Brooklyn Assemblyman “Protects Families” From Pricing

colton.jpgRichard Brodsky may have lost on Monday, but today his colleagues in Albany are parroting his talking points. A tipster sent us this constituent letter from Assemblyman William Colton, who represents Midwood, Bensonhurst and Gravesend in Brooklyn. Incidentally, a glance at this morning’s map reveals that the City Council members who represent those neighborhoods, Simcha Felder and Domenic Recchia, voted in favor of pricing.

We apologize in advance for subjecting you to the barrage of misinformation that follows.

Dear Friend,

I do not support the congestion pricing plan which has been passed by
the City Council.

The biggest problem with this congestion pricing proposal is that it
sets a very bad precedent by setting aside the SEQRA requirements for
an environmental impact study before undertaking a major project. The
requirement that an Environmental Impact Study be completed before a
major project is approved is critical to protecting people from the
consequences of bad projects.

I believe the refusal to do such an EIS is because this proposal does
not really achieve a reduction of congestion but rather seeks to
impose a regressive tax on families. It fails to include elements
which might be effective at reducing the environmental impacts of
traffic congestion, such as favoring green low gas and hybrid
vehicles, encouraging cars with two and three riders, making a fee
progressive with income, targeting black cars and taxis (which equal
40% of all cars in the Manhattan congestion zone), and enforcing
higher fines for illegal and double parking in congestion zone,
eliminating the credit for tolls (which will exempt most of the
congestion fee for New Jersey and Conn. drivers), establishing some
form of rationing such as prohibiting vehicles with odd or even
license plates to odd or even days, thereby encouraging car pooling, etc.

But the real goal of the proposal is to provide a new revenue source
from the middle class and working poor. Even worse, the failure of
the plan to require such additional revenues be used to make public
transit more accessible and affordable for the families of our
neighborhoods instead of allowing it to fund major capital projects
favored by developers is hypocritical and dooms any hope for making
public transit more accessible and affordable or for any real hope of
a reduction in congestion.

In fact passage of this plan will almost guarantee a large fare
increase because whatever monies which are given to the MTA will not
be used to pay for public transit improvements but instead will be
used to collateralize borrowing which will result in higher future
interest payments which public transit users will need to repay with
higher fares. Therefore it will not encourage people to use cars
since use of mass transit will be almost as expensive. The congestion
fee will impact on those with low and middle incomes and will have
little impact on the wealthy who will simply use it as a business deduction.

There are many more arguments against this plan but these are some
very major ones which require me to vote no in order to protect the
families of our neighborhood.

Thanks,
Bill

  • Eric

    The requirement that an Environmental Impact Study be completed before a major project is approved is critical to protecting people from the consequences of bad projects.

    A prize to the first person who can name a “bad” project, or any project, killed by an EIS.

  • Dave

    Westway was killed by EIS and with it we’d have a LOT less traffic on the west side and a park instead of a bike lane where at least two bikers have been run over and killed.

    What do I win?

  • Dave H.

    Does he actually believe this? I mean Brodsky doesn’t – he’s out to protect the entitlements of his suburban constituents, but Colton seems to go even further than Brodsky. These arguments are so bad, it’s hard to even know where to start taking them apart. Is the parking garage lobby behind him?

  • Josh

    “But the real goal of the proposal is to provide a new revenue source from the middle class and working poor.”

    No. No no no a thousand times no. The middle class and the working poor do not drive to work in lower Manhattan. The middle class and the working poor take public transit. If you can afford to buy, insure, maintain and fuel a car in New York City, you are not poor.

  • Jan

    “If you can afford to buy, insure, maintain and fuel a car in New York City, you are not poor.”

    How about if you work for the city and have a city owned car?

    Middle class and the working poor can and do afford cars otherwise middle class and poor neighborhoods would have no cars parked on their streets, right? Check out lots of areas in Brooklyn and Queens that are low income and yet cars are parked bumper to bumper.

  • Dave

    Jan: How many of those cars are registered and insured in the neighborhoods where they park? How many of them are rarely used but kept only because the cost of use is practically zero?

