Electeds Still Need to Hear From Pricing Supporters

After nearly a year of personally advocating for congestion pricing, I shared my fellow Streetsbloggers’ frustration as the current round ended not with a decisive vote, but with the clock running out on a federal funding deadline. As this great New York political battle fades into memory, I hope future historians will not remember this as a Bloomberg second-term failure along the lines of the West Side stadium fight with Speaker Silver and Assembly Democrats. Rather, I hope they recognize this as a case of Albany legislative dysfunction undermining pretty much all of the major civic, environmental, transportation and labor organizations. In fact, organizations like Transportation Alternatives, Partnership for NYC and Citizens for NYC lead this initiative from the beginning and got the mayor to sign on last year as part of PlaNYC.

This was round one and we lost, but pricing opponents may have won a Pyrrhic victory. They will find that they will ultimately have very few people thanking them and a whole load of people continuing to complain about fare increases, service cuts and high levels of congestion in their neighborhoods.

The ball is now firmly in the court of Silver, Brodsky and Weprin, et al. They and the entire Legislature will have to answer for this once the MTA has to revise its capital plan. They will need to convince us as to how they will remedy likely budget shortfalls. And if Bloomberg continues to act on initiatives within the city’s purview — ending placard abuse, market rate pricing for parking, better bus lanes, more protected bike lanes, etc. — he can still create a lasting legacy as a bold leader on sustainability issues.

I encourage all of you who feel discouraged to channel some of that into reminding electeds of what we expect from them. Here is a letter I sent to all my representatives immediately after pricing’s defeat.

This is a sad day for environmentalists, transit advocates and anyone concerned about the long term sustainability of our great city. Congestion Pricing, after much debate, analysis and even significant refinement by the state legislature, deserved an up or down vote from our legislators.

This is also the day that I lost faith in Albany as a democratic institution that can be held accountable to the two-thirds of New Yorkers that support congestion pricing. So now – it’s up to you to fill the $17 billion MTA Capital Plan. No Excuses – how exactly are you going to work toward that? Where exactly will the money come from? How will people be encouraged to take mass transit if they can drive for free but it costs $2 and rising to take the subway?

The environmental movement is changing and evolving. I hope you evolve your thinking will along with us. Part of the disconnect I felt during the congestion pricing debate is that environmental policy is not as rooted in the traditional class and identity politics that the New York Democratic Party still seems overly locked into (and believe me, I’m a lifelong Democrat from a union household and care deeply about equity issues). While I’m all for a progressive income tax structure, there are limits to taxing good behavior (like working and contributing to society) and much more opportunity for the tax structure to discourage actions that harm the environment (like driving into congested areas when a transit alternative exists or wasting water/energy).
For instance, a millionaire tax dedicated to mass transit is frankly not a very creative idea and does not really attack the root of a problem, which is too many people driving into a congested area, causing health problems, pollution and economic losses. I hope you’ll keep an open mind about using market mechanisms like user fees for roads/bridges, gas taxes, higher parking meter fees to advance the goals of environmental protection to fund automobile alternatives like mass transit, cycling infrastructure and more pedestrian friendly streetscapes. 
Environmentalists are looking for our elected officials to not just merely represent a jumbled set of constituent desires, but to stand on principle for protecting the environment against often narrow, short-sighted and frankly extremely selfish desires. Sometimes that might mean that you need to explain to your constituents why you disagree with them, encourage them to think of the greater good and point out to them what they stand to benefit if lots of people behave in more environmentally friendly ways in their neighborhood. In the end, I think your constituents will respect you more for having core beliefs and explaining your position on issues based on your principles.
Glenn McAnanama
President, Upper Green Side

It’s still a good time to write something to your elected officials and tell them how you feel. Another great next step is to give money to the NYLCV’s Climate PAC, Transportation Alternatives and other city and neighborhood organizations that supported congestion pricing. Finally, stay in touch with your electeds, get to know their staff members, get active in campaigns for candidates you believe in, and go to community board meetings.

This is not over.

  • The future of congestion pricing:
    I hear that Toyota will introduce a plug-in hybrid in 2009, and I expect drivers will switch to plug-in hybrids very quickly to avoid high gas prices (since powering your car by electricity will cost half as much as gas). As a result, gas tax revenues will fall dramatically, and politicians will be looking for a new source of funding for maintaining roads.

    Toll-everwhere congestion pricing (on all freeways, not just in central business districts) is an obvious source of this funding, since it has the benefit of reducing congestion as well as generating funds. Given the momentum that already exists for congestion pricing (despite its narrow loss in New York), I think it is very possible that toll-everywhere congestion pricing will be in place in much of the United States by 2020.

    Eat your heart out, Lew Fidler.

  • Niccolo Machiavelli

    I was going to leave this alone because it was pretty well directed. That said I decides to dissect it in the vain hope of firing up more debate than it seems to be causing.

    “I hope future historians will not remember this as a Bloomberg second-term failure along the lines of the West Side stadium fight with Speaker Silver and Assembly Democrats.”—Why not, it was. And many of the people who were applauding Silver for killing the stadium, and begged him to kill Atlantic Yards, are now cursing him for killing CP. Bloomberg, on the other hand, bribed this thing through the City Council, never used it in his election campaigns, and did what he could to make sure that it was never tested at the polls by actual voters.

    “case of Albany legislative dysfunction”–Albany functioned, they killed it, apparently under the overwhelming pressure of the city assembly delegation.

    “whole load of people continuing to complain about fare increases, service cuts”—you mean of course the chorus that complains about every fare increase, regardless, those who never met a fare increase they liked. Ten years ago the fare roughly approximated the price of a slice of pizza. Today the average fare is $1.80. I just tonight bought two slices of non-gourmet pizza for $6, thats $3 a slice almost twice the average fare. Thats not to say I don’t like low fares, no fares is cool with me. But it means that the fare can go up $1.20 before it returns to the historic price.

    And what does this really mean anyway, that transportation political economy only moves under crisis? So what would you have the MTA do now, increase fares to $4 a trip, no incentives, to hold the politicians responsible. That wouldn’t bother me much either.

    “once the MTA has to revise its capital plan.” —ooooo, thats scary, that will drive the foxes out of the chicken coop in Albany.

    “he can still create a lasting legacy as a bold leader on sustainability issues”—Well since he never put this before the voters in either of his landslide electoral victories, and he showed no cohesive political strategy at any point capable of putting this through, this is what many people thought was his agenda all along. Many people thought this was all just an exercise in resume building by Bloomberg. I was more cynical, I thought PlaNYC as a whole was an exercise in resume building and a trojan horse deindustrialization strategy.

    “Environmentalists” — They are all “environmentalists” just ask them, a term that has devolved into an amorphous mass of everypeople. The Kennedys can’t stomach wind mills on their horizon. Self described “progressives” want to eliminate the gas tax, miniscule as it is. I’m sure McCain thinks he is an environmentalist.

    This was a true democratic exercise in anti-urbanism, led by the elected representatives of the greatest city in America. That a few polls seemed to show something like a majority in favor of it at some point doesn’t mean that it was the will of the people, look at that polling now. The only polls that count are in November (and an occasional special election, there is one next month in Queens by the way), the rest of it is bullshit. When it counted Bloomberg’s campaign was as far as he could be from this issue.

    Legacy? His legacy is Mayor Weiner.

  • Larry Littlefield

    (Legacy? His legacy is Mayor Weiner.)

    Weiner would have won if CP won. He could have run against it, and swore $billions would have arrived from Washington if it had not passed.

    Now he has to deliver those $billions. Or else his opponents should kill him for not doing so.

    I’d say he has to (personally, not just call on others to do it and blame them if it doesn’t happen) deliver $13.5 billion in federal money for the MTA Capital Plan, over and above any earmarks and without sacrificing something else.

  • Niccolo Machiavelli

    I dunno Larry, I think Weiner’s opponents, such as they are, are busy explaining why they didn’t know anything about the three card monty shell game they were playing with City Council money. Both Quinn and Thompson have the same problem.

  • Larry Littlefield

    (Weiner’s opponents, such as they are, are busy explaining why they didn’t know anything about the three card monty shell game they were playing with City Council money.)

    Well, I guess they’ll just have to oppo Weiner’s earmarks. The real scandal is not the scandalous use of these small pots of money. It is the fact that these small pots of money are all your local councilmember, state legislator or congressperson cares about, designating all real decisions to the handful of men in the room.

    As I wrote here:


  • Larry Littlefield

    Weiner could be killed with this issue in other ways. For example, Quinn/Thompson could conceded that those in Belle Harbor aren’t going to vote for them, and go after the rules that make it illegal for those elsewhere in the city to drive and park in their neighborhood to go to the beach. That’s Weiner’s district.

  • Glenn

    The stadium/Olympics was a plan that really came from the Mayor’s office and Dan Doctoroff – aside them them, no one was pushing for it beforehand. Congestion pricing was different – a large and diverse coalition of environmental, labor, transportation, public health, community advocates pushed the Mayor into this. If he took it on as a resume builder or for his legacy, it wasn’t in isolation that he came to support it. And the plan that was eventually shot down in secret party conference was significantly altered from the original plan. The Legislature could have put forth their own plan, or the governor, but in the end they just decided to not to do their jobs at all and lacked the confidence to have a real debate in the open and vote on it. They even cut mass transit aid to the city after everything!

  • JF

    Here’s a letter my wife got from our assemblymember, Marge Markey, in response to an email asking her to support congestion pricing.


    Remember that this is in a district with strong support for congestion pricing, even if it is in Queens.


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