Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Has the Whole World Lost its Head?

This is an updated repost of a post from this morning.

One of the silliest aspects of the congestion pricing debates is hearing people complain about the ability to deduct other tolls from the congestion charge. These are people who've gotten a free ride for almost a hundred years, while others pay for the MTA and Port Authority bridges and tunnels - and subways and buses, of course. Now we're asking them to pay for it, and they say that's unfair.

When I wrote this post this morning, I only really had the latest silliness from Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, as reported in the New York Sun, to work with:

He is also demanding a special toll for New Jersey commuters crossing the Hudson River. Under the congestion plan that was recommended by a state commission earlier this year, drivers entering the city from New Jersey would not have to pay a congestion fee during rush hours because the tolls they already pay to use the bridges would cancel out the $8 charge.

There was also a brief report in the Post:

But about 20 City Council members signed a letter asking Mayor Bloomberg to push for a Jersey fee - or get the Port Authority to contribute more to the city's mass-transit network.

"We are concerned that the burden of paying for congestion pricing will fall too heavily on New York City residents," the letter reads.

Now the Daily Politics has the full text of the letter, including its signatories. Streetsblog took the text out of its unnecessary Word document and posted it in full, with commentary. Here are my comments:

First of all, anyone who thinks that New Jersey, Westchester or Long Island residents are all rich is invited to visit beautiful downtown Paterson, Mount Vernon or Hempstead. Anyone who thinks outer-borough residents are all poor is invited to visit the hardscrabble neighborhoods of Riverdale, Little Neck or Kensington.

Anyone - outer borough or suburbanite - who currently pays a toll on the MTA bridges and tunnels is already contributing to the subways, buses and railroads. If they're part of the problem, they're way down the list.

Now how about people coming from New Jersey? Well, guess what: they already pay tolls, and the tolls are set to go up. They also vary based on demand, which is the whole point of congestion pricing. Some might object that the money isn't going to New York City projects, but they'd be wrong. The Port Authority is spending $3 billion of that toll money on the new Trans-Hudson Express tunnel for New Jersey Transit trains. This tunnel is specifically designed to bring commuters from Bergen and Rockland Counties into Manhattan without cars. They are also spending $3.3 billion to overhaul the PATH train system, increasing capacity by 20%. Here are press releases:

Capital Plan
Details on "THE Tunnel"
Details on PATH overhaul

The scary thing about this letter is that Silver and the twenty City Council members are no dummies. They're some of the most progressive, sharpest politicians in the city. Or so I thought until I read that letter. If these politicians are craftily playing dumb, they're doing an Oscar-caliber job.

There were some good comments in that Streetsblog thread. From Doc Barnett:

Likewise the abolition of slavery was deeply unfair to free men, as slaves were the exclusive beneficiaries of the thirteenth amendment when it was instituted. Our esteemed city council signatories of this letter would have proposed a plan that affected everyone equitably, by giving slaves their freedom and promoting everyone else to magical super emperor person.

Maintaining inequality and unfairness is the new equality and fairness!


From JF, in response to the line "This is blatantly unfair.":

Is this some sense of "blatantly" that I'm unfamiliar with? A sense that means "superficially", or even "not really"?


From Larry Littlefield:

So the placard holders don't want to pay once unless others pay twice?

How about this. Since retirees don't pay state and local income taxes, I don't want to either. These mutts have a very strange idea of what is blatantly unfair.


As this debate progresses, it's been ever clearer that our legislators live in an alternate reality:

  • where everyone, no matter how poor, drives to Manhattan but no one pays for parking;

  • where "elites" ride in taxis, but "working folks" drive big, expensive SUVs, and subway and bus riders don't exist;

  • where reducing the number of cars entering Manhattan has no effect on the areas those cars go through to get there;

  • where thousands of people who previously felt they were too good to take the subway are now prepared to drive to a strange neighborhood with a scarcity of parking, find a parking spot and then get on the train with at least another half hour to go;

  • where businesses would be grievously hurt by paying $8 per vehicle per day, but not helped by spending less time stuck in traffic;

  • where no matter how dire a need there is for money, the last thing citizens should do is trust their money to the legislature that they run;

  • where a Chamber of Commerce ignores the possibility of increased business for its members in order to keep it cheaper for potential customers to shop elsewhere; and now

  • where no matter how blatantly unfair the status quo might be, any attempt to change it is unfair.



This self-congratulatory echo chamber needs to be opened so that new voices can be heard. This November, let's try to elect at least nine out of 88 Assemblymembers and four out of 35 Senators who will take the train to Albany. Next year, let's elect a Mayor, a Borough President and five City Council members who will take the subway to work - even if they have to be driven to the station in an SUV. And in 2010 and 2011, let's double those numbers. All it takes is a few to let in some fresh air.

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