Will Richard Ravitch Resurrect Congestion Pricing?

Marc Shaw, former chair of the Traffic Congestion Mitigation Commission, caused something of a stir in the local press on Friday, when he predicted that congestion pricing would "rise again" as a proposal to toll East River bridges and a cordon across 60th street. Speaking at a panel discussion at the RPA’s Regional Assembly, Shaw said he had been told by Richard Ravitch, the one-time MTA head who’s been asked by Governor Paterson to devise ways to shore up the agency’s finances, that pricing is "on his agenda."

With the MTA staring at a $17 billion hole in its next capital plan, pricing or new tolls may well be on the table, but the crystal ball is very cloudy at this point. Many variables are still in play. It’s not clear yet, for instance, when the Ravitch panel will make its final recommendations, what form the proposal will take, or even who else will serve with him.

Gene Russianoff of the Straphangers Campaign said a likely scenario would be for the Ravitch panel to release its recommendations after the elections this fall. In a brief phone interview yesterday, he speculated that a pricing variant, if proposed, would be one of multiple options the panel presents. "They’re going to have to come up with a menu," he said, "because if they put all their eggs in one basket it’s going to be difficult."

Another likely recommendation would involve raising all of the existing taxes that finance the MTA.

The panel may also release its recommendations in two parts. An early recommendation could propose stop-gap measures to fix holes in the current capital plan (which is coming unglued as a result of the economic slowdown and rising construction costs), and a later one would focus on the next plan.

Russianoff took it as a good sign that Paterson selected Ravitch, who initiated the MTA’s first five-year capital plan in 1982, to lead the panel. "They’re not papering things over," he said. "It’s a serious attempt."

But all that is known for certain so far is what the governor said when he announced the creation of the panel: 

Basically, I want the commission to examine three basic issues. One
is how to balance the subsidizing of the MTA Capital Plan, through the
subscription of those who use the services and a broad balance of taxes
for businesses and the rest of the public.

Secondly,
what we want to look at are the elements of Mayor Bloomberg’s plan that
all of us like, and that perhaps we can still weave them into the
process.

And finally, we have to get the MTA out of its
habit, which is 25 years old, of refinancing and basically covering
debt with excessive borrowing.

  • Larry Littlefield

    If CP comes back, I want Bloomberg and the City Council to oppose unless those who opposed last time beg for them to accept it.

    Specifically, the City of New York turned the Triboro Bridge and Tunnel Authority, with its surplus tolls, over to the MTA under a deal that provided transit in the city with 67% of the surplus in the short run, but only 50% today. Even though city residents pay 67% of the tolls.

    Does the MTA really want to repeat that trick with the East River Bridges?

    I don’t believe Bloomberg was so insistent on the city’s share. Worse, the MTA would have gotten the revenues by NYC would have had to pay to maintain the bridges — and pay interest on the debts used to rebuild them.

    And if the MTA were to take over the bridges and the debts, a reasonable outcome in some ways, what is to say the suburbanites would not force the agency to ban bikes and peds — just because they can? Of charge the city to allow them?

    They had their chance. No additional taxes on wages or jobs. No fare increases. There are other options. The MTA could go bankrupt and cut what it pays for debt service, pensions and retiree health care, or the state and city income tax could be revised so that retired people who earn as much as I do would have to pay more than zero.

  • Gizler

    No question the MTA is a mess. But we still have the giant problem of way too many people driving into Manhattan when they could be taking the subway, Metro North, NJ Transit or the LIRR. And way to many people driving in NYC period. If tolls are the answer, I say put them in regardless of where the money goes.

  • Larry Littlefield

    Too late for that. The CP opponents have taken the ball into their court when it comes to funding the MTA. And I’m in no mood to pay anything without a very good deal.

    At this point, I’d rather discourage driving by taking away lanes.

  • “But we still have the giant problem of way too many people driving into Manhattan when they could be taking the subway, Metro North, NJ Transit or the LIRR.”

    No, the giant problem is that we have a mayor encouraging rampant overdevelopment when there are already more people than we can handle here and a subway system built in the early 1900s. We have an infinite supply of people and not enough trains to carry them all.

  • Mark Walker

    We have more people than the roads can handle. Unlike the roads, the transit system can be expanded. The main problem with the subway is that it hasn’t been significantly developed since the 1930s when the Robert Moses roads-only approach to transit took over.

  • barak

    If CP happens, the political careers of those that implemented it will be shortened.

  • The USDOT has taken the $355 million that had been allocated for New York City’s cordon pricing plan and reallocated it, 60-40, between Los Angeles and Chicago instead. Fancy new buses will soon be plying express lanes in both cities.

  • Cameron Williams

    OK, but why not double the tolls on the Throgs Neck, Triborough and Whitestone bridges? Why toll only Queens and Brooklyn residents, who only make up 17% of those polluting the city with their cars?

    The people using the Throgs Neck, Triborough and Whitestone have access to MetroNorth trains, which are more highly subsidized by federal and state funding than are the decrepit subways. Then add “Welcome to New York City” tolls on the L.I.E., the Grand Central, the Southern and Northern State Parkways. That seems like a more effective and equitable solution to me.

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