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Posts from the "Traffic Congestion Mitigation Commission" Category

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Skelos Ascension Clouds Prospect of Pricing Revival

skelos.jpgYesterday, retiring New York State Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno handed the reins to Deputy Leader Dean Skelos, Republican from Nassau County. Though some see this unforeseen development as an opportunity to move on much-needed reforms in Albany, it's not great news for advocates of congestion pricing.

If Governor Paterson looks to revive pricing via the Ravitch Commission, as is being reported today, he could very well lose the support of the Senate under Skelos, who, unlike Bruno, is an avowed opponent of the concept.

Skelos voted against the formation of the Traffic Congestion Mitigation Commission in 2007, though Bruno supported the move, which was widely seen as a concession to lawmakers who were skeptical of the city's original proposal. (Even ardent pricing foe Assemblyman Richard Brodsky voted to go ahead with the commission.) As late as April of this year, Skelos had this to say at a "virtual town hall" meeting:

I am ... opposed to congestion pricing and have already voted against it once in the State Senate. It's another form of a commuter tax and will place an unfair burden on middle-class Long Islanders who are already struggling to make ends meet.

Ironically, pricing's chances in the Senate could improve if Democrats assume the majority in the fall. Though he didn't make much noise about it, Minority Leader Malcolm Smith reportedly favored the plan.

The Assembly, of course, is another matter entirely.

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Hakeem Jeffries Responds to Congestion Pricing Critics

From today's Crain's Insider:

Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries, who is holding a rally this evening for better G train service, is drawing fire from transit advocates because of his opposition to congestion pricing. Streetsblog commenters plan to confront him at the rally. "Simply because one did not support the mayor's version of congestion pricing does not mean we shouldn't do everything possible to improve mass transit," Jeffries says.

"The mayor's version." One supposes this leaves open the possibility that there is some version of congestion pricing that Hakeem Jeffries wouldn't have opposed. But despite their attempts to pawn off the coming transit finance crisis on Mayor Bloomberg, Assembly Democrats killed a version of congestion pricing that differed markedly from the mayor's original plan. The final bill reflected the recommendations of the Traffic Congestion Mitigation Commission, which, lest anyone forget, was created with Albany's blessing.

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Revenge of the Free Riders

From Transportation Alternatives' Spring 2008 magazine:

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The biggest hurdle congestion pricing faced was the simple fact that the people required to enact the legislation were the ones who stood to pay the most because of it.


On Monday, April 7, Sheldon Silver walked out of a closed door meeting of State Assembly Democrats and announced congestion pricing was dead. Never mind that New York City's mayor and City Council supported the plan along with the governor, the State Senate and an unprecedented coalition of business, labor, environmental and civic groups. Like so much else in Albany, the decision was made in secret, without a debate, a vote or even a record of the proceedings.

Until congestion pricing came around, I never paid all that much attention to Albany. Sure, I knew about the sex and graft scandals, the "three men in a room," and the Brennan Center reports showing New York's government has more in common with the old Soviet Politburo than America's 49 other state legislatures. I knew "dysfunctional" was the official adjective to describe Albany. But the dysfunction never seemed to impinge on my own life in any immediate, tangible way. Until congestion pricing.

I was really looking forward to seeing motorists pay to drive into Lower Manhattan. While I understood the importance of $354 million in federal aid, $491 million per year in revenue for transit and fewer kids growing up with asthma, this wasn't what pumped me up. What I liked most about congestion pricing was the fact that the people who make life in New York City most miserable -- the armada of horn-honking, exhaust-spewing, space-hogging, oil-guzzling, climate change-inducing motorheads that rolls through my neighborhood every day, to and from the free East River bridges, were finally going to have to pay for the privilege.

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Keep Hope Alive?

Over at the Daily Politics, Liz Benjamin reports that state leaders are negotiating behind closed doors and congestion pricing is still on the table. City Room is also reporting that Governor Paterson called an emergency meeting and the plan was still under discussion as of 5:45 pm.

