Weiner Imagines Paying for His Traffic Plan With a Gas Tax Raise

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Though reporters weren't invited, Streetsblog managed to get a stringer into this morning's On-and-Off-the-Record transportation policy talk with Congressman Anthony Weiner at Commerce Bank in Midtown.

During the hour-long Q&A hosted by Edward Isaac-Dovere of City Hall News, Weiner hit on familiar themes:

  • Something needs to be done about traffic but the mayor's plan is too costly.
  • Though low and middle income New Yorkers overwhelmingly travel into Manhattan via transit, Weiner pounded away at the idea that congestion pricing is unfair to the city's middle class and would hit city residents harder than suburban commuters.
  • Rather than imposing a fee to drive into Manhattan's Central Business District, he would opt for improved transit and ferry service, higher truck tolls and better enforcement of blocking-the-box regulations.
  • He says that he would pay for these improvements with a federal gas tax increase.

While Weiner believes, "The Mayor got the solution wrong," he praised Bloomberg for being "innovative" and appeared to back off a bit from total opposition to pricing.

"There is a version of congestion pricing that will work," Weiner said. "My plan has 'congestion pricing' by increasing tolls and increasing parking fees." Unfortunately, this is probably not a version of congestion pricing for which the federal government will grant $354.5 million in start-up funds.

About 75 people showed up to the breakfast event including Queens Civic Congress president Corey Bearak, Northern Manhattan Council member Robert Jackson, the Durst Organization's Jordan Barowitz and an assortment of advocacy people from Transportation Alternatives, Tri-State Transportation Campaign and the newly-formed SWIM Coalition.

The event started with "on-the-record" questions from Isaac-Dovere and "off-the-record" questions from audience members. Here, in reporter's notebook format, are a bunch of Weiner's responses to both sets of questions:

  • We need the Cross-Harbor Freight Tunnel.
  • If we had as many cops enforcing the blocking-the-box rules as we did during the Koch years our congestion problems would be solved. Likewise, we need a mass education campaign to change people's behavior like the pooper scooper law.
  • He said that he has offered the City $19 million in federal funds for ferries but the City has not taken it.
  • Asked how he would fund his transit initiatives, Weiner proposed raising the national gas tax to fund transit.
  • The asthma problem is not in Midtown. It is in East New York, Brownsville by the Belt Parkway. Why aren't we looking at reducing the traffic there with ferry transit?
  • Asked about Long Island City turning into a parking lot because of congestion pricing, Weiner said that the City needs to provide ferry service. We need to provide parking in the boroughs, not in Manhattan. There should be park and rides close to highways. We need to reduce parking because it causes traffic.
  • "Congestion pricing hits NYC residents harder that suburban ones." Weiner shared an anecdote in which a Connecticut congressman supports $8 charge because, he says, "My constituents would pay $80 to have the riff raff from your district off the streets." Is this $8 charge really going to deter behavior of the driving in with their SUVs, Weiner asks.
  • "The Congestion Commission can't be a rubber stamp for the Mayor's proposal"
  • He wants assurances that pricing revenue will benefit NYC. Joe Bruno will see that money and want some for Rensselaer county.
  • New York City needs to push against Albany and the unelected authorities and agencies. "We should every day declare a declaration of independence from Albany."
  • The SMART fund won't work. How will the Mayor know that the MTA will build what it promises to build?
  • Congestion pricing will lead to the federal government to defund New York City because they'll see that we're getting the money from another source.
  • He incorrectly stated that "Ninety percent of carbon emissions in NYC are from existing buildings." The real number is 79 percent according to the City's Long-Term Planning and Sustainability office.
  • "Advocates for the Mayor's plan are buying into the Bush doctrine of governing: If you want something, then you should tax yourself to pay for it."
  • Congestion pricing has divided the coalition around environmental activism. This plan pits people against each other, pits neighborhoods against each other.
  • When asked about Spitzer's undocumented immigrant drivers license scheme, Weiner quickly said that he thinks we really need it but that it's politically unpopular. [Sounds like congestion pricing, no?]