Gotham Gazette http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/2299 Tue, 17 Jul 2018 11:21:28 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) Cuomo Accused of ‘Bait and Switch’ on Congestion Pricing http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7578:cuomo-accused-of-bait-and-switch-on-congestion-pricing http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7578:cuomo-accused-of-bait-and-switch-on-congestion-pricing Cuomo driving bridge

Gov. Cuomo at the wheel (Philip Kamrass/Governor's Office)


Though Governor Andrew Cuomo has expressed support for instituting a congestion pricing program to reduce street congestion in Manhattan and create a dedicated source of revenue for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), and said that he is fighting for such a scheme in state budget negotiations, the governor has recently indicated that he may only be able to win a modest first step, raising the ire of those expecting more.

“Congestion pricing doesn’t happen in one fell swoop,” Cuomo said on WNYC radio last week, acknowledging that the sole component of congestion pricing likely to make it into the budget due by April 1 is a surcharge on taxi and for-hire vehicle rides. “There are phases to the congestion pricing and I’m cautiously optimistic that we could start the process.”

On Wednesday, Cuomo told reporters in Albany that the state is “taking first steps towards congestion pricing” by including the surcharge on rides in taxis, black cars, and app-based services like Uber and Lyft. Those charges were part of the first of three phases to a congestion pricing plan proposed by the “Fix NYC” panel Cuomo had put together last year. The governor never fully embraced the recommendations publicly, but has said he’s “pushing that very hard,” in negotiations with the Democratically-controlled Assembly and Republican-controlled Senate, both home to significant skepticism.

“The congestion in Manhattan is incredible and if you want to fix the subways you need a long-term funding stream,” Cuomo said. “There is no magic.”

But many, including City Council Member Brad Lander, have voiced frustration with the likely lack of a comprehensive congestion pricing plan in the budget. “This is a classic bait-and-switch,” the Brooklyn Democrat said Tuesday during a phone interview with Gotham Gazette. “If the governor is the least bit serious about the reality that we need long-term congestion pricing, and not just the FHV [for-hire vehicle] bait-and-switch, then he’ll insist in getting that money in the budget.”

Lander, who had predicted such a possibility in January on social media, added, “Had [Cuomo] been serious about real congestion pricing, instead of appointing the Fix NYC commission and not following their report by not putting it in his budget, and made it a real top priority and put it in his budget, then it would have had a chance, I believe.”

Lander said that the insufficient effort toward including a more complete congestion pricing plan was yet another example of nearsighted political maneuvering in Albany standing in the way of implementing effective policy. 

“Every year, for many years, politicians in Albany made decisions that seemed good in the short-term: to borrow more, to put a little less in the subway. Because in the next few months, those decisions were not going to harm service,” Lander explained. “What we need is a big, long-term investment, but we’re in an election year and so the politics suggest find a way to look like you’re solving the problem while just doing a little something for the short-term.”

The governor is seeking a third term this year, and the entirety of the Legislature is also up for election in the fall.

Congestion pricing, a system of strategically tolling vehicles entering a certain geographic jurisdiction, has long been regarded as the right policy for New York City, according to the lion’s share of transit experts and advocates and editorial boards, as well as some city elected officials. The policy would reduce traffic and carbon emissions, encourage commuting via public transportation, and provide a much-needed influx of funding for repairs of the MTA subway infrastructure, its proponents say.  

In August 2017, as calls for officials to provide a fix to the poor-performing MTA subways reached a fever pitch, Cuomo reversed his position on the policy and said that congestion pricing “is an idea whose time has come.” In October 2017, Cuomo convened the “Fix NYC Advisory Panel,” a group comprised of elected officials, community leaders, and representatives from New York businesses, to produce a report suggesting policies.

And in January, the panel released the report. It recommended a three-year, three-phase plan including a congestion pricing proposal that would eventually mandate a surcharge of $11.52 per car to enter Manhattan south of 60th Street, and over $25 for trucks. The panel also recommended a surcharge of between $2 and $5 per ride on for-hire vehicles, such as taxis and Ubers. It also put forth a variety of congestion-reducing suggestions like better enforcement of existing traffic laws, like bans on double-parking and blocking bus lanes.

Even Mayor Bill de Blasio, who frequently labeled prior iterations of congestion pricing a “regressive tax,” changed his tune to an extent, expressing openness to the group’s recommendations, particularly noting his approval that they did not recommend tolls directly on the East River bridges.

Cuomo, however, never explicitly embraced its suggestions or promised to push for them in the budget or as stand-alone legislation. Instead, he acknowledged that the problems congestion pricing seeks to address are real, and pledged to “review it carefully” and “discuss the alternatives with the Legislature” in the ensuing months. A spokesperson for the governor, Peter Ajemian, told the New York Times that what the governor is on the verge of attaining in the state budget is in keeping with the Fix NYC plan because its congestion pricing program is also phased in.

Ahead of the April 1 budget deadline, top transit advocates questioned Cuomo’s commitment and leadership on the issue. “Where it really matters, he’s not in the game,” executive director of Transportation Alternatives, Paul Steely White, said at a rally outside the governor’s Manhattan office last week.

Asked for comment, a spokesperