Transit Advocates Strongly Oppose NYPD Congestion Pricing Carveout

This is what police driving looks like. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman
This is what police driving looks like. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman

Supporters of congestion pricing have a strong message to cops who think they should be exempt from tolls when they drive their personal vehicles to work: No!

Hours after Police Benevolent Association President Pat Lynch argued in the Daily News that NYPD employees should not be tolled when they drive their personal vehicles to work, transit advocates lashed out at the notion that cops should get special treatment — especially when that special treatment will harm the transit-using residents that cops are supposed to serve.

“Each congestion pricing carve-out will make commuting more expensive for millions of New Yorkers, by cutting transit funding, hiking tolls, or both,” said Danny Pearlstein of the Riders Alliance. “When one group wants special treatment, we should ask ourselves if that’s so important it’s worth the rest of us paying more.”

Lynch’s op-ed argued that police need to drive to their jobs because their hours are not regular and because their jobs are more vital than other workers’.

“The burden should not fall on the backs of … the public safety professionals who protect the public,” Lynch wrote.

Assembly Member Bobby Carroll. Photo: Clarence Eckerson Jr.
Assembly Member Bobby Carroll. He’s not pleased. Photo: Clarence Eckerson Jr.

But Transportation Alternatives took offense at Lynch’s cop-centric view of the importance of other workers in the city.

“NYPD officers already get to park their personal vehicles for free. Why would we offer yet another incentive for police officers to drive into the most congested part of the city?” asked the group’s spokesman Joe Cutrufo. “If we’re giving police an exemption for their private cars, then do we also have to exempt other first responders? What about doctors, nurses and hospital staff, who also work non-traditional hours? Where do we draw the line? It’s a slippery slope, and every carveout means that those who aren’t exempt will have to pay more.”

Lawmakers in Albany made history when they passed congestion pricing last Sunday. But their legislation only created a framework for tolls beneath 61st Street in Manhattan. The actual rates, the timing of the fees, and who, if anyone, would be exempt, will be decided after the November elections in 2020. The congestion pricing tolls must raise enough money to fund $15 billion in MTA capital expenditures — meaning that upwards of $1 billion must be generated by the new fee on drivers entering Manhattan’s congested central business district.

Lynch argued that police offers need to drive to work because even if they are stationed in the outer boroughs, they “are often required to report on short notice, or to locations other than our regular command.” But critics pointed out that it is far easier to get to posts in Manhattan’s central business district by transit than by car anyway.

“NYPD officers and other first responders are essential to a vibrant and safe New York but that doesn’t mean they should get special treatment when it comes to congestion pricing,” said Brooklyn Assembly Member Robert Carroll, a strong supporter of congestion pricing. “Just like most workers, NYPD officers don’t choose where their office or job is located. To fix our subways, streets and enviroment we all have to contribute and that means we all have to pay a congestion fee. The governor and mayor should be clear to every special interest that exemptions will be rare. The best policy is to set a rate that varies depending on day and time but exempts few if any drivers.”

Lynch also argued that police officers are paid too little, so they should not suffer an additional tax. But Nick Sifuentes of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign wasn’t buying that line of argument.

“We should of course exempt emergency vehicles, but the case for exempting police officers is less obvious,” he said. “For starters, the average NYPD officer with five years’ experience earns over $85,000 — well above the median income in most NYC neighborhoods. They also have the same transit options as everyone else, and as Lynch points out, they often work irregular hours, so they are less likely to have to pay the max toll than a typical 9-to-5 worker under a variable toll structure.”

Others were open to the idea that cops are underpaid, but questioned Lynch’s proposal.

