If Congestion Pricing Fails, Remember These Insane Comments by Assembly Member Rodneyse Bichotte

Congestion pricing supporter Senator Brian Benjamin rolls his eyes as his Assembly colleague Rodneyse Bichotte says she opposes the plan because it supposedly is a tax on working people (it's not). Photo: Mayor's office
Congestion pricing supporter Senator Brian Benjamin rolls his eyes as his Assembly colleague Rodneyse Bichotte says she opposes the plan because it supposedly is a tax on working people (it's not). Photo: Mayor's office

An Assembly Member from Brooklyn spit out a rambling, fact-averse monologue on Thursday to call attention to her opposition to congestion pricing — and in doing so revealed again how inaccuracies and misguided fealty towards the car-owning minority threaten to sink congestion pricing.

At an otherwise unrelated mayoral press conference about an expansion of contracts for minority and women-owned enterprises, Assembly Member Rodneyse Bichotte grabbed the microphone and lit into the mayor, a congestion pricing supporter, sitting mere feet from her after a reporter asked about the proposal to toll drivers for entering Manhattan’s congested central business district, with the revenue set aside to fix the crumbling subway system.

Here are unedited comments from lawmaker, who represents transit-rich Flatbush, with analysis of their wrongheadedness below (if you want to watch, click here and skip to 43:45):

In my district, people are concerned about the congestion pricing and how it could impact and develop the tales of two boroughs where, economically, a group of people being able to freely travel into Manhattan and others are not. But there’s a greater issue. We all want our subways to be fixed. We all want alternative ways of getting from one end of the city to the other, getting to our schools, getting to our jobs. And we are deliberating and finding alternative ways. Congestion pricing is not the only way that we can find a way to change behavior or even fund MTA.

A reporter asked, “Are you a yes?” And Bichotte continued:

Right now, I’m going to go with my constituents. Right now, we’re not in favor of congestion pricing in its form as it is today. But we are certainly for fixing the issue of our roads and streets being overpopulated and fixing the subway. Subways need to be fixed! We need to find ways, alternative funding. The “millionaire’s tax.” That’s one way we can go about funding our broken subway system. You have to understand, everyone, the outer boroughs have been ignored for a very long time. OK? Low-income people of color have been dealing with our public systems for many many years, 30, 40 years. Completely ignored. We on the state level have been funding the MTA with billions and billions of dollars in capital. Fares have been increased. In my district, we had workers’ jobs taken away. Subway station workers have been closed down. My constituents are asking, “If we are increasing the fares, where is it going? How come we’ve been yelling for years — 30, 40 years to fund our MTA — and nothing has been done?” And now, people are looking to tax people who are mostly vulnerable. So there’s a lot of issues. Again, we all want the same thing. We want to move New York City more efficiently and expediently, but not at the cost of our working families.”

As Bichotte finished, Senator Brian Benjamin (D-Harlem) grabbed the mic to challenge his Assembly colleague, pointing out that the $1 billion in congestion pricing revenue will support $15 billion in subway and bus repairs that are long overdue and will benefit Bichotte’s most-struggling constituents. He also added, “The ‘millionaire’s tax’ is not something that has the support of the governor or our senate — at least at this time — so if we don’t do congestion pricing, it’s unclear to me how are we going to [fund] the MTA.”

For his part, the mayor expressed his support for congestion pricing and expressed optimism that it would pass (though that’s very much in doubt). Then he let Bichotte have the last word.

“I want to make one point,” she said. “So the governor turned down taxing millionaires but he’s OK with taxing working people. I have a problem with that.”

Most people would — except that congestion pricing is not a tax on working people, advocates pointed out in the frenetic moments after Bichotte’s press-conference stink bomb.

“This is not a tax on working class people,” said Nick Sifuentes of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, which has analyzed commuting data for residents of every legislative district.

The analysis for Bichotte’s district is especially damning to the Assembly Member’s position: Of commuters headed to the proposed congestion tolling zone, only six percent drive versus 92 percent who take transit. Only 1.9 percent of commuters in Bichotte’s district would end up paying the congestion toll. And the people who drive into the central business district earn, on average, $10,000 more per year than those who take transit.

“There is no actual credible argument that congestion pricing hurts working people,” Sifuentes said. “The data does not support that, nor do the stories that we hear from riders who need this. The numbers in her district are literally the biggest disparity.

“This shows the problem of elected officials promulgating wrong messages and incorrect facts,” he added.

Danny Pearlstein of the Riders Alliance also called congestion pricing “fair” because it would benefit lower-income people at the expense of a small number of people who choose to drive into Manhattan.