    Charge people to drive into Manhattan during rush hours, implement RPP and I think you’ll see some of those cars go away. That’s a good thing.

    Why should anyone who lives in the city have a city-owned car without official plates? If the car is used on official business I assume the CP fee will be exempt or reimbursed. If you use it to commute you pay.

  • Jan

    I don’t know how many are registered in those neighborhoods. Do you? Or are you just speculating? I live in Corona, Qns and it is lower income (check out the census stats) and my neighbors live and drive out of here and since most are newly arrived immigrants, they don’t have their cars registered elsewhere. There are registration stickers on all the cars. So what’s your point?

    My point is that the argument that low income or middle income people don’t drive is a lie. A bald faced lie that pro-CP people push for their own agenda. That said, I don’t think that many low income people will be affected by CP except for more crowded trains. I don’t believe that low income are daily commuters but that isn’t what I am arguing. I am arguing against this pro-CP absolutist point of view that no low income people legitimately have cars in NYC. It is a lie and an untruth used to back up CP which makes the pro-CP argument weaker.

  • Larry Littlefield

    While the poor are less likely to drive in NYC than elsewhere, Jan is right that some do at great cost to their families. Elsewhere in the country, most poor people and almost all middle class people drive.

    They drive old, used cars, with minimum insurance, or are illegally uninsured. So gas is a much bigger share of their auto expenditures than most people, and it’s killing them.

    What is also true, however, is that most poor and middle class people do not drive TO THE MANHATTAN CBD.

    Unless they have placards and can park for free.

    Or they are driving a vehicle they need for their occupation, such as a repair person, in which case the CP fee will be passed on to their customers if it is not entirely offset by savings from less time in traffic.

    Or they are nuts.

    Most other poor and middle class people who drive to work in NYC do so because they work in places outside the CBD where transit is inconvenient. I’ve argued that a dynamic carpooling system is the best choice to allow such people to get rid of the car and save money, unless they are in bicycle distance.

    BUT THEY ARE NOT AFFECTED BY CP!

    CP is all about Manhattan — those who live there, those who take transit there, those who drive there but can afford the fee and would gladly pay it to have less traffic, and those who drive and park with placards. The latter group is opposed, and includes all the state legislators.

  • Jason

    Jan, It isn’t that there are no lower income people in NYC with cars. But the number of lower income New Yorkers who drive to work in the CBD (the area below 60th st that would be covered by congestion pricing) is an EXTREMELY low percentage. The 5% of NYers who drive to work in the CBD are MORE wealthy than the average NYer, not less. And the reason Lower Manhattan is the focus is both because it has the worst congestion and because it has the most transit options. Those who absolutely need to get to work in Lower Manhattan will still be able to do so, with improved subway and bus service to boot!

  • grammar

    Jan,
    Whether or not low or middle income New Yorkers have cars is irrelevant to this discussion (FYI, only 51% of all outer Borough households own cars — which is not to say that all those households are lower or middle income by any means). What matters is whether those who have cars drive them into Manhattan’s CBD during the charging windows. The fact is that less than 5% of all NYers who commute to the CBD during the charging window get there by car, and those who do drive earn 30% more than those who take transit.

  • If congestion pricing—a project being pursued largely for its environmental benefits and projected to have uniquely positive impacts by all serious assessments—not being derailed and forfeiting the $350 mil. federal grant because of environmental impact studies is Colton’s biggest issue, he must have announced his planned vote backward. Or perhaps it’s his understanding of environmentalism that is backward: it’s a movement for political change that positively affects the environment, not an all-purpose tool of political obstruction to protect the city’s automobile status quo (a “bad project” if there ever was one).

  • “Westway was killed by EIS and with it we’d have a LOT less traffic on the west side”

    We all know that building bigger freeways is the best way to reduce traffic.

  • tstaniec

    I am unsure as to what way Assemblyman Colton believes that the SEQR process applies to the imposition of congestion pricing plan. The SEQR process, in short, is a means to assess “projects or physical activities” or planning and zoning decisions that could affect the environment. In my opinion, imposing a cost to drive on existing roads and park in existing spaces (as is my understanding of the scope of the plan) does not fall within a recognized action requiring SEQR review. SEQR review would be required for any new project funded by the revenue, however (rehabiliation and replacement, in kind, of existing services excepted).