“The low pay relative to other police forces that Pat Lynch has been citing may be a truly legitimate problem, but his ‘solution’ to create more giveaways under the table that are designed for abuse reflects a penchant for theft rather than an interest in fair treatment, transparency, and good governance,” said the person who runs the Placard Abuse Twitter feed, and requested anonymity because of the seminal NYPD watchdog role he or she plays. The placard bulldog continued:

He could insist on reimbursements for bonafide business trips into the congestion pricing zone. He could negotiate for additional pay for officers assigned to locations inside the zone. These methods would be controlled and auditable. This would also continue to encourage individuals to seek transit alternatives when it works for them. But the transparency seems to be precisely what Lynch wants to avoid. Having a free pass that can be shared with friends and family is exactly the sort of pilfering Lynch has promoted for years with non-enforcement against the misuse of parking placards, as well as the [PBA] “courtesy cards” he sells. The petty corruption he runs continues to erode the integrity of the NYPD and it diminishes the public’s ability to trust them to perform their duty honestly. The police should be paid fairly for the work they perform. That means negotiating in good faith at the bargaining table, rather than putting themselves above the law and embezzling from taxpayers under the table.

After initial publication of this story, Mayor de Blasio sent over this statement through spokesman Seth Stein. It does not stake out a clear position:

This congestion pricing plan is the best hope at getting the trains moving again. We have been clear all along that it had to include a guaranteed lock box for New York City riders, fairness for the outer boroughs, and exemptions for people experiencing hardships. The plan includes these items and the Traffic Mobility Review Board will consider many factors in formulating its recommendations.

The mayor’s non-committal response suggested he was happy to kick the hard decisions to the new panel. But advocates hope carveouts such as the one Lynch is demanding won’t even make it on the agenda.

“We can’t support carveouts for police officers,” said Kate Slevin of the Regional Plan Association. “The existing toll facilities in our region provide a model — and there are no exemption at any of those facilities. Once you go down that road, it’s a slippery slope of exemptions.”

Slevin said that cops who feel that they are overly burdened because of the transportation challenges of their job should take their concerns to their boss: the mayor.

“They could have a particular event where officers feel they should receive a travel credit for their inconvenience,” she said. “They should take that up with the city. Some sort of travel voucher [for specific events] would make more sense than a blanket exemption.”

This story was updated after initial publication to include a comment from the Regional Plan Association. To read Streetsblog’s editorial on the subject, click here.

  • Sassojr

    “The actual rates, the timing of the fees, and who, if anyone, would be exempt, will be decided after the November elections in 2020”

    This is false, all these things will be announced “no sooner than November 15, 2020.” Decisions will be made long before this date. The difference in wording is subtle, but points to the concerns of a legislature afraid to be held responsible for the consequences of this plan.

  • Joe R.

    At $85,000 the cops aren’t underpaid. My siblings don’t make much more than half that, yet they get by with no special exemptions. Also, the idea they need to live out of the city and drive in is bogus. Consider the extra costs of owning one, probably two cars. Now add in the very high real estate taxes on Long Island, which are often well into the five figures. Houses aren’t exactly cheap, either, even if they’re less than in the city. Add all that up, and it probably costs them less to live within the five boroughs, provided they don’t own any cars.

    We really need to go back to a residency requirement for city workers. If housing costs are an issue for some workers, perhaps the city should have dorms for them.

  • Sanjeev Ramchandra

    Charging a flat, $3 toll in each direction on the four East River bridges generates $500 million a year, since 450,000 daily crossings occur on these bridges. There would be no need for exemptions since the $3 amount is affordable. The gantries should be located at the base of each bridge on the Manhattan side.

  • Sanjeev Ramchandra

    Perhaps the bigger concern is whether the AFL-CIO Unions will advocate for carve-outs in their future contract negotiations. In particular, TWU’s contract will expire next month.

  • Crosby

    What the hell does that have to do with it?

  • Crosby

    There is a residency requirement for city workers. Believe me, I work for the city I know. However, certain agencies/employees get exemptions. You are right though, they should live here. The other issue is that many cops deface their license plates so that they do not have to pay tolls and register their cars out of state to avoid the ridiculous registration and insurance fees here. These things are going on now. I imagine it will be worse when congestion pricing kicks in.

  • Gowanus Kings

    Congestion charging should be like jury duty. NO EXEMPTIONS! Remember when only the unlucky few had to attend jury duty every other year? Now it is every 8 years for everyone.

  • Andy S

    Simples: just give those who work in the zone raises close to (number of days worked)*(daily congestion charge). Then they can spend it on congestion charges, or not. They get the same motivation as everyone else.

