By Herb Stupp
Congestion pricing. The term itself would wow George Orwell with its euphemistic doublespeak. This kind of pricing involves charging tolls for entry — $11.52 for passenger cars — into Manhattan south of 60th St., even if you travel over the now-free East River bridges.
The first such proposal was unleashed by Mayor John Lindsay, ostensibly to curb traffic and bring the city into compliance with the clean air standards of his day. Mayor Abe Beame opposed new tolls, and Mayor Ed Koch was given a reprieve when the feds declared New York City to be in compliance with clean air targets.
Let’s be honest: This is really a form of taxation, atop a tolling matrix that’s already unique in the country. Where else do motorists pay to move within their own city?
Under the scheme, thousands of ordinary New Yorkers in outer boroughs and suburbs will pay thousands of dollars a year for the privilege of driving into Manhattan.
Here’s why that’s unfair.
For many outer borough New Yorkers, there are difficult or non-existent mass transit alternatives to driving to Manhattan. Hundreds of thousands of these people live in so-called transit deserts, miles from subways and commuter rail stations.
Their commute is already a pain in the neck. Why should they be doubly penalized?
Besides, countless people really need to drive in to Manhattan. Think contractors, plumbers, electricians, caterers and florists in their vans. Some food truck and cart operators already pay the city over $250,000 a year to sell franks or falafels at specific locations.
Now we’re going to hit them with an extra $4,200 a year? If they are charged the truck rate, that’ll be more than $9,200 extra per annum, thank you very much.
The disabled will be punished by congestion pricing, too. I have enjoyed over 25,000 distinct subway rides over my many years, but now have mobility and physical stability issues that require a vehicle for most trips in to Manhattan. Why should I have to pay more because of that?
It is cruel to hammer the disabled in this way, and to squeeze retirees for new tolls just as their incomes collapse.
The advocates of congestion pricing love to cite international models. But London has some of the the most congested streets in Europe — this after congestion pricing has been in place for more than a decade.
Yes, it’s true: As any driver can attest, city streets have never been in worse condition. Yet this
plan won’t devote a single dollar from drivers to repair streets, highways, bridges and tunnels.
If Gov. Cuomo and city leaders really want to ameliorate traffic in Manhattan, there are far better ways to do it.
First, the city’s Department of Transportation must stop contributing to congestion, and consider the consequences of each change it makes to vehicular patterns.
Consider the inability to turn south on westbound 23rd St. What purpose does DOT have in compelling drivers to remain on that crosstown street, clogging that thoroughfare needlessly and wasting more gasoline?
There are other such traffic-producing “enhancements” all over the city.
Second, DOT must think far harder before adding bicycle and bus lanes in Manhattan, and new pedestrian plazas. Though they’ve have had their salutary effects, they pinch off passenger car lanes, merging two or three once-existing lanes into one.
Meantime, Citi Bike stands have eliminated thousands of parking spots. These stations should be moved, where practical, on to sidewalks and even to indoor public spaces.
Complement these adjustments with a good idea in the governor’s plan that we should all embrace — one that’s been around since Bill Buckley’s 1965 campaign for mayor: move most truck deliveries to off-hours in Midtown.
And how about charging for a simple permit or placard for all car services entering Manhattan?
But as designed, so-called congestion pricing is truly a reverse Robin Hood proposal that will palpably harm people of modest incomes, the disabled, retirees and small businesses struggling to meet payrolls. Implementing it would mark a fateful step backward.
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