Mayor, get be­hind con­ges­tion pric­ing

New York Daily News - - OPINION - BY VERON­ICA VAN­TER­POOL Van­ter­pool, one of Mayor de Bla­sio’s ap­pointees to the Metropoli­tan Trans­porta­tion Author­ity board, is ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Tri-State Trans­porta­tion Cam­paign.

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.

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