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James Vacca

Mayor’s Budget Includes Parking Meter Rate Hike, Red Light Cam Expansion

3:49 PM EDT on May 6, 2011

Transportation Committee Chair James Vacca at a rally against the 25-cent meter rate bump in December. Photo:

Mayor Bloomberg's budget proposal, which was released today, still includes a plan to increase parking meter rates across the city, a plan which the City Council scuttled once in January. The transportation budget also includes an increase in revenue from an expansion of the city's red light camera program.

The biggest budget fights are sure to be over top-ticket items, like the 6,000 teaching jobs that Bloomberg would cut. But the meter hike will likely be an important subplot as the City Council debates Bloomberg's budget proposal; Transportation Committee chair James Vacca has already made clear that he will fight to keep down the cost of on-street parking.

The proposal is the same as in the mayor's preliminary budget, released last February. In Manhattan below 86th Street, meter rates will rise from $2.50 to $3.00 per hour. That change was not challenged by the Council and is likely to move forward smoothly. In the rest of the city and at municipal lots, meter rates will increase from $0.75 to $1.00 per hour.

Overall, the increase in parking meter revenue would raise roughly $20 million next year and $25 million after that. That's between two-fifths and two-thirds of the entire deficit-closing package for the Department of Transportation, depending on the year, far more than would be saved by planned job cuts, furloughs, or efficiency measures.

When the Bloomberg administration put forward the citywide meter hike last year, however, the City Council made eliminating it a top priority in negotiations. Vacca led that fight and at the time promised to introduce a bill capping the city's ability to increase meter rates in the future.

If Vacca again fights to keep parking meter rates completely flat -- when adjusted for inflation, the city's meter rate hasn't risen in 18 years -- he'll be fighting for increased congestion and against small businesses. Meter rates set too low mean it's nearly impossible to find a parking spot when you need one in many parts of New York City, leading to extra driving as motorists search for a spot and less turnover in front of neighborhood shops.

Moreover, Vacca would be fighting for extra cuts somewhere else in the budget. Increasing meter rates by a quarter an hour would raise $13.8 million each year after the first. According to the Independent Budget Office [PDF], $10 million buys 158 new teachers, 956 Head Start slots, or 10 days of residential garbage disposal. Are those sacrifices that the Council's chief negotiator, Speaker Christine Quinn, is willing to sign off on?

Even within the realm of transportation, compare the revenue from the meter rate hike to the savings from a one-week furlough of DOT workers included in the budget that will result in 9,000 fewer potholes being fixed each winter: around $1 million a year. Keeping parking extra-cheap could, therefore, theoretically come at the price of an extra 124,000 potholes and all the wear and tear they cause to vehicles.

Another potential controversy buried in the budget is a plan to expand the use of red light enforcement cameras. The number of intersections where the city can install cameras is limited by Albany, but this plan would add extra cameras facing the opposite direction at 20 locations that already have cameras. Red light cameras have been repeatedly shown to reduce crashes and save lives, so the expansion of the program should be a boon to safety.

However, much of the opposition to traffic enforcement cameras comes from a minority who believe their only purpose is to raise revenue. The inclusion of this plan as a revenue item in the city's deficit-closing plan could be a political liability therefore, giving opponents some evidence to latch onto.

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