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Tuesday’s Headlines: Congestion Pricing Optics Edition

The big story yesterday was toll exemptions for city workers. The big story today is how bad it looks. Plus other news.

Photo: Streetsblog Photoshop Desk

The big story yesterday was congestion pricing exemptions for city workers. The big story today is how bad it looks for supporters of the toll and how much opponents are going to exploit it.

First, the news:

"Buses and city vehicles to get congestion exemptions, MTA says," ran the headline on Evan Simko-Bednarski's Daily News scoop. The story detailed how buses (as expected) would be exempted from the congestion toll (because, after all, their riders are doing their part to reduce pollution and congestion), but also included vague news that city cars, not just service vehicles, would be exempted.

"The tolling plan previously exempted specialized, city-operated vehicles — like garbage trucks and fire engines," the story said. "Going forward, the plan will exempt the bulk of the city’s municipal fleet, including small cars and trucks used by various agency inspectors and other officials." [Emphasis added.]

NBC4 followed up with more details that were equally worthy of Streetsblog emphasis:

"The growing list [of exemptions] also includes NYC-owned fleet vehicles ... virtually every city-owned official car," reporter Andrew Siff wrote. "Between the dozens of agencies, there are potentially hundreds, if not thousands, of cars that will qualify."

Naturally, everyone freaked out and we sent Dave Colon to hound the MTA at its monthly board meeting. Agency officials sent over a "fact" sheet later in the day that was definitely sheet — in that it had so few facts.

"We’ve worked out with the city of New York which of their vehicles fall under the category of 'specialized government vehicles' – those that are critical to perform public work in the congestion zone – which comprise well under half of the city’s non-emergency fleet."

"Well under half..." is still tens of thousands of vehicles.

An MTA official later told several reporters that the agency had not, in fact, "worked out" the list with the city yet, but would review the types of vehicles that the city Department of Citywide Administrative Services wants exempted. (The News's second story confirmed that the MTA has final approval of the list. The Post still suggested that "much of" the city fleet would be exempt and Gothamist went with "nearly 15,000 municipal vehicles," while amNY, more accurately, pointed out that it will not be a majority of city vehicles.)

DCAS told me later that the list would include vehicles that have long been known would be exempt: fire trucks, ambulances, garbage trucks, street sweepers, sewer repair trucks, Parks Department pickups hauling trees, etc.

But the agency also said that city employees in regular city cars — such as buildings inspectors, children's services caseworkers or social service outreach workers — would also be exempt, which is probably where NBC4 got the idea that "virtually every city car" would somehow end up being exempt.

I asked a series of follow-up questions that weren't answered by DCAS, most notably a question we'll be rephrasing to ask the mayor today: "I understand that various inspectors or investigators will be exempt beyond the garbage trucks and fire engines, but you have previously said the toll of congestion pricing is an incentive for people to drive less. So where is the incentive for the city to reduce excess driving by employees if the city is exempt from the toll?"

One follow-up? "So did Ingrid Lewis-Martin get an exemption?"

Dave Colon will try to get those answers for you today. And we'll be looking into how congestion pricing opponents will roll out the "Tolls for me, but no tolls for thee" argument.

In other news from a busy day:

  • Here's another reason why many people want police out of doing traffic stops: they often end in violence (in this case, it was violence against the police). (NYDN, NY Post, NY Times)
  • Meanwhile, more cops are coming to the subway to combat fare evasion. (NYDN, NY Post, amNY). The MTA is also using surveillance cameras (amNY, Gothamist).
  • But no one has announced any new initiative to arrest the 30-percent increase in road fatalities so far this year, which was posted on the NYPD Compstat page...
  • ...No one except Queens Borough President Donovan Richards, who announced three street safety projects each getting $500,000 in funding from his office. (ABC7)
  • And Hell Gate reported that the NYPD is back to giving BS summonses to people of color.
  • A pro-housing group is going to flex its muscle. (NY Times)
  • It's unclear who is more loathsome: Republicans who hate electric cars because they'll reduce the wanton consumption of fossil fuel or New York Times editors who think the only problem with cars is the tailpipe exhaust. Prediction: Ignoring the weight and excess killing force of electric cars will go down in history as a huge miscalculation. (NY Times)
  • And finally, the Parks Department once told us that it's "inappropriate" for cars to be parked on sacred ground near the courthouses. But the agency has done nothing:

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