SUBURBAN REVOLT! Another County Heard from as Senate Dems Protest Congestion Pricing

Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins is leading a quiet revolt of suburban drivers against city transit users. Photo: Kevin P. Coughlin/Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo
Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins is leading a quiet revolt of suburban drivers against city transit users. Photo: Kevin P. Coughlin/Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo

This is getting awfully familiar.

Two days after Long Island state senators objected to Gov. Cuomo’s congestion pricing plan to raise billions for the crumbling New York City transit system, a new batch of suburbanities, this time from north of the city, is complaining that drivers won’t benefit from tolls to save public transit.

“As representatives for Hudson Valley commuters, it is our responsibility to ensure that any congestion pricing plan is not funded from their pockets without ample benefit,” the group, which includes Senators James Skoufis, Jen Metzger, David Carlucci, Pete Harckham and Shelley Mayer, said in a statement that was almost exactly the same as the one put out by their Long Island counterparts on Feb. 27.

The senators say they “agree that the subway system is in dire need of repair,” but added that “it is imperative that Metro-North, both east- and west-of-Hudson, receive dedicated share of new revenue generated.”

That’s not currently part of the plan. The $1 billion in fees generated from congestion tolling is supposed to be in a “lockbox” for New York City Transit improvements, which Mayor de Blasio said was a major part of his reasons for supporting the plan. The tolls will raise enough cash to borrow $15 billion towards NYCT President Andy Byford’s $40-billion “Fast Forward” plan. Congestion pricing would also improve the experience for drivers by reducing traffic that lowers productivity and makes streets less safe.

Specifically, the suburbanites objected that drivers who cross the new Tappan Zee Bridge or the old George Washington Bridge will not currently get a discount when they later drive into the Manhattan congestion zone below 61st Street — a discount Battery and Queens Midtown tunnel drivers will get.

Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins used exactly the same language that she used two days earlier, saying that she will work with the suburbanites to “ensure that the needs of the region are met.”

She described herself as “generally supportive of the congestion pricing concept and the need for a dedicated stream of revenue,” adding however that she wants “to see some minor changes that will help all regions of the MTA.”

Cuomo and de Blasio’s office did not return a request for comment specifically on the latest revolt. On the Brian Lehrer Show on Friday, the governor started by sarcastically characterizing the opposition. “There will be the ‘Save New York! Oppose Congestion Pricing’ group,” he predicted.

Then he continued:

But congestion pricing has been talked about for decades. All the smart planners, all the environmentalists have supported it. … To me, it is common sense. You have to reduce congestion in Manhattan. You can walk faster than a bus can move. …. Environmentally, we are losing the planet daily and you have to raise financing for the MTA because we haven’t done it for 40 years. What does that is congestion pricing. … Is there opposition? Of course there is. But life is options. We need the funding: Congestion pricing or you raise the fare on subway riders, which would be worse.

He closed with a reference to his father, who was also a governor.

“Local officials don’t like to do anything. ‘A legislator who votes for nothing did nothing wrong,’ Mario Cuomo [said].”

Charles Komanoff, a congestion pricing expert and analyst, is getting tired of all the carveouts.

“There will be nothing left of the carcass when everyone carves out his piece,” he said. “If they want to strangle congestion pricing in the crib, this is how to do it. But if they want to fix mass transit and traffic gridlock, they need to stop the carveout BS.”

Ben Fried, the spokesman for TransitCenter, added, “Motorists from the Hudson Valley would pay a small fraction of congestion pricing fees, and New York City would contribute the vast majority. There have to be tight limits on horsetrading, or else the whole deal will fall apart.”

After initial publication of this story, de Blasio spokeswoman Jaclyn Rothenberg emailed Streetsblog:

“Our proposal provides a fair framework to get New Yorkers moving again.  It’s going to take everyone working together to get to a final plan in this budget, and we’re in conversations with the Legislature to make that happen.”

 

  • Larry Littlefield

    I also heard Mario Cuomo yell at a young caller on his radio show, “if you don’t participate in the system its going to hurt you. The old people are taking everything.”

    Mid-1990s. At the state level, it was just (re) starting.

  • JohnThackr

    This is why costs matter. So long as New York does everything for ten times the cost of world best practices (comparing to other wealthy cities like Amsterdam, London, Paris, and Berlin), we’re not going to be able to have things like the other cities. One side or the other will revolt. Congestion pricing is fine, but it has to be combined with getting costs down. You can pay people the same, just use fewer of them or have them accomplish more. Fewer conductors (an anachronism everywhere else in the world), more drivers and more trains.

