this:

    “[Do you trust the MTA]…the council members who support congestion pricing do. Every dollar in fees goes to the MTA. As for the promise that funds will only go for improvements, the MTA admits that 67% will be spent on everything BUT new bus and subway lines. Also, the MTA just cancelled new improvements promised when fares were raised. Don’t trust the MTA and call your council member and tell them not to trust them either.”

  • Lauri

    My daughter picked up a call around 7:30 – “something about the MTA.” Same message. Park Slope.

  • I don’t see a lot of New Yorkers calling their council members to tell them that funding NYC transit is (always?) a bad idea. The reason MTA service can be crappy, and I do think New Yorkers understand this, is that operations are underfunded. (And you can’t just replace MTA with a Wal-Mart transit authority using disorganized labor that runs at half the cost, even if you want to.) If 67% of the pricing revenue goes to improving exiting routes, that’s fantastic news for the over five million people taking those routes every day. Nice try, robots!

  • Tobor

    Are you sure that wasn’t Brodsky on the phone pretending to talk in a robotic voice?

  • Don’t trust the MTA and call your council member and tell them not to trust them either.

    Great, they’ve basically discouraged any increase in transit funding. Kind of undermines the stance they took of “we want to see more funding for transit, but …”

    Speaking of which, where’s that increase in state aid that Brodsky promised?

  • Erik Engquist

    I recorded the call and listened to it twice. The caller did not identify herself or say who paid for the call.

  • LN

    I’m all for congestion pricing and all. BUT you know what they are correct, throwing more money at the MTA without requiring that it go to specific improvements will be swallowed up into the bottomless hole that is the bloated, corrupt and unaccountable MTA. But of course we shouldn’t be against congestion pricing cause the subway sucks.

    In addition to other infrastructure improvements like dedicated bus and bike lanes, and traffic enforcement, a holistic congestion pricing plan has got to go hand in hand with fixing the broken MTA.

  • I don’t think that having the legislature earmark the funds for individual projects is the answer. Meddling by transit amateurs would only increase red tape and decrease funding effectiveness.

    The frame I see is that we spend a far smaller portion of our collective wealth on transit than cities that have better transit (cleaner, more reliable, with electronic signs that tell arrival times for freaking incoming trains) at all levels of government. So there is the mysteriously ignored, obvious answer to why the MTA performs rather badly. We beat up the authority constantly, claim that money goes “into the bottomless hole,” a popular opinion that doesn’t seem to require any evidence. Would the salary of someone to mop piss off the floor be a bottomless hole? I guess that’s what people think, because it’s not being mopped (Chambers St, downtown end).

    I’m for “fixing the broken MTA”, whatever that entails, because my uninformed instinct is that its structure is not ideal, but understand that massive reorganizations have a massive cost in themselves. The bottom line is, our transit is crappy because we are too miserly with taxes to fund it like a first world city. The robotic argument against funding transit proves its own illegitimacy.

  • Jason A

    I’m not a management expert, but I don’t doubt the MTA suffers from organizational bloat and inefficiency – just like any other huge government bureaucracy. Sure there are times when the MTA makes you scratch your head and wonder, but the fact remains, as Doc pointed out, New Yorkers subsidize a much higher share of the system’s cost than riders in Boston, Chicago, Washington (I think it’s like 60% in NY verses 20-40% elsewhere) etc…

    I think it’s important to understand the cards dealt to the MTA…

    Albany is the real villain here (and to a lesser degree the city). Not the MTA. The relentless MTA browbeating is really unfortunate as it does nothing towards advancing better transit service. It’s just lazy scapegoatting.

    For the past 15 years the MTA has been faced with the tremendous task of overhauling a system that suffered years and years of Robert Moses-styled neglect. While New Yorkers all demanded better service, our “leaders” in Albany and City Hall all saw to CUT the MTA’s funding.

    So the agency had to borrow. And borrow… and borrow… and borrow some more…

    Now that bill is coming due and the MTA’s finances are about to fall off a cliff. The issue isn’t “the MTA sucks!” the issue is: for more than a half a century the city decided we should accommodate cars instead of trains, and now, it’s time to pay up for that grossly shortsighted decision.

    When the funding won’t be there to complete the 2nd Avenue Subway, or the 7 extension or whatever… Understand where the money really went. It went into roads, it went into parking garages, it went into gas tanks – it went exactly where it should not have gone for a city the size New York.

  • JF

    Albany is the real villain here (and to a lesser degree the city).

    I agree with you 100%. One quibble:

    There are actual people in these cities who were responsible for these cuts. Their names are Pataki and Giuliani. Maybe Silver, Brodsky, Vallone and Bruno had a hand in it, but if it hadn’t been for those two cutting the MTA contributions every year – even through the surpluses of the Internet boom and the housing bubble – the agency wouldn’t be in such deep debt.

