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.

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