  • Elizabeth F

    I don’t see the suburban politicians as opposing congestion pricing so much, as trying to make some of the money flow their way. That is their job, after all.

  • Sassojr

    Get rid of the NJ carveout. This is a charge to enter the CBD. If NJ residents don’t want to be double charged, they can complain to Port Authority. Only MTA bridges and tunnels should be discounted as the MTA would get their $11.52 no matter which route you enter.

  • redbike

    You want some of the goodies? Cool! Expand the boundaries of congestion pricing to include Nassau, Suffolk, and Westchester Counties. Problem solved.

  • sbauman

    trying to make some of the money flow their way.

    That’s usually the problem when NYC tries to impose a broad base tax that might ensnare a few non-residents.

    When tolls on the TBTA bridges were raised from $0.25 to $0.50, all the extra money went to the NYCTA. Additional toll increases were split 50-50 with the commuter railroads because the toll hike hit LI and Westchester residents. Similarly, when there’s a statewide bond issue, the money is first divided 50-50 between highways and transit (for upstate) and the transit is divided 50-50 between commuter rail and subways. That means NYC gets 25% of the pie and contributes much more than that for the cost.

    The question is whether “NY State” taxes that hit mostly NYC residents and businesses are worth the expense, when NYC’s return is 25% to 50%?

  • Larry Littlefield

    The state won’t let NYC residents even tax themselves without sending some of the money elsewhere.

  • Elizabeth F

    Part of the rationale of congestion charges is to raise money to improve transit in transit deserts, thereby encouraging more people to choose transit over driving.

    Well… I might point out that (some) suburbanites drive in NYC, and will be paying congestion charges, and many suburbanites live in transit deserts. It is quite reasonable to expect that congestion fees paid by suburbanites could be plowed back into improving transit in the suburbs with the goal of fewer people choosing to drive to NYC. The “right” way to divide the money would be based on the origin of the passenger automobiles paying the congestion charge.

    Anyway, there is no shortage of ways that transit can be improved in the suburbs. More parking at overbooked stations is always popular. But improved bus service to stations, regional express services such as HudsonLink, improved bus service on corridors not served by trains (eg Route 100), and improved non-motorized access and bicycle parking at stations are all real improvements that could be made.

  • Elizabeth F

    It’s not all peaches and free-riding in the suburbs. I might point out that NYC today is an incredibly dynamic location for businesses to locate, whereas the suburbs are increasingly not. NYC makes a huge amount of money taxing these businesses, whereas suburban municipalities are funded more heavily through property tax. That’s why property taxes in Westchester (for example) are typically $20K and up. Westchester County is a place where either (a) you’re rich but you chose to live in a spacious house instead of a 2-BR Manhattan apartment for the same price, or (b) you simply cannot afford NYC, so you live in a cramped suburban apartment priced well below anything in Manhattan or Brooklyn.

  • Jared R

    Westchester County is a place where either (a) you’re rich but you chose to live in a spacious house instead of a 2-BR Manhattan apartment for the same price, or (b) you simply cannot afford NYC, so you live in a cramped suburban apartment priced well below anything in Manhattan or Brooklyn. But now you have to plow part of your savings back into Metro-North fares into Manhattan, which run $250/mo and up.

    What Westchester are you living in? Apartment rents in most transit-accessible locations are on par with NYC rents.

    When Westchester and Rockland County embrace walkable urbanism, they can have increased rail service. These Towns need to stop preventing development and growth to keep rents in check, but also to encourage walkability and transit use.

  • Elizabeth F

    I lived nextdoor to a Metro-North station in Tuckahoe, NY, and paid about $2500/mo. Other apartments in the village were a bit less (different amenities, construction quality, etc). My friend in Central Harlem was paying $3000/mo for an EVEN SMALLER 2BR apt, also of good build quality, in 2013. I can only guess what he’s paying now.

    When you compare NYC vs. suburban rents, you have to add the NYC income tax to the cost of the NYC apartment as well; whereas in the suburbs, local taxes are included in the rent. NYC income tax can easily be $300-500/mo, depending on your income. Take income tax into account, and suburban apartments will almost always be a better bargain, if you’re not destitute.