  • Ed

    SEQRA does not apply to actions by the State Legislature (such as CP would be). SEQRA is a State Legislature-enacted rule, and no State Legislature can govern the actions of a future one, as expressed in the SEQRA guidelines. So SEQRA is not applicable here.

    However, the bill being introduced specifically states that a full EIS will be completed prior to September 1 implementation, if the State would just approve the g-damn money to do one.

  • Spud Spudly

    Putting aside the issue that Ed rightly raises about SEQRA exemptions for projects authorized by the state legislature, the mere physical infrastructure required to implement CP would normally qualify for full EIS treatment.

    “In fact passage of this plan will almost guarantee a large fare increase because whatever monies which are given to the MTA will not be used to pay for public transit improvements but instead will be used to collateralize borrowing which will result in higher future interest payments which public transit users will need to repay with higher fares.

    What do people think about this? It’s been stated here that the CP revenue stream would be used to allow the MTA to issue even more bonds. Isn’t getting the MTA further into debt something that’s going to bite everyone in the tush down the road? What’s your dispute with this statement?

    “Or they are driving a vehicle they need for their occupation, such as a repair person, in which case the CP fee will be passed on to their customers if it is not entirely offset by savings from less time in traffic.”

    Pass those fees on to customers Larry and guess what? Fewer customers!

  • Larry Littlefield

    (Pass those fees on to customers Larry and guess what? Fewer customers!)

    You’re not paying attention to something. How much do these folks get paid? And how much of the time they are getting paid spent sitting in traffic? And if they work for themselves, how much revenue do they lose sitting in traffic? I doubt there will be anything to pass on.

    “The issue that Ed rightly raises about SEQRA exemptions.”

    So do you advocate revoking the SEQR exemption for new schools in NYC? The legislature put it in knowing that if it took three years to approve a school, followed by three years of lawsuits, none would be built.

    Those state legislators have been there forever. Here is an interesting resarch project. The legislature approved a SEQR exemption for the project that added lanes to the LIE on long island in the 1980s and early 1990s. Who voted for that?

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    the CP fee will be passed on to their customers if it is not entirely offset by savings from less time in traffic.

    That’s a big “if.” It’s not exactly true, either; a better conjunction would be “to the extent that.” Everyone agrees that there will be a significant time savings once the fee is instituted. It will probably save them much more than the fee, but even if it doesn’t, it will still offset a large chunk of the fee.

  • Spud Spudly

    If you’re say, a locksmith or plumber who does one job at one site all day in Manhattan then the time saved from traffic isn’t going to be much, especially if like most tradespeople you’re driving to your job site at 7AM or even earlier.

    And I don’t much care about SEQRA exemptions for school, but I would like to see CP subjected to full SEQRA review before it’s implemented.

  • Larry Littlefield

    (I don’t much care about SEQRA exemptions for school, but I would like to see CP subjected to full SEQRA review before it’s implemented.)

    Fine, it’s a pilot project. Study it after implementation. Expand it if it works. Replace it with something else if it doesn’t.

    The only point I find valid is that CP revenues should be used pay-as-you-go, and I think I’m one of the first people to bring this up on Room 8. But Albany doesn’t do anything without making the future worse somehow.

  • Spud Spudly

    Then anyone who may be harmed by it should just live with it for three years and pray someone does something about it at the end of the “pilot” phase of the project? I’ve been hearing mixed messages lately about whether CP may be subject to SEQRA review or not, LL. Is it or isn’t it?

  • Ed

    The one thing I would comment on about the MTA using the revenues to leverage bond issues, is – just remember that the projects they are planning to build with those bonds are will greatly increase ridership – new subway lines and stations, many new and expanded bus lines, more subway service, and expanded connectivity. Those capital projects will generate a tremendous amount of additional revenue.

    The ONLY way New York can grow is if the number of people driving alone goes down and the number of people taking mass transit, bikes/mopeds, or non-motorized modes goes up. The vehicular options are full – the Manhattan CBD cannot hold more cars. Expansion of (and therefore spending on) mass transit desperately HAS to increase, and what better place to get the funds than from the drivers we must concurrently dissuade?