“She overwhelmingly represents people who rely on the transit system to get around,” he said. “Congestion pricing is fair, sustainable, and the largest single transit-specific source of revenue now on the table. That’s why so many of her colleagues, who also represent working people who rely on transit, have gotten on board.”

Advocates weren’t concerned only about the inaccuracy in Bichotte’s comment, but also the misguided defense of a tiny number of car drivers.

“Wow. Her comments are dangerous and they’re factually incorrect,” said Jaqi Cohen of the Straphangers Campaign. “It just seems like she is holding on to an old argument that has been widely debunked that congestion pricing is a regressive tax, when we know for a fact that quite the opposite is true.”

Sifuentes blamed Mayor de Blasio for some of that lingering class resentment. Before he finally embraced congestion pricing last month, the mayor had criticized it as a regressive tax and questioned its fairness.

“This is a fine example of how the mayor’s talk last year wasn’t helpful,” he said. “I was at a meeting recently and drivers were complaining about the toll, even though they don’t drive into the CBD. They just don’t like the idea of a toll — and she’s probably hearing from angry car drivers in her district, even though they don’t drive into the CBD either.

“She’s listening to the squeakiest wheels rather than the hard-working people who take transit and don’t have the time to make a call or go to a meeting,” he added.

A mayoral spokesman declined to comment on whether de Blasio confronted Bichotte after the press conference. Bichotte did not respond to a call and an email.

If you are interested in expressing your opinion to Assembly Member Bichotte, her office number is (718) 940-0428.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “If we are increasing the fares, where is it going? How come we’ve been yelling for years — 30, 40 years to fund our MTA — and nothing has been done?”

    It went to the special interests and self-dealing generations that politicians like you allowed to pillage the future in exchange for not having elections. Does that help?

    How come we’ve been yelling for 30 or 40 years to fund out schools, and a lawsuit says they are still so bad they violate the state constitution? Hey Bichotte, the MTA isn’t “them.” The MTA is YOU, and the rest of the legislators. YOU and your tribe of insiders have done this to US, the serfs.

    “So the governor turned down taxing millionaires but he’s OK with taxing working people.”

    So would the $milionaire’s tax” enacted back in 2010 been repealed as part of this budget? If so, don’t worry. It will be back next year, along with service cuts.

  • Joe R.

    Look, I get it. The small minority of motorists who drive into the CBD are complaining because they’ll be paying for something they formerly got for free. That’s human nature. However, this resentment isn’t something leaders should latch on to, not when they have all the facts on hand. The “poor” motorists who drive into Manhattan are like the mythical unicorn. Sure, perhaps they exist, but nobody has ever seen them. So why do some politicians keep bringing this up again and again? I think I know why. They drive into the CBD regularly, and will be hit by the congestion charges. However, they can’t come out and say this as they will garner little sympathy from people who make far less than they do. Instead, they cloak their resentment of the tax by making the appeal that this will affect the poor. Then again, why should this surprise us? Many of these people are “poverty pimps” like our mayor who have used the poor repeatedly to win elections.

  • bklyn631

    I oppose congestion pricing.

    Like many other areas, transit is another case of our individual and corporate federal income taxes being redistributed inland and to the military, and congestion pricing doesn’t solve the fact that we in NY get 84 cents back in spending for every dollar we pay to DC.

    Congestion pricing is also a civil rights violation. Manhattan south of 60th Street is very disproportionately White while the outer boroughs are disproportionately Non-White, and to charge POC motorists to cross that street is racist policy.

    Many outerborough areas are transit deserts, and many residents there are not rich people driving Audis – they are working-class people driving 20 year old Hondas who would need to drive to the nearest subway anyway, to force an added cost on those people be it through using transit or a toll is both racially dubious and economically distressing. Sure, eventually added revenue from tolls might make a dent in the lack.of available transit in East Queens or North Bronx, but what happens in time between the installation of tolls and the realization of revenue? Outer borough People of Color suffer.

    Commuting to offices are far from the only reason people drive to Manhattan. Some have doctors or other appointments there, as there are fewer doctor’s offices in Bronx. If that person lives in North Bronx and has an appointment in Manhattan, we bill them for the trip? Even better, just about all of your electricians, plumbers, carpenters and the like live and have their vans outside Manhattan. Everyone is already complaining about the cost of trade work, congestion pricing will only drive up that cost.

    Congestion pricing is wrong. Anyone who wants a real solution that isn’t counterproductive, racist and classist like congestion pricing is, call your senators Schumer – (202) 224-6542 and Gillibrand – (202) 224-4451, and demand that the federal government stop redistributing our money elsewhere and instead invest it back in our community!

  • What a stupid fucking idiot.

  • AMH

    Just a reminder to leaders that there is no such thing as an incorrect fact. Facts are, by definition, true. Lies and misstatements are, by definition, false, and no one should shy away from calling them what they are.