Streetsblog readers will recall that congestion pricing looked to be dead and gone last July 17 and then a couple of days later, after the federal deadline had been missed, the mayor's political people pulled off the deal that created the Congestion Mitigation Commission process. A dig through Streetsblog's July 2007 archives tells the story.

So, who knows? The state Legislature still has to produce a budget. They still need to address a multi-billion dollar transit deficit. They still want pay raises.

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Brennan Introduces Alternative Pricing Bill in Assembly

044.jpgAssemblyman Jim Brennan, a Democrat from Brooklyn, has introduced a new congestion pricing bill, according to a statement released by his office. The bill contains some elements lifted from Mayor Bloomberg's original proposal, including:

  • Re-instating the $4 intrazonal fee
  • Exempting drivers who cross into Manhattan below 60th Street but only drive on the periphery

If these changes were to be applied, against the recommendations of the Traffic Congestion Mitigation Commission, it would result in higher administrative costs and more surveillance cameras. Although Brennan identified himself as a pricing supporter when the idea was first floated last summer, at this point his bill seems to undermine much of the approval process to date, including the contributions of the TCMC and the City Council's vote on Monday in favor of a home rule message.

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Assembly Member Kellner Comes Around on Pricing

kellner.jpgHaving portrayed himself as a lukewarm supporter of congestion pricing, Upper East Side Assemblyman Micah Kellner let loose with some surprisingly pointed remarks last week, when, to paraphrase, he told the New York Times he didn't think Governor David Paterson would try to shove the congestion pricing bill down the throats of Assembly members.

Now that Paterson has announced his support for the plan, a recent letter to a constituent seems to indicate that Kellner has had a change of heart. Rather than oppose the bill as introduced, Kellner says he will support it while "working to make it an even better bill."

The assemblyman's sticking points include exemptions for the disabled, whether or not they own a car; exemptions for hospital patients; surcharges for drivers who don't have E-ZPass; and "fee equity for New Jersey drivers."

The full text of the letter follows the jump.

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Paterson Backs Pricing, Introduces Bill in Albany

David Paterson is going to do right by his old State Senate district after all. New York's new governor settled any doubts about his position on congestion pricing this afternoon, introducing a bill that follows the recommendations of the Traffic Congestion Mitigation Commission. The Daily Politics has the scoop:

"Congestion pricing addresses two urgent concerns of the residents of New York City and its suburbs: The need to reduce congestion on our streets and roads, and thereby reduce pollution, and the need to raise significant revenue for mass transit improvement," Paterson said.

Paterson also said that by introducing the bill, the City Council and the Legislature will be able to "examine the details" and "make an informed judgment" going forward.

It has yet to be determined if the Paterson bill differs at all from the bill that surfaced in Albany earlier this week. However, highlights of the legislation described in the governor's statement match the contents of the earlier bill. The full statement, as well as press releases from Mayor Bloomberg and pro-pricing groups, after the jump.

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Congestion Pricing Bill: First Impressions

Following word that a congestion pricing bill has surfaced in Albany, details are emerging about the actual legislation. Today's New York Times story on Governor Paterson's attitude toward pricing included specifics on how penalties would work and confirmed the existence of a "livable streets lock box" funded by parking fees:

The measure would charge drivers without E-ZPass an extra dollar for travel into the zone, giving them 48 hours to pay the $9 fee to the city. If they miss the deadline, the fee would rise to $65; if they fail to pay, they could be fined up to $115. The plan also calls for the creation of a mass transit enhancement fund, financed by any increases in parking meter fees within the congestion zone, to pay for bike paths, bus rapid transit systems and other items.

Streetsblog has been reviewing the bill and turned up some interesting language on environmental review, in what is clearly a response to the argument of Richard Brodsky and others who claim the process to date has circumvented SEQRA requirements. The Traffic Congestion Mitigation Commission recommended adhering to established principles of environment review, and now we are seeing the particulars of how that would work.

The bill basically lifts suggestions from the TCMC's final report [PDF], situating the commission's previous work within the SEQRA framework. For instance, the 14 public hearings held by the TCMC constitute the initial public comment phase, and the interim report to the commission serves as the alternative analysis. Still to come: The city will hold public hearings on the scope of environmental review, draft a scoping document outlining any adverse impacts, and release a final Environmental Impact Statement prior to the date pricing goes into effect. (You can read all about it starting on page 18 of this PDF.)