    And then there are the schools… let’s just say public schools are easier and simpler to manage in the suburbs.

    Of course, there are cheaper parts of NYC than Central Harlem; the Bronx, for example, has plenty of decent places. But Yonkers is also cheaper than Tuckahoe (and income tax is not such a factor, it’s really low).

    > When Westchester and Rockland County embrace walkable urbanism, they can have increased rail service.

    Have you ever actually visited Westchester County? Thinking about the Metro-North stations on the Harlem Line… every single one of them from the Bronx line to White Plains is surrounded by a vibrant mix of apartments and businesses — and has been that way for at least 80 years. I lived in a village of 12,000 people in 1/2 square mile, and all my kids’ friends were within a 5 minute walk.

    In any case, frequency of rail service is not really an issue in Westchester: it already comes every half hour or more, most times, 7 days a week.

    Rockland County is a different beast.

  • Jared R

    I live there. And grew up in Rockland. Yes, there is semi-vibrant urbanism (with a lot of parking lots) at (many but not all) transit stations in Westchester. Though this is limited. And when you consider the proportion of total workers that live in Westchester and commute to the city, and commute by rail versus other means, the numbers are abyssmal.

    “every single one of them from the Bronx line to White Plains is surrounded by a vibrant mix of apartments and businesses — and has been that way for at least 80 years.”

    ^This is simply not true. It was true at one time. These places were obliterated mid-century and now contain lots and lots of surface parking, arterial roads and even strip malls near transit stations. This repels would-be walkers and visitors.

    Using MNR as an interurban system and not just a commuter rail system could ultimately warrant increased frequency and ridership. But higher densities are necessary to support the market for this type of travel.

  • Jared R

    Also, those people that will pay congestion fees by their very nature do not use transit. So how would transit funding help the drivers that are rightly expected to pay for the air quality damage, congestion impacts, pedestrian safety impacts, etc.?

    Not understanding.

    If your argument is that would-be drivers would shift to transit, which would generate transit crowding, necessitating transit expansion, then your argument is warranted.

    But I’m not certain you have articulated that well. You sound like you are advocating for free SOV use.

  • Jared R

    Also – I could get behind this comment: “The “right” way to divide the money would be based on the origin of the passenger automobiles paying the congestion charge.”

    This probably works reasonably. Though how do you account for those suburban commuters that ultimately switch to the subway to get to final destinations in NYC?

    Ultimately, it seems that NYC Transit and the commuter railroads should be further consolidated into a single management structure. Also, the concepts of through-running and using the commuter railroads also as subway connections in the outer boroughs is interesting.

  • Elizabeth F

    > And when you consider the proportion of total workers that live in Westchester and commute to the city, and commute by rail versus other means, the numbers are abyssmal.

    What proportion of Westchester residents who work in Manhattan (not any random place in NYC) drive in?

    > This is simply not true. It was true at one time. These places were obliterated mid-century and now contain lots and lots of surface parking, arterial roads and even strip malls near transit stations. This repels would-be walkers and visitors.

    Please be more specific. Becuase (other than White Plains), I can’t think of any stations that fit your description. Yes there is parking, usually very little. The vast majority of Metro-North users don’t park. And “strip malls”? Please be more specific. Same thing with the claims on “arterial roads,” unless you’re counting the BRP (which definitely does NOT repel walkers and visitors).

    > Using MNR as an interurban system and not just a commuter rail system could ultimately warrant increased frequency and ridership.

    It’s already a cheap and convenient way to get to White Plains. The urbs that an “inter-urban” would need to serve are Yonkers, Port Chester, White Plains, New Rochelle, Mt. Vernon; which are embedded in a low-density suburban matrix. Doing so effectively would require something like… oh, I don’t know, the HudsonLink bus service that was recently launched and has plans for expansion.

  • Elizabeth F

    > Though how do you account for those suburban commuters that ultimately switch to the subway to get to final destinations in NYC?

    I have no idea what you mean by that.

    But to be fair… a large fraction of Westcheter residents don’t use the subway much. You take the train to GCT and walk to your office.

    > Ultimately, it seems that NYC Transit and the commuter railroads should be further consolidated into a single management structure.

    Isn’t that what Movernor DeCuomo just proposed?

    > Also, the concepts of through-running and using the commuter railroads also as subway connections in the outer boroughs is interesting.

    Agreed. Through-running where it would be easy (NJ – LI) will never happen because NJ is a disaster.

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