Mayor, get behind congestion pricing
Mayor de Blasio is wooing Amazon, urging the tech giant to consider building its second headquarters here in New York City. But New York is the last place Amazon should look.
Among Amazon’s “core preferences” for its ideal site, the company lists “proximity to major highways and arterial roads” and “access to mass transit.”
New York has traffic-choked streets and an imploding transit network — both of which will remain that way until we make a long-overdue fix.
If and only if Mayor de Blasio puts his support behind congestion pricing and partners with Gov. Cuomo on a plan to reduce the number of vehicles into Manhattan — and raise revenue for fixing and expanding the city’s transit system — will New York be worthy of Amazon’s attention.
Despite the merits and benefits of the well-crafted Move New York proposal, congestion pricing can’t seem to shake its reputation as a “regressive tax” that unfairly burdens “everyday New Yorkers.”
But it has been proven for more than a decade that a scheme that charges a fee for users of the least space-efficient and most polluting mode and reinvests the proceeds into mass transit is, in fact, a progressive policy.
Why? According to analysis of Census data by the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, 54.5% of New York City households are car-free, and more than twice as many people use transit every day to get to work than drive. And more to the point, zero-car households earn less than half as much as households that own at least one vehicle.
No congestion pricing plan can be truly “regressive” if it benefits low-income individuals the most. In this transit-dependent city, revenues from congestion pricing reinvested back into the transit system overwhelmingly benefit individuals who can’t afford to take Uber, let alone own their own private automobile.
These are the same New Yorkers who are most burdened by subway delays and buses that crawl along at walking speed.
Congestion pricing would increase those travel speeds and reduce gridlock conditions for the city’s 2.5 million daily bus trips. This should be a priority for the mayor who committed to improving bus service through the expansion of Select Bus Service.
A regressive transportation policy is what we have now: a system that favors free travel by drivers and ignores the environmental, social and economic costs of carclogged city streets. This is exactly what enlightened elected officials, transit users and advocacy groups have been saying for decades.
Arguments abound on both sides of the congestion pricing debate, but most overlook the fact that we are influenced by demand pricing all the time.
Budget-conscious travelers take vacations during off-peak season when airfare and lodging prices are lower. Bargain hunters wait to buy a sought-after product until the price drops. We try to time visits to popular attractions like museums and restaurants before they get too crowded.
That we should expect to pay more for an in-demand good or service — whether in money or in time — is part of so many everyday decisions. But somehow, we give away space on New York City streets for free to the dirtiest, most deadly mode of transportation.
Our technologically dependent economy relies on trucks and vehicles to deliver goods and services. They are important to many people’s livelihoods.
But our transportation policies continue to overstate the importance of personal vehicles in our daily lives, leaving bus and subway riders with unpredictable commutes, and bicyclists and pedestrians in precarious situations on our streets.
Without a plan to limit vehicles coming into the city’s congested core, New York will struggle to rise out of the fog of vehicle exhaust.
The governor has finally expressed support for congestion pricing. But there is still no sign that Mayor de Blasio — whose issue du jour seems to be reducing greenhouse gas emissions — has any plan to leverage that support.
Congestion pricing could be one of the most transformative public policy proposals in New York City history. Our progressive mayor should be the one to ensure that whatever plan moves forward is an equitable one.