Lew Fidler: Let’s Get to Work

Here’s more on yesterday’s congestion pricing debacle in Albany, this time from City Council Member Lew Fidler. Direct quotes are in quotation marks.

Fidler_color_pic.jpgStreetsblog: What’s your reaction to today’s news?
Fidler: "Look, it would do nobody any good for one side to gloat and for the other side to sulk. We need to really get to work on the problems that we’ve all acknowledged. You’re familiar with the musical Oklahoma? The cowmen and the farmers need to be friends."

"I had a conversation with Melissa Mark-Viverito today [before the news from Albany], on a what-if basis. Can we move forward and work on something together? It was positive."

Streetsblog: So what do you propose as an alternative?
Fidler: "I put out my plan, you guys are familiar with it. Parts are available for fair consideration. Clearly there’s a notion that a broad-based tax will be necessary to fund the capital plan for mass transit."

For all the negativity on hydrogen fuel cell cars, I hope it did not escape everyone’s notice that Westchester [White Plains] has entered into a pilot program. We need to incentivize the infrastructure for fuel cell vehicles. These cars are feasible today. Would you be the first one on your block to get one? We need to find a way.

Streetblog: A broad-based tax?

Fidler: "A regional payroll tax, that’s my proposal. Other people have talked about a millionaire’s tax. We can’t let the MTA capital plan crumble. That’s not the message that people who are against congestion pricing are trying to send."

What about the fact that the $354 million could have been put to use immediately to improve transit?
If we impose the regional payroll tax, we’ll still be $400-$500 million ahead in year one [compared to congestion pricing revenue], $700 million in year two.

"Outside of the objection I have in principle to congestion pricing, it’s not effective. When you’re looking to raise revenue, you don’t do it in a way that costs fifty cents on the dollar."

  • Where’s the “lockbox” for these broad based taxes?

    Hydrogen fuel cells are a joke. A waste of time, money, and resources. They are simply big batteries made from expensive exotic materials and they still need to get their power from another energy source. So what alternative to gasoline is really going to fuel these batteries? How will we generate the energy required? Wind? Solar? Nuclear? And what about infrastructure? Try filling up your hydrogen battery at gas stations on a cross country drive.

  • Rob

    No, Lew. I would not be the first one on my block to get a fuel cell vehicle. They’re still polluting, dangerous to everyone around, and a huge waste of public space. We’re not going to improve public transit by encouraging people to get private cars.

  • ddartley

    I think Bloomberg himself did a shamefully bad job of marketing CP–rarely making a significant effort to speak with the public directly and explain CP’s merits, and, more importantly, debunk its supposed demerits.

  • Brooklyn

    I’ve slowly come around from supporting CP as defeated yesterday to opposing it — technocratic, top-down answers that presumed our CBD is congested for its own sake.

    Take a look around midtown at rush hour and tell me 6% less traffic would have made any noticeable difference. And tell me honestly that New Yorkers, as American as anyone else, would transform their mindset into socialistic European paradigms of shared burdens. We remain the same assholes always looking out for #1 — and that includes me, as a cyclist more than I’ll ever be a driver.

    Manhattan would become so popular that no one would go there anymore, to paraphrase Yogi Berra.

    Just as we shouldn’t take congestion as a given, neither should we take freedom of movement for granted. One thing to take away, as Fidler points out above, is that the issue of congestion is not going away; we’re going to address our imbalance of modal support but in OUR way. The discourse may finally be changed for the better.

  • Spud Spudly

    Agreed, Bloomberg did a far more effective job of spinning CP’s defeat than he ever did CP itself.

  • Larry Littlefield

    (Clearly there’s a notion that a broad-based tax will be necessary to fund the capital plan for mass transit.)

    Not a big tax on wage earners but not the rich retired and those who can diguise their income as capital gains, if I can help it.

  • That’s the other thing…a broad based tax is more regressive than CP ever was. The wealthy have the resources to avoid and limit the tax, the poor and middle class have no choice but to pay.

