As Anti-Pricing Arguments Fall Away, It’s Just Parking & Politics

Over the weekend, City Council Member David Weprin and "Keep NYC Congestion Tax Free" spokesman Walter McCaffrey got a lot of press by casting doubt on whether congestion pricing revenues would, as promised, be invested in transit. It looks like a plan was already in the works to allay that fear.

The Daily News reports:

State and city officials are hashing out a plan to ensure congestion pricing money pays for mass transit upgrades -- and mass transit upgrades only, sources said Wednesday.

Under the developing plan, net proceeds from new tolls for motorists entering a large section of Manhattan would be put in a "lock box" administered by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, sources in City Hall and Gov. Spitzer's office said.

The fund could only be used for transit projects that meet specific criteria, which would be spelled out by state legislation, sources said.

A member of Gov. Spitzer's administration confirmed that Spitzer will include the creation of the MTA account as a line-item in the proposed budget he unveils next week.

At a Congestion Mitigation Commission hearing yesterday at Hunter College (which saw the notable emergence of a pro-pricing coalition of advocates for low-income transit customers), Regional Plan Association President Bob Yaro testified that similar measures have successfully earmarked transit funds for decades.

The MTA's revenues at their bridge and tunnels in excess of operating costs is guaranteed by formula set by the State Legislature for use by the MTA for transit since 1968. Taxes such as the mortgage recording tax, petroleum business tax, corporate franchise tax and sales tax have also been reliably dedicated to transit since the early 1980s. It should not be difficult to establish a mechanism for congestion pricing revenue that would do the same, while requiring the use of the funds by the MTA on the projects agreed to by the MTA and the City.

Yaro also rebutted opponents' claims that the Traffic Commission's alternative pricing plan is worse than the Mayor's because it gives Manhattanites a free ride. Yaro said:

The inclusion of increased metered parking rates and a taxi surcharge within the zone, as well as the elimination of the resident park tax exemption [in the Alternative Plan] ensure that residents of the charging zone pay their share.

As key arguments against pricing are dismantled, and as the MTA and its working-class ridership finally find their collective voice, congestion pricing's impact on neighborhoods just outside the zone remains a focus of the vocal opposition.

Studies of London's congestion pricing plan showed "no adverse impact" or major parking problems on the outskirts of the congestion pricing zone. The Department of Transportation is responding to the park-and-ride concern by putting big resources into a second round of citywide neighborhood parking workshops starting next week. And, of course, Mayor Bloomberg recently announced a major crackdown on government employee parking placard abuse.

The question is whether any of that will be enough for legislators like State Senator George Onorato, who rallied a recent town hall meeting in Astoria, Queens with the cry, "We would be the parking lot for all the Long Island commuters."

Of course, this isn't helping either.