Volume 19 Issue 50 | April 27 - May 3, 2007


Congestion pricing: A breath of fresh air

Opponents of congestion pricing are trying to cast the battle as a fight between the “little guys” from Brooklyn and Queens on one side and the corporate bigwigs and Manhattan elites on the other. Damn the facts, it makes for smart politics. If the debate is defined this way, the opponents will win before it begins. Billionaire Mayor Mike Bloomberg, who on Sunday boldly proposed a three-year experiment to charge Manhattan drivers for the privilege to pollute during rush hour, makes an easy target for the hip-shooting naysayers.

The truth is many of the people in the “outer boroughs” are pretty much like us here in Manhattan — most take the subway or buses to work every day and don’t like traffic clogging up their streets and pollution filling their lungs. Charging drivers $8 to idle and pollute our busiest streets at the busiest times will help solve problems on both sides of the East River. Congestion pricing creates a new revenue stream for subway and bus improvements and will reduce traffic in all five boroughs, not just Manhattan. The alternatives are to let the transportation system deteriorate, raise fares or taxes more, or cut services.

The vast majority of New Yorkers don’t get to work by car. Millions of city residents don’t own a car, many because they can’t afford all of the costs. Politicians who oppose congestion pricing want drivers to get a free ride over the bridges while continuing to impose fees disproportionately on those who ride the subway. If driving were an activity to be encouraged, that might make good public policy. Since driving exacerbates global warming and makes us more vulnerable to unstable regimes that sell oil, perhaps it is only a minor complication that the pricing system to enter Manhattan is also regressive.

There are so many good reasons to do congestion pricing that as a society, we should be ashamed that implementing it will take such a monumental political effort in Albany. As the mayor points out, we have $31 billion in unfunded mass transportation projects needed to absorb the extra one million people expected to be living here in 2030 and no realistic way to pay for it.

More importantly, traffic pricing will make a significant reduction in the city’s greenhouse gas emissions. New York cannot solve the global warming problem on its own, but it can help lead the way for America. With much of Lower Manhattan and many of the city’s other coastal areas close to sea level, we will be early beneficiaries of a solution. The scientific question is no longer about “if,” but about “when” and “how much.”

Reducing traffic should cut down asthma rates and reduce other health problems.

The $21 fee delivery trucks will be charged is a small price to pay as it is spread over more and quicker deliveries throughout Manhattan. Businesses pay billions of dollars a year for wasted time in traffic and many back the mayor’s plan.

When Bloomberg won reelection 18 months ago, we encouraged him to take this step and we think there is no one who could better lead this fight in Albany. We all pay for pollution. Let’s bill some of the costs to the people running up the tab.

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