Volume 20 Issue 11 | July 27 - Aug. 3, 2007


Keep traffic-plan momentum rolling

Congestion pricing is not the only way to reduce traffic, but it is the only realistic way to expand bus and train service and protect fares from going too high. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, with the help of a forgiving federal government, was able to put his day of reckoning off a little bit. We hope the extra time and deliberation will be enough to persuade him and the rest of the Democratically controlled Assembly to save mass transportation’s future, reduce asthma and perhaps help save the planet.

Silver and his colleagues have given Mayor Mike Bloomberg the go-ahead to continue planning for his traffic-pricing proposal while a commission will review a variety of ideas for reducing traffic. The U.S. Department of Transportation has apparently not penalized Albany for missing the deadline to apply for money to implement the plan and Bloomberg is optimistic about our prospects for getting several hundred million dollars.

The mayor made mistakes trying to get his plan passed but he seems to have regained his footing and is now more open to discussing changes. Opponents have raised some legitimate concerns about it, such as parking outside the congestion zone and a few pricing anomalies. These are some of the important issues that the panel should discuss.

There is also no harm in talking about some of the suggested alternatives. Since none of them would generate anything close to the amount of money as the mayor’s plan, alternative discussions should center around how this funding gap would be closed. The choices are raising subway and bus fares or taxes, cutting services or just letting an overburdened system become more crowded. We need $30 billion in transportation improvements. Silver acknowledges the mayor’s plan would net $300 million a year. This money could be bonded to pay for the $30 billion in transportation improvements we need, including a full-length Second Ave. subway and commuter-airport link to Lower Manhattan.

The mayor’s opponents typically resort to specious arguments like “the money wouldn’t go to keep fares down.” It startles us that one of the simplest economic concepts needs to be explained to elected representatives: Money is money. If the M.T.A. or a new entity is given billions of dollars to expand and maintain the transit system, it will have more money to operate it.

One alternative with significant New York State Assembly support would give New York City businesses incentives for letting their New Jersey and Connecticut employees work at home by telecommuting. One assemblymember leading the opposition believes the right to drive and pollute is comparable to the right to a public education or the need for free parks and libraries. That’s just a ridiculous argument.

Speaker Silver, you also have sensible members of your conference. Listen to them, your own good sense and work with the mayor to make the congestion-pricing plan even better. You’ve fought hard for transportation for many years. Don’t shortchange it now.

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