  • Larry Littlefield

    (The wealthy have the resources to avoid and limit the tax, the poor and middle class have no choice but to pay.)

    It isn’t going to happen. First, massive budget deficits are going to cause massive federal, state and local tax increases even with zero funding for the MTA.

    Second, why would someone who drives from Ronkonkoma to Mellville agree to pay for someone from anywhere to take transit to Manhattan?

    But you go ahead and push it, Lew. Just wait until all the other tax increases, and then push yours on top of it.

    Appealing to people’s sense of responsibility isn’t going to cut it, because people realize that the government you help oversee is doomed anyway, so there is no sense throwing good money after bad. If you read Room 8, you know I reached that conclusion, finally, well before yesterday.

  • jwcbklyn

    In light of Albany’s election-year avoidance of the congestion mitigation/transit funding issue in its entirety (no public vote, no real discussion of viable alternatives), I commend Lew for stepping up to the plate to talk about what happens next. I may not agree with him on Congestion Pricing, but at least he’s taking the larger issue seriously (as opposed to the back-room bozos in Albany).

  • Dave

    Rather than a payroll tax let’s go back to the commuter tax. NY is already seen as a high-cost environment for employers and these little additions (BID taxes, etc) do add up.

    We will lose a lot if this is the straw that breaks the employer’s back and a major employer relocates; let’s tax the employees who use the city infrastructure instead.

    Come on Bruno, admit you screwed the city when you took it away….it’s now time to bring the commuter tax back.

  • Larry Littlefield

    By the way, there is some evidence that someone at the NY Sun reads my Room 8 posts.

    And based on their decision to embrace defunding the MTA, rather than congestion pricing, that paper may have decided that something I suggested that might happen (unplanned result of no one willing to pay or give up anything) might be a good thing.

    Bankruptcy and shutdown for the MTA, followed by a takeover by bondholders, the wipeout of requirement of service for less profitable routes/times, debt and retiree health care obligations, etc. Privitization through the back door.

    Bondholders, of course, would do all they could to get their money back and would not put a dime into maintenance and capital replacement. But that wouldn’t affect the middle class — they drive.

    That’s what I don’t understand — why Democrats decided to be complicit in the degradation of the public services their sorts of folks oversee, as long as their people could suck their “fair share” out before collapse. In any event, I bike, so don’t ask me to pay.

  • Mark

    Privatization is already the most likely future source of funding for highways. The subways and buses may be next, as Larry describes. Remember the subway system was constructed with private funds. Our political system — despite Lew’s admirable can-do spirit — is so irretrievably broken that it cannot keep the subways and buses running. By process of elimination, privatization is the only thing that has even a chance of sustaining our transit system.

  • ddartley

    Not sure where I stand on a commuter tax, but I do know I used to pay it myself in 1999, and for me, it was a constant $3.50 per pay period. I managed.

  • Edgar

    Lew, please explain to us again, why is it better to tax (and therefore de-incentivize) activities that are beneficial to society, like working, than to make people feel the true cost of activities that are detrimental to society, like driving in a densely-populated city (pollution, congestion, hazard to pedestrians, greenhouse gases, etc.)

    How does that make any sense? Is making more than $1 million per year really worse to society than driving an SUV around in the city center, making ambulance and fire response times slower, wasting money idling in traffic for small business owners trying to make deliveries, generally polluting and making life unpleasant for pedestrians?

  • taylor

    anyone who thinks hydrogen fuel cell vehicles are the answer for new york’s transportation or energy problems simply doesn’t get it.

  • Larry Littlefield

    (Remember the subway system was constructed with private funds.)

    Ahem — with city bonds, to be paid only after a guaranteed private profit, for the IRT and BMT.

    As WWI inflation raised costs, but not the 5 cent fare set in the Dual Contracts of 1913, some profits were made but no virtually no money was contributed to the city’s debt service.