  • There’s some ambiguity in how much the reduced congestion will offset the fee for businesses, but no ambiguity in the fact that we accept the cost as appropriate. It’s a non-starter, tossed out by motorists hoping to scare everyone that doesn’t drive but does buy things. Must we really point out that trucks carry a lot of things, and that $21 divided by “a lot” equals a very small number? Even without reduced costs from time savings, paying a few cents “congestion charge” for eggs would be worth it for the quality of life and transit improvements. Go ahead, ornery businesses, pass on the charge. And hope that your competitors don’t find a way to receive their shipments at night and do outgoing deliveries by bicycle or handcart.

  • Spud Spudly

    As a Manhattan resident, Doc, I can’t say I’m looking forward to nighttime truck deliveries. I would like at least a few hours a day of relative peace and quiet. I already have to deal with private trash haulers at 2AM.

    And Ed, maybe NYC is big enough as it is. I know the Mayor says another million people are coming, but the city’s population has fluctuated down before as well as up. I’d prefer that we didn’t have another million people.

  • Heffron

    Your locksmith or plumber is also probably driving a commercial van and would pay the $8 charge, not the $21 for larger box trucks.

    I used to be a carpenter’s assistant and would drive the van all over the city from the workshop on Murray St. A lot of times we would make several trips from the workshop to the upper west or east side and back. And we spent a lot of time sitting in traffic, it usually cost us time from the site. So yeah, I think the $8 a day he’d spend would easily be earned back. And when we spent all day at once site, a rarity, it was because it was a big job with a big price tag.

  • Ed

    Yeah – that’s kind of key issue. Many people don’t want New York to grow. They would prefer it would shrink.

    I can’t say I agree. I for one would like to see New York be the world’s largest city AND be superbly functional AND maintain a high quality of life. And I think it’s possible, but not unless we get people to stop driving alone into the CBD.

  • “As a Manhattan resident, Doc, I can’t say I’m looking forward to nighttime truck deliveries.”

    You’re not in the zone though. Can’t trucks reach your stores without passing through it? Anyway, if they deliver at night you don’t have to worry about costs going up; you have to pick one exclusive potential outcome to complain about.

    My hope is that if we’re bold enough to regulate automobile use with congestion pricing, the can-do spirit will not stop there. Semis are designed to deliver to the back of suburban warehouses and gigantic stores, half a mile from innocent ears. Here we’re a few feet above them. But we’re also New York City, the most important market in the country, and we can tell them, “Actually, guys, for us you’re going to have to find a way to do this without the piercing beeps and loud engine idling.” The city will be able to tackle those kinds of second-tier problems once it’s free of daily traffic triage in streets well over their capacity.

  • Mark

    In his book Carfree Cities, J.H. Crawford sketches out a plan to make light rail do double duty, both passenger and freight. Containerized shipping, already the standard, makes it possible.

  • Spud Spudly

    My dad was a locksmith in Bklyn and made the occasional trip into Manhattan for a job. And yes, he did drive a van. The $8 would still hurt him as he couldn’t haul his tools on the train, but point taken.

    Doc, I’m not in the zone but I doubt that delivery trucks looking to avoid the $21 fee would split their daily runs so as to continue making uptown deliveries during the day.

    Yes, I’m up late tonight. A two-year-old will do that to you sometimes. later……

  • question

    Ed – if sea levels keep rising we may not want NYC to grow after all! Just a thought

  • “I doubt that delivery trucks looking to avoid the $21 fee would split their daily runs so as to continue making uptown deliveries during the day.”

    And if 93 percent of trucks act as you expect, the program is a success. Congestion pricing doesn’t need or want to change the average case.

  • MRS-MAN

    With regard to the plumbers, electricians, etc. who have to drive into the CBD to do their job. Yes, they will pay the $8 fee. But they can easily tack on a small fee for their customers. People in Manhattan expect to pay more for things, and they will probably also have to pay more for plumbers and electricians services.