A related section provides for ongoing measurement of environmental impacts, including "traffic, air quality, noise, and parking." In what could develop into a New York version of London's yearly congestion charging study, the city would release an annual report on these impacts.

Another interesting tidbit: Diplomatic vehicles, pending approval from the State Department, would be exempt from the charge, so we might not get to see if the British ambassador will pay to drive, unlike his counterpart in London.

Stay tuned; we'll be posting updates on any other nuggets that may surface.

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Two Ways to Tell the Story of Congestion Pricing

This Monday the Washington Post ran a long feature on page A1, "Letting the Market Drive Transportation," about the Bush administration's attempts to shift financing for roads from the gas tax to user fees, and starve transit in the process. The cast of characters includes a pair of conservative ideologues, Tyler Duvall and D.J. Gribbin, high up in U.S. DOT, as well as Transportation Secretary Mary Peters, who earned the enmity of alternative transportation advocates last summer when she said bikes aren't transportation.

The article tells how this troika came up with the plan to seed pricing in five pilot cities, and delves into their ulterior motives:

For Gribbin, Duvall and Transportation Secretary Mary Peters, the goal is not just to combat congestion but to upend the traditional way transportation projects are funded in this country. They believe that tolls paid by motorists, not tax dollars, should be used to construct and maintain roads.

They and other political appointees have spent the latter part of President Bush's two terms laboring behind the scenes to shrink the federal role in road-building and public transportation.

On the face of it, the story meshes with some of the anti-pricing arguments New Yorkers have been hearing, especially from Representative Anthony Weiner, who has called pricing a conservative ploy to de-fund federal support for transit projects. That position has drawn ridicule from Mayor Bloomberg as he stumps for pricing, captured in the Observer's account of yesterday's Crain's New York Business Breakfast Forum:

“I have nothing against any one congressman [but] that is one of the stupider things I’ve ever heard said. Forget the fact that he’s one of the congressmen who’s supposed to get the money for us. The Democrats control -- his party controls Congress -- what’s he talking about? Number two, by that argument, we should cut all the taxes, which some people would like, and then just sit here and wait to give us all the money back.

The Post story has already provided fodder for press accounts favorable to Weiner, like this Daily Politics post, which quotes the Queens congressman:

"I'm interested in solutions, not name calling. I respect the Mayor, but I don't think the evidence supports trusting President Bush and his cabinet here. In Washington the Administration tries to cut money to roads and to cut mass transit, and then they come to New York City and say they won't. I'm concerned that New Yorkers will get the short end of the stick." 

On close examination, however, the Post article omits several details that would have led to a different conclusion, namely: There is no inherent connection between pricing and reduced funding for transit.

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Assembly Member Deborah Glick: Angry Fence-Sitter

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New Jersey traffic headed toward Chelsea Tuesday evening

Constituents of Lower Manhattan Assembly Member Deborah Glick have a lot to gain from congestion pricing, but they should not assume their representative will vote for the plan once (or if) it reaches Albany.

Meeting with a group of advocates who traveled from the city yesterday, Glick reeled off a list of grievances, both with pricing and Mayor Michael Bloomberg, whom she described as an "out of touch billionaire."

Lawmakers who had issues with pricing as proposed last year were greeted with "arrogance and dismissiveness," according to Glick. "We asked a lot of questions," she said, "we got no answers." Even after innumerable public hearings and the months-long Traffic Congestion Mitigation Commission process, which she is in part responsible for, Glick says communication from the city is "only slightly better" now.

If the Bloomberg administration really wanted to raise money, Glick said, it would not offer so many tax breaks for developers. Instead, the mayor is more concerned with building luxury high rises for the wealthy, who she said will constitute the majority of new residents expected to settle in the city over the next two decades. Glick believes the original congestion pricing plan was more about Bloomberg's legacy than a workable program to reduce traffic and fund transit.

But enough about the mayor. Here's what Glick thinks of congestion pricing today:

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