  • LinaLina

    Simply put this is just another tax on a captive audience. Only utopian dreamers think this city can work without vehicles. Ultimately ALL prices will rise on goods and services for the extortion tax on the legions of vehicles that make the city function. Everyone will pay the price except… for folks like the Cuomo Clan and their rich friends who can easily afford it but will get insider favors in the form of free passes and exemptions.

    The rest of us will foot the bill in the unholy name of “Green!!!”. Meanwhile back at the MTA the costs will continue to skyrocket due to pensions, overtime and healthcare costs and the unions will make sure our services never improve to put further pressure on their cash cow…the captives of their system left with zero options.

  • LinaLina

    This new tax covers the unions insatiable appetite for overtime, raises, healthcare, pensions and OF COURSE union dues. The tax will never close the gap as costs skyrocket and services spiral downward.

  • LinaLina

    Why stop there, Sanjeev?
    Why don’t you advocate a tax for walking on the streets of Manhattan?
    I’m sure you can do further calculations to figure out how to hand more of our cash to Cuomo and friends who are doing a splendid job with our monies.

  • Larry Littlefield

    Few TWU workers start or end their shifts in the congestion zone. In fact, very few government employee do in general, and very few of those get placard parking.

    It’s really limited to the brass, and some limited number of precincts located within the zone.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “There is a residency requirement for city workers.”

    Not anymore. Most have been allowed to live outside the city by state law for decades — except for DC37 workers, who the suburbs didn’t want because more of them were lower paid and/or minority. That was lifted in 2009.

    http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/bronx/veto-ends-city-worker-residency-battle-article-1.392033

    Managers are theoretically required to live here, but they always get waivers. As for DC37, they are still required to be living here when they are hired, so city residents get the jobs, but then they can leave after a couple of years.

  • Crosby

    I”m sorry but you are wrong. I work for a Mayoral agency and we are all required to be NYC residents.

  • Crosby

    Okay. And you are right to call it a tax. It’s laughable when politicians insist on saying “revenue” when they are talking about reaching into our pockets.

  • stairbob
  • stairbob

    On the other hand, the state will have more incentive ($$$) than ever to eliminate plate defacement.

  • Rex Rocket

    City worked pretty well for 250 years without cars.

  • Vooch

    In the good old days – cops in uniform rode the subway for free. That’s how they commuted to work.

    hmmm…

  • Komanoff

    Pretty spectacular parsing of NYPD non-entitlement to toll exemptions, by @placardabuse. Downright brilliant.

  • Sanjeev Ramchandra

    On the contrary, I’ve been advocating for a sales tax increase in lieu of congestion pricing. Raising the sales tax rate by 0.625% (from 8.875% to 9.5%) in NYC will generate $1 billion which is then bondable to the same $15 billion amount quoted for congestion pricing. The sales tax increase is very affordable resulting in paying just a few extra dollars more per month.

  • Crosby

    Because they were part of the MTA. Transit cops.

  • Crosby

    God forbid the City and State stop giving away freebies to everyone with their hands out and live within their means as the rest of us. Yes, by all means, another tax is in order.

  • Crosby

    They will have incentive, but they will not do anything about it.

  • Rhea

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  • Vooch

    Cops commuted to their station house via subway buddy – that’s a fact

  • Crosby

    Really? That’s a fact? That is NOT a fact. I know Transit cops who were accreted into NYPD and they NEVER rode the subway outside of work.

  • Vooch

    Dude

    like in the 1950s “good old days”

  • Strioan

    So just exempt them? You are so fuckin dumb

  • Andy Stow

    Thanks for the intelligent discourse.

  • Jo Jo

    Lina you are correct:
    Simply put this is just another tax on a captive audience. Only utopian dreamers think this city can work without vehicles. Ultimately ALL prices will rise on goods and services for the extortion tax on the legions of vehicles that make the city function. Everyone will pay the price except… for folks like the Cuomo Clan and their rich friends who can easily afford it but will get insider favors in the form of free passes and exemptions.

    The rest of us will foot the bill in the unholy name of “Green!!!”. Meanwhile back at the MTA costs will continue to skyrocket due to pensions, overtime and healthcare costs and the unions will make sure our services never improve to put further pressure on their cash cow…us captives of their system left with zero options

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