    Even after one MTA budget cut after another, Pataki and Giuliani got the endorsements of major newspapers for their re-election campaigns, and people continue to think of Giuliani as a hero. Pataki is now languishing in some obscure sinecure, and Giuliani’s presidential hopes have been dashed – deservedly so, but nobody says why.

    Pataki did two good things for the environment: vetoing right-on-red for Staten Island and buying Sterling Forest. Other than that, it was twelve years of intense frustration for anyone who cared about transit or liveable streets. These transit cuts have names: Pataki and Giuliani. Use it, so that these jerks can never get elected to anything again.

  • Restore the Westway project.

    No more mass transit bureaucratic welfare.

    Truckers should boycott elitist areas of DC and NYC!

  • mike


    Despite spelling “new urbanist” incorrectly, and apparently not having a clue as what it actually means, I don’t really see the point of your campaign. Congestion Pricing will actually make your business easier.

  • JF

    That’s right, Doug! Boycott those elitists in NYC and DC! Show them how cosmopolitian you are!

    Better than Westway, we should spend our money on the Cross-Harbor rail freight tunnel. If those cosmopolitan truckers are boycotting us elitists, we should get some real shipping.

  • Davis

    Great idea, Doug. Please do strike. That’ll finally teach those DC and NYC elites about the importance of re-building and maintaining an interstate rail network. Then we won’t be so dependent on polluting, space hogging, energy inefficient trucks.

  • So you want to rip up the street for an entire rail network to every store?

    You think the bicycle riders would like that?

    Make the cross harbor tunnel multi-model and extend it to JFK airport.

  • Do note that the entire either or mentality about highways and transit (which I happen to support both) serves as a great distraction from the $$ wasted on the penatgon and the war on some drugs.

  • Huh

    Right on Red was one of Carter’s energy conservation measures, like the 55 mph speed limit. NYC was required to get a waiver in order to qualify for federal funds. So when did it become anti-environmental??

  • JF

    It is possible for reasonable people to disagree on what’s best for the environment. In the case of right-on-red, the energy efficiency and pollution reduction benefit of decreased idling is outweighed by the fact that it makes things much more dangerous and uncomfortable for pedestrians.

    Discouraging walking and encouraging driving causes much more harm to the environment than having cars idle a bit more.

  • Shemp

    This plan is foolish. No money will be made from it. The middle class occassional drivers will never be able to drive in, rich people will drive in increasing numbers to fill the gap, trucks and cabs will continue. Working people will lose more money, rich will expense it to their companies, MtA will piss the money and then raise fares becaus ridership has increased (paying ridership).

    The only good thing that comes out of this is the NYPD will be able to track every vehicle coming in and out of the city.

    oh and also more traffic on cross-bronx and verranzo bridge because the millions of people who live east of manhattan wont be able to go through manhattan to get to the rest of America.


Denny Farrell: Less Traffic and Pollution? No Thanks.

Just two of the 17 members of the Traffic Congestion Mitigation Commission, Assemblymen Richard Brodsky and Herman “Denny” Farrell, voted against the revised congestion pricing plan that now awaits approval by the City Council and state legislators, all of which must happen by March 31 if the city is to receive $354 million in federal […]

Glick’s Excuse: Everything But the Kitchen Sink

Welcome to Glickville As Deborah Glick herself would tell you, no state legislator had more reason to support congestion pricing than she did. In a district where 95.4 percent of working residents would not have paid the charge, where households with a car are outnumbered by households sans vehicle three to one, and which nonetheless […]

The District 33 Transpo Debate: Can They Top Yassky on Livable Streets?

L-r: City Council candidates Ken Baer, Doug Biviano, Ken Diamondstone, Jo Anne Simon, Evan Thies. The most telling answers at Transportation Alternatives’ District 33 City Council candidates forum came after an audience member asked point blank for the debaters’ stance on congestion pricing. "I can’t support a candidate who’ll support congestion pricing," said the questioner, […]

Jessica Lappin: Congestion Pricing Advocate

This recent constituent e-mail shows that Council Member Jessica Lappin’s lukewarm support for congestion pricing seems to have turned into full-fledged support now that the proposal has no chance of being implemented (taking a page out of Assemblywoman Joan Millman‘s book). In Lappin’s defense, she did vote for pricing when it came before the council. […]

Congestion Pricing: What’s the Deal?

Nobody knows whether the convoluted and difficult congestion pricing "deal" reached by political leaders yesterday will actually result in anything. The deal is complex even by Albany standards. A few things, however, are clear: Mayor Bloomberg does not have a "green light" to move forward with congestion pricing, nor has he been granted any new […]