    In the end, the private companies were bought out of their contracts using more city bonds, and the city paid again to start rebuilding the lines, which had had deferred maintenance.

    The IND, city owned from the start, was also paid for by city bonds.

  • Mark

    Oops, thanks for the history lesson Larry.

  • Matt

    Privatization is frequently offered as a solution by those who do not understand what a free market is.

    The MTA does not operate in a free market. Its a monopoly. There is little motivation for the for profit institution to do anything other than allow the infrastructure to rot while raising prices on consumers.

    Certainly, there are many, many problems within the MTA but privatization is unlikely to address anything but the balance sheet.

  • J. Mork

    Duh, if I were to be the first to get a fuel cell vehicle on my block, it would increase congestion, since I don’t currently own a car.

  • jmc

    The mass adoption of fuel cell cars is impossible. There’s simply not enough of the material necessary to make the car (platinum/rhodium/palladium) available on the planet. Plus, they’ll always be expensive, because they’re made of precious metals. Finally, hydrogen is currently made from natural gas in a (necessarily) inefficient process, so you’re losing energy and creating CO2 offsite. It is a ridiculous idea and it’s silly to bring it up.

  • Hilary

    Tolls on the East River bridges or a regional tax! What gracious hosts we are! Like Delaware, NYC is a chokepoint for traffic going up and down the east coast. Little Delaware collects about twice what we do for the privilege of using its bridges.

  • mike

    As with congestion pricing, Lew clearly has not done the math with hydrogen cars. We’re not going to get all that hydrogen by vacuuming it off the Sun. You’d need to make that hydrogen.. and that takes energy, energy that will almost certainly be carbon-based, since they’re the only energy sources that can be scaled up to support the U.S.’s auto addiction. In the process, however, you end up LOSING more energy that way. It’s the same flawed logic that biofuel boosters use. Yes, biofuel can work at a local, small-scale level, but it will not power the US auto fleet.

    And, as others have noted, hydrogen cars do nothing to reduce congestion, or their other negative impacts on people and communities.

    That, along with all the mega-expensive tunnel in his plan, clearly show that his “plan” is simply meant to serve as a distraction from real, proven solutions such as congestion pricing.

  • md

    Great plan, Lew. Let’s tax poor people who take mass transit to work in order to preserve a free ride for those who drive in.

  • Lew from Brooklyn

    Thanks for the mostly gracious comments.

    I’ll accept SOME of the negativity as understandable dissapointment in the apparent outcome. I would hope, however, that my statement that we need to move past our dispute to finding solutions would be the spirit of our future communications and efforts.

    My tax for those that did not get it, would be paid by the businesses and not by the “low income workers”. And while I would acknowledge thta all things are passed along to somebody to some degree, at the very least if this were passed off to workers who get paid salaries, someone making 100k a year would pay three times the amount of someone makeing 33k a year.

    I also need to state what I consider to be a postulate: that to move millions of people to diverse areas of work, we need not only trains, but cars, buses, ferries and bicycles. ALL must co-exist. None could sustain the absence of the others–at least as to the main three. So, I know there are those of you who view cars as deadly and a waste of space…but I just won’t engage in that dialogue any further. Not to be snarky, just because we see things VERY differently.

    Finally, it amazes me how some of you continue to react to hydrogen. I am urging that an infra structure be developed. For zero emisission cars. We can develop that infra structure in the most cost efficient net energy positive way. Why? Because it doesn’t exist now and we have to. California is using solar power to develop its hydrogen. That’s a good start.

    Anyway, I made a promise to Streetsbloggers and others. To wit, I was not making my proposal jsut to kill congestion pricing. I will continue to keep that promise. I hope that some of you can find it in your hearts and minds to embrace it.

