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Congestion Pricing is Regressive

Congestion+pricing+will+do+little+to+actually+reduce+street+congestion+and+will+hurt+low-income+workers.+%28Courtesy+of+Flickr%29
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Congestion Pricing is Regressive

Congestion pricing will do little to actually reduce street congestion and will hurt low-income workers. (Courtesy of Flickr)

Congestion pricing will do little to actually reduce street congestion and will hurt low-income workers. (Courtesy of Flickr)

Congestion pricing will do little to actually reduce street congestion and will hurt low-income workers. (Courtesy of Flickr)

Congestion pricing will do little to actually reduce street congestion and will hurt low-income workers. (Courtesy of Flickr)


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By Patrick Slutter

The other week The Ram ran an opinion article entitled “The Promise of Congestion Pricing.”  This promise is a false one.

Nevertheless, on Feb. 26, Gov. Cuomo and Mayor De Blasio announced their 10-point plan to save the MTA and win the hearts and minds of progressive New Yorkers. The plan calls for long overdue practices such as MTA board term limits and an independent audit, but the crown jewel of their plan is congestion pricing south of 60th Street.

At long last the mayor and governor agree on transit. Motorists will pay the real cost of their driving, and the car free city is triumphant, or so it seems.

To be clear, I want a lot more bike lanes, better subway and bus service and fewer cars in the city, but a congestion fee for entering the lower half of Manhattan is not the remedy for the city’s transportation woes. Congestion pricing is regressive, and whether it is tolled or not, this good intentions paved road goes to hell.

First and foremost, congestion pricing is the Manhattanites’ revenge on the bridge and tunnel people. The bulk of the city’s wealthiest residents already live, work and play in the area below 60th Street and they will rarely face the $12 or more (the exact price remains elusive) toll proposed by the governor and mayor.

This is a policy that primarily benefits those already in the city center but is paid for by people living in the city’s periphery.

The Jane Jacobs of 2019 choose to believe that the costs will be born by executives’ Bentleys coming down from Rye, but they’ve forgotten about the costs to plumbers’ vans coming in from Queens. Flatrate use fees, like this congestion pricing, are borne inordinately by working class people. Simply put, this pricing mechanism won’t change the amount of people driving into the city, it will only change who can afford to drive into the city.

The poorest in New York and other cities are increasingly being pushed out of the urban core and into the outer edges of cities, away from mass transit systems. Congestion pricing puts the cost of rebuilding the MTA disproportionately on the backs of working class New Yorkers like cabbies (Yellow, Uber or otherwise), tradesmen and healthcare providers.

These are the same forces that engendered France’s gilets jaunes, which began with additional fuel taxes. Residents of Paris and New York’s metropolitan core are glad to call for taxes they will not pay.

These city and state transit policies add insult to injury for neighborhoods like Belmont and Tremont. The City and State tore down the Third Avenue El and built expressways that sapped neighborhoods of their property value and social capital but, at least, gave the promise of quick access to the city center by car.

Now these residents are being punished again for being creatures of the transit ecosystem the city and state built.

There is a near one-to-one ratio for demand of roadways to drive on. This is why adding lanes and auxiliary roads does little to relieve traffic. If you build it, they will come. If the end goal is less cars in Manhattan, the policy must address the supply, not the demand. This means restricting streets and parking access rather than charging for it.

Ceding car traffic to bike lanes and pedestrian plazas already has proven to be a winning model to reduce car traffic. Moreover, the city should step up enforcement of non moving violations, like double parking or blocking bus lanes, that exacerbate congestion.

The proposed congestion pricing scheme does nothing to lead the city away from cars and towards mass transit. Having congestion fees underwrite the MTA’s new projects will ironically make mass transit dependent on a consistent revenue stream drivers.

This program will do little to reduce congestion, it only add another burden to outer borough New Yorkers.

 

Patrick Slutter is in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences from Long Island, New York.

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Congestion Pricing is Regressive