    A plumber could very easily charge his customers a $3 additional fee for each call he answers in Manhattan. If he gets 3 or more Manhattan calls that day, he recoups his CP fee. Plus, having the fee in place would ensure that he can take more calls in one day, since there will be less traffic.

  • jmc

    If the city continues growing the city’s economy will continue to grow. The shrinkage or stagnation of the city will be horrible from a quality of life issue, as we’ll have trouble funding parks, transit, police, schools etc. If the population stagnates or shrinks the economy will stagnate or shrink.

    That’s why CP is necessary: To allow the city to have a greater carrying capacity.

  • gecko

    He should be put on the spot by local community and City Council members Simcha Felder and Domenic Recchia to do the right thing and it must be broadly known that he is totally wrong.

    He is betraying his constituents and doing a grave injustice to the people of this city.

  • question

    jmc – that sounds a lot like the model capitalism is based on – grow or die. is that sustainable?

  • Capitalism is the model New York is based on. The question we face is not what is infinitely sustainable (our solar system is not) but where to best accomodate current population growth: cities or sprawling suburbs? You know the answer, question. It’s not only better for New York’s economy to welcome more people to a livable city, it’s the right thing to do for the planet. At some point our global population growth will reverse itself, following the trend in every developed society, and then we will face a crisis of capitalism. But not if our wanton tinkering with the atmosphere turns this place into a pressure cooker first.

  • Mark

    When peak oil makes it impossible for increasing numbers of people to continue driving, NYC’s mass-transit infrastructure will attract many new citizens. That’s why we need to build more mass transit — because the future demand for it will be strong among former suburbanites seeking refuge in the city. And that will be true even if economic growth stalls in the U.S. as a whole.

  • ((Does he actually believe this? I mean Brodsky doesn’t – he’s out to protect the entitlements of his suburban constituents,))

    The me get this straight. You actually believe Brooklyn is a suburb. That about sums up the stupidy of the pro-travel tax lobby. They just don’t understand how Brooklyn came into this union thing called New York City.

    Pffff.

  • ((He should be put on the spot by local community and City Council members Simcha Felder and Domenic Recchia to do the right thing and it must be broadly known that he is totally wrong.

    He is betraying his constituents and doing a grave injustice to the people of this city.))

    Simcha Felder has gotten an ear full from the local Rabinical powers in Boro Park, and is almost afraid to stick his nose out of his office since the vote and it’s clear he’s going to be tossed from office….

    Just saying, a bribe is a bribe.

  • “The me get this straight. You actually believe Brooklyn is a suburb. That about sums up the stupidy of the pro-travel tax lobby. They just don’t understand how Brooklyn came into this union thing called New York City.”

    Let me get this straight: you’re harkening back to the City of Brooklyn, a time before the automobile, while calling congestion pricing a “travel tax”? The only people that think of Brooklyn as a suburb are those that drive from their houses there to jobs in Manhattan. Those that “travel” by subway, for which there is already a “tax”, are decidedly more urban.

  • jmc

    Thanks Doc.

    question: It’s not matter of whether capitalism is sustainable, it’s what we should do to make the best city in our environment. We’re all going to die someday, and our civilization will collapse. It’s just a matter of time.

    However, it’s better for the environment if more people move from higher energy sprawl to lower energy cities. It’s better for New Yorkers if more people move to New York (in a controlled way, living in housing… I’m not talking about booming shantytowns in Bombay). If we have more people here, and more wealth, it will be easier to pay for services. Some day we might have to build a giant dyke to protect the city from rising sea levels… in that case it will be better to have more people here.

    Successful cities that are pleasant to live in and have good economies do not shrink, especially when there’s freedom of movement. As much as people complain about the environmental impact of a new apartment building (or “luxury condo building”), the impact to the environment is much worse if those people are spread out in balloon frame houses along an access road with three cars per house.

    Congestion pricing is about increasing the carrying capacity of New York by efficiently allocating road space and by building up the transit network that’s much more efficient.

  • Jmc, just because New York is the most sustainable city in the country, I don’t think the answer is to squeeze more people into New York.