    Lew from Brooklyn

  • Hey Lew,

    I’ll give you those first two points on your business tax and co-existing modes of transit (even if I don’t completely agree), but you’re dead wrong on hydrogen. It’s not about the lack of infrastructure. Hydrogen is not sustainable. Go ahead and do the research. It’s a net energy loser and to top it off it that energy has to come from somewhere else. So I’ll ask the question again, where’s this energy that’s supposed to power our hydrogen fuel cells gonna come from? Hopefully not gasoline or biofuels. Solar and wind aren’t enough. So, is it nuclear?

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    Okay, Lew, here’s my concern about the payroll tax. I used to be a classic “tax-and-spend liberal,” but I learned from a speech by George Pataki (and those of you who know me will understand how bizarre I feel writing that) that some taxes can discourage people from hiring New Yorkers.

    A payroll tax seems like the most straightforward way to increase unemployment in New York. If I have it wrong, please feel free to correct me, but that sounds much worse than a tiny number of upper-middle-class-people being deterred from an activity that endangers and sickens their neighbors.

  • Larry Littlefield

    Hey Lew: Go back and read my Room 8 post on preparing for institutional collapse. It was written well before congestion pricing was voted down.

    There was one irrefutable argument against congestion pricing — elected officials like yourself could and would just squander the money on insiders, leaving us worse off that before. Public services are doomed, and the only question is how much we pay for what we do not get.

    I am therefore unwilling to pay higher payroll taxes either. Use the so-called “hidden billions,” brought up every time a fare increase is proposed, to pay for transit.

  • Lew from Brooklyn

    Larry, I guess you would argue that we should just disband the government, end taxation and that way politicians :like me” couldn’t squander anything. Puh-lease.

    Angus, taxes can in fact be counter-productive. However, at the level I propose, and by imposijg it throughout the NYC region, it should not have that effect. Take examples of a small or large business. Small business wants to add a new “clerical” type employee at ssay 25k per year. The annual tax for that employee would be $83. Or little mor than a buck a week. Not likely to stop that small business person from hiring an employee that he or she feels is needed.
    A large business with a million dollar a year payroll would pay $3,333 per year.

    Neither figure would a. be a job killer or b. encourage a business to spend dollars to move out of the greater NY region.

    I recognize that this is adding to an already large burden on business—and I regret that. BUT someone has to pay for this. I am not going to cut schools, public safety, seniors or youth to get there.

    As to hydrogen, I don’t have all the answers. Let’s say we confine the production of Hydrogen to only energy efficient methods—and work like hell to improve and expand those efforts. (I am still fascinated by the idea of using ocean currents, for example.) What if we could get HALF of the cars on the roads using zero emission hydrogen produced in an energy efficient manner? That would surely make quite a dent, wouldn’t it?

    Plus, call me a patriot, but when big business sees a need, good old Yankee tinekrism seems to come through. We’ll find a way to make it work. Why? Because we have to.

    And you didn’t think I was an environmentalist, didja?

    Lew from Brooklyn

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    Angus, taxes can in fact be counter-productive. However, at the level I propose, and by imposijg it throughout the NYC region, it should not have that effect.

    Not by itself. But in combination with other taxes and costs, couldn’t it be the straw that breaks the camel’s back, when a business is considering relocating jobs?

  • Hilary

    You can certainly come up with more equitable ways to raise revenue. The problem is they do nothing to reduce traffic (and still leave the inequitable tolls, gas, and other costs of driving in place). If pricing as an option is off the table, then we’re back to rationing or congestion itself (reducing the street space) to reduce traffic. The first is even more inequitable, and the second increases pollution (at least until traffic restabilizes at a lower level).

  • Lew from Brooklyn

    The otehr 8 points of my plan, hillary, go to reducing congvestion in part by imprvong mass transit options for those who do not curently have them, by taking trucks off our streets and changing the culture of the taxi industry which accoutns for 39% of VMT in the CBD.
    Lew from Brooklyn

  • James T. Kirk

    Americans will make hydrogen cars workable through sheer force of will.


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