  • AMH

    Tolls and congestion pricing are no more a civil rights violation than the subway fare. How is it right that people can drive FOR FREE into the densest CBD in the country and impose massive delays, noise, pollution, etc. on everyone, while someone who takes the bus has to PAY to sit in the traffic caused by those drivers? That is completely backwards.

    If the mayor had any courage whatsoever, he could improve bus service tomorrow by creating dedicated busways all across the city (he’s in charge of NYCDOT after all). I think massive transit improvements must go hand-in-hand with congestion pricing, but it’s also clear that the status quo is completely unsustainable. So if you want to help people in the North Bronx and East Queens, don’t oppose congestion pricing–demand transit improvements!

  • Streetfilms (928 videos!)

    2% would pay the toll. 98% would not. The 98% are largely on the subway being penalized and using an ever declining service. I guess Assembly members don’t understand statistics??

  • bklyn631

    Your opinion on the Civil Rights Act is admirable, but conflicts with the actual law. The subway fare, while I personally believe shouldn’t exist, is applied evenly whereas the toll wouldn’t be.

    Further, your statement fails to address the plethora of other concerns about commercial traffic as well as hardships for those who live on transit deserts. The explosion in Amazon shipping packages to people’s houses, as well as other things like grocery delivery, is what adds to congestion.

    I do demand transit improvements. I demand the people who inherit untold sums of wealth pay for it, not the small businesses trying to make ends meet. I demand my federal tax dollars go towards funding better transit rather than caging kids at the border and trillion dollar fighter jets that don’t work. You should demand the same instead of trying to bilk your fellow NYers and still fall short of the money we really need.

    You know what we should BOTH support? Given that the MTAs budget is stressed by increasing amounts of debt payments, why not a bailout? If GM and AIG ate too big to fail, why isn’t the MTA?

  • Boeings+Bikes

    You know, those white people in Lower Manhattan are trying to make the case that CP is anti-white discrimination, too. In their narrow world-view, they ask why the snowy residents of lower Manhattan should have to pay to drive to their guilded garages while the more-diverse folks of the outer boroughs can drive to and from their own homes for free? So, is this policy both anti-POC and anti-white? Or is it just that in defending the generally wealthier-than-average people who will be paying a service charge for better-functioning streets that opponents are grasping for straws?

  • Joe R.

    Actually, the answer to the MTA’s debt is to just default. The advantages would be twofold. One, the debt would obviously be gone. Two, the MTA’s credit rating would be so horrible it would never be able to borrow a dime again. This would force us to pay ongoing expenses now, not let some future generation pay them.

  • Joe R.

    I agree that NYC should get back more in spending on both the federal and state level. Or even better, the standard deduction in an area should reflect the cost of living. In NYC the federal and state standard deduction should be at least $40K. This would mean NYC sends far less in taxes to Washington and upstate.

    On the rest, it’s still cheaper driving to the subway than driving all the way into Manhattan, even with no congestion charge. It costs at least $500 a month to park in Manhattan. There may be all sorts of reasons people drive into Manhattan, but saving a subway fare isn’t one of them, not when parking costs some multiples of the subway fare.

    Even better, just about all of your electricians, plumbers, carpenters and the like live and have their vans outside Manhattan. Everyone is already complaining about the cost of trade work, congestion pricing will only drive up that cost.

    Right, they’ll pass along the extra costs to their customers. Since it’s not coming out of their pocket, why should they care? If customers feel they’re being charged too much, they can always do the work themselves. In truth, most people won’t. They’ll just suck it up and pay the extra money. Consider the other side of the equation, which is with less congestion a tradesperson in Manhattan will be able to make more service calls per day. In fact, delivery companies are one of the biggest supporters of congestion pricing for exactly that reason. If their trucks can make 20% more stops, they can reduce the size of their fleet by 20%, easily offsetting any congestion charges. Tradespeople should support congestion pricing for the same reason.

  • bklyn631

    Thanks for agreeing about DC. For the rest, I have to disagree. For driving to the subway, adding up the costs of owning a car plus the cost of subway fares is still onerous for someone commuting every day, and those not commuting every day wouldn’t be looking at $500 in parking, and there is also street parking. For the trades, I think it isn’t possible to add 20% more stops on a route driver, and that wouldn’t even apply to something like mechanics. Your methodology doesn’t seem sound. Plus we still need to address what to do in the few years’ difference between congestion pricing and when enough revenue collected can make an impact in service.

  • bklyn631

    You’re the first person I’ve seen suggesting CP is anti-white, and aside from confronting DC I’m all for a millionaire’s tax so no. It’s the wealthier-than-average people like rideshare companies, the financial backers of Streetsblog and you who advocate for congestion pricing because you’re afraid of your too-low income taxes going up, buddy.

  • bklyn631

    Reason 1 of many: unlike the rest of the world with universal healthcare, the MTA is on the hook for current and retired employee’s healthcare. More reasons include the 24 hour service that no other city does. As for defaulting, I was into that too until discovering that the biggest buyers of capital bonds in NY are the state and city pension funds. Defaulting on that debt means they default on pension obligations, and I oppose sticking it to old MTA workers because we don’t have the courage to force billionaires to pay back some of what they or their parents extracted from our communities. I’d pull out the guillotines long before impoverishing pensioners.

  • bklyn631

    The millionaire’s tax was never enacted.

  • Joe R.

    You’re making two incorrect assumptions about street parking. One, it may not always be there as an option. In fact, one way to discourage auto use is to gradually get rid of free or below market rate parking. The place this will happen first is within the Manhattan CBD.

    The second incorrect assumption is that street parking is “free”. It’s not, It takes time to find a spot. If it takes 15 minutes and you’re making $20 an hour, that “free” spot just cost you $5. That’s more than the subway fare.

  • Joe R.

    What would most likely happen to pensions in the event of a default would be for the pensions to be selectively reduced. That would mean those with pensions much higher than they really need would be the first to face cuts. You might have 50% pension cuts, except those who would be getting less than maybe $2,000 a month after the cuts would only have their pensions cut to $2,000. Remember one reason we spend so much on pensions is retroactive increases to already generous pension benefits, plus people who padded their pensions with O/T. I don’t want any retirees on dog food, either, but neither should NYC be paying retired teachers $80K pensions. The purpose of pensions is to keep retirees out of poverty, not to let them live a gold-plated retirement.

  • SBDriver

    I didn’t realize the tolls were only going to be charged to “POC” (who does that include exactly?)

    Your allegations of civil rights violations and racist policy are absurd.

    But to entertain your claim of racist policy, I guess to solution could be to toll ALL the bridges into Manhattan.

  • Myron Weinstein

    Kudos to Assemblywoman Bichotte and all the representatives from Brooklyn and Queens who oppose congestion pricing which is really a tax on the working and middle class. If you live in Manhattan you need not pay a tax and if you live in NJ Or the Bronx you just get off the FDR or West Side Drive before 61st street Residents of Bklyn and Queens who often use doctors and other essential services in downtown Man

  • Boeings+Bikes

    You’re the first person I’ve seen suggesting CP is anti-white

    Trust me, I couldn’t have made that up if I was smoking that stuff that makes the people standing next to me on the 2 train smell like dead skunks. I might be the first person you’ve seen, but those lower Manhattan white people you think are getting the benefits are actually complaining about how unfair it is for them, not for you.

    …you’re afraid of your too-low income taxes going up, buddy

    I agree that I don’t pay enough in income taxes (and don’t get a good value for what I pay). But where did income taxes come into play? What I **am** afraid of is not being able to get to work because the subway tunnels are literally collapsing (I live in Brooklyn and work in Newark, btw) and my subway tax going to $5/ride or more, buddy.

  • Larry Littlefield

    Yet it was. And extended. And extended.

    https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/18/nyregion/new-york-budget-millionaire-tax.html

    I’m always amazed at the way people in New York’s political/union class, which I assume you are based on that statement, feel free to flat out say things that aren’t true. It’s like the lying Republicans in the rest of the country.

    “The millionaires’ tax dates to 2009, and was something of a misnomer — despite its name, it included tax hikes for anyone earning over $300,000. In 2012, the rate for the highest bracket was set at 8.82 percent, where it has remained, though Mr. Cuomo has cut rates for lower incomes.”

    Plus the city income tax. What is the income tax on retired public employees? Zero. They are, in NY, the equivalent of the rich, the corporations and older generations who benefitted from the Reagan, Bush and Trump tax cuts at the federal level.

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  • iSkyscraper

    I’m going to take a wild guess that, like Upper Manhattan polls, she is in the pocket of livery cab companies and valet-addicted local nightlife.

  • iSkyscraper

    Nope.

  • Do you consider the subway fare a tax on the working and middle class? If not, you’re a massive hypocrite.

  • Ben

    or ya know….they could just reduce some of the programs the city offers or stop giving tax breaks to hudson yards developers and amazon billionaires. The NYC budget for 2019 is $89B. 1.8B is spent on the homeless services alone. Instead of increasing taxes on citizens and taxi drivers, why don’t we balance the budget with priorities?

  • Rex Rocket

    She is in so many pockets that she has to de-lint herself every night.

  • relevantjeff

    Bor-ing!

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