    I think it’s a much better idea to keep NY at its current population and encourage other cities to reform their sprawl in place. It’s a lot easier for someone to move from the sprawling suburbs of Atlanta to a new transit-oriented apartment building in downtown Atlanta than to NYC. Atlanta can sustain a significant portion of its current population, just not spread out the way it is.

    Similarly, it’s easier for people to move from a subdivision outside Syosset to a new apartment building in downtown Syosset than to Brooklyn.

  • What improvements will be made for the D, B, Q, N and R trains in the current congestion pricing plan? Oh, none have been considered.

    These trains all serve Mr. Colton’s district.

  • JF

    Maybe you should do a little reading before answering your own questions, Cameron:

    • 46 New Subway Cars, primarily for EF Lines
    • 6 Additional Buses for the B6 Route
    • Rehabilitate West End D & M Line Stations at 20th Ave.,
    Bay Parkway, and 25th Ave.
    • Rehabilitate West End D & M Line Structure from 9th Ave.
    to Bay 50th Street
    • Rehabilitate Sea Beach N Line Stations at Kings Highway,
    Bay Parkway, 86th Street, and Ave. U
    • Rehabilitate Sea Beach N Line Retaining Wall from 5th
    Ave. Portal to Ave. U
    • Upgrade Culver F Line Stations Public Address and
    Customer Information Systems at Ave. N, P, & U
    • Refurbish Culver F Line overcoating and interlocking
    between Church Ave. to West 8th St.

  • Actually, JF, only the first two of your bulleted items are directly connected to congestion pricing; the other projects were in the capital improvement pipeline before Mayor Bloomberg first made his proposal public. And extensive work was done on what is now the D and M line (first it was the B, then the W) back when the Manhattan Bridge project was under way— why wasn’t “structure” addressed at that time, during the four years riders were severely inconvenienced? What, precisely, does the MTA mean by “structure”? (Rehabilitate West End D & M Line Structure from 9th Ave. to Bay 50th Street.) Does it encompass tracks, ties and signals, or merely girders and paint? Which 56 miles of track, and which 150 signals? Why should station rehab ever come before track and signal improvements? When, exactly, will travel times improve?

    But let’s say the current plan passes—do you really believe that all the projections are accurate? All indications are that revenues and traffic reductions will be lower than those claimed.

    I take mass transit almost exclusively, so perhaps I should support this bill in any incarnation, but after a lifetime of broken promises, I simply don’t trust the MTA.

    So maybe the bill will pass as a pilot program; a start is better than nothing, but I really believe New Yorkers deserve a much better plan than this one, one that addresses driver reform, traffic law enforcement, and makes the MTA directly accountable to the public. And to really be effective, the fee needs to be higher; the fee in London is about double.

  • JF

    So maybe the bill will pass as a pilot program; a start is better than nothing, but I really believe New Yorkers deserve a much better plan than this one …

    You won’t get much argument from me on that one. The crux is really what we can expect if this version fails in Albany. Will all the people who’ve been saying “we have to do something, but this plan is not the right one” turn around and say “New Yorkers have rejected congestion pricing” and use that as an argument for doing nothing?

    If you trust the Legislature (ha!) to keep safe streets, clean air and transit funding on the front burner, then the $354 million probably shouldn’t stand in the way of a better plan. This is the same legislature (mostly the same people) that passed all of Pataki’s budgets that cut the MTA, and revoked the commuter tax. They’ve had a year to come up with a better plan, but instead they’ve been content to groan about the plans that other people proposed.

    I’m very afraid that if we don’t hold their feet to the fire on this one, then we’ll lose our only opportunity for meaningful change. The current system is massively unfair to working New Yorkers, particularly the poor, and it kills. Be as skeptical as you want, but be careful not to undermine the best chance for real reform that we’ve had in a century.

  • JF—What scares me is that this will pass and will be left as is, with all the politicos patting themselves on the back, declaring what a great job they’ve done… and then doing no more.

    If it fails, pro-transit and pro-pedestrian groups will be so outraged that a better plan may become inevitable.

    I don’t claim to know the answer, but failure may be our best hope. Let’s hope that you’re right, and I’m wrong.

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