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Congestion Pricing Critic Gets the Spotlight During Public Hearing

Richard Brodsky. Photo: Assembly Democrats/Flickr

Transportation advocates and experts blasted Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer for giving a staunch congestion pricing critic his own platform during a March 21 public hearing on the proposal, which is expected to come to a vote in Albany in the next few weeks.

Six politicians sat on stage at Cooper Union during the public hearing and Q&A with an MTA official. But former Assemblyman Richard Brodsky, known for killing congestion pricing back in 2007 when he was still a legislator, also hopped on stage and was given the microphone for several minutes to share his well-known opinions without anyone to offer a counter view.

"It was dumbfounding. Brodsky had every right to appear, to line up at the microphone along with the other citizens. But not that he would be given a spot on the stage and 5-6 minutes to pontificate and spread misinformation,” said an attendee, who asked to remain anonymous. (National expert Charles Komanoff criticized Brodsky in Streetsblog last year.)

Lawmakers by next month may finally pass congestion pricing after years of pressure from transit advocates and elected officials, who worry about the city’s beleaguered subway system and overwhelming gridlock, and the cash-strapped MTA. Mayor de Blasio and Gov. Cuomo outlined a plan last month to set up congestion pricing by 2020. The plan would tax drivers entering Manhattan's congested central business district — below 61st Street — and would ideally create $1 billion in funding that would go towards fixing the crumbling transit system. 

But many outer-borough and suburban legislators won't yet endorse congestion pricing arguing that it's a tax on their constituents, despite evidence that shows very few outer-borough residents regularly drive into the central business district. And critics say that not all of the details have been sorted out yet, including the exact time and cost of the tax, and whether there would be any exemptions, including for yellow cabs, residents living within the district, or those with disabilities.

Brewer said she had voted for congestion pricing back when she was a council member in 2008 and would again now, but needs details to those unanswered questions. She cited her concern for people with disabilities who cannot rely on public transportation, and the increasing struggles of yellow cab drivers.

"I would vote for it today, but only if the details are decided by the community. Key details make or break a good congestion plan," she said. "First, to be workable there have to be exemptions."

Brewer was joined by Council Members Carlina Rivera, Mark Levine, and Ben Kallos; Senators Brad Hoylman and Robert Jackson; and Assembly Member Harvey Epstein — all of whom represent parts of Manhattan. But Brodsky was the only non-elected official who got a spot on stage to spew his opinions to the crowd — and a crowd mostly comprised of car owners, by the way.

“I did find it highly unusual he was given that platform and there wasn't a balanced panel alongside him, including voices of those representing transit riders, and transit riders themselves,” said Tabitha Decker, deputy executive director at the Transit Center. [Brodsky was also a guest of honor at an anti-congestion pricing rally on Sunday.]

Brewer defended giving the former pol the spotlight claiming he offered an opposing view to that of the politicians, most of whom say they support the idea of congestion pricing but are still waiting for all the details to get hammered out. And she had invited notable congestion pricing supporter Charles Komanoff to speak as well, but ended up skipping over him because the politicians attendees took up too much time speaking before the public got a chance to ask questions, according to a rep for the borough president.

“It was a public hearing and Mr. Brodsky had an opposing point of view that we thought was important to be aired,” said the spokeswoman. “There were other experts, including Mr. Komanoff, scheduled but because of the crush of public attendees, the Borough President shifted to those folks quickly — and a bit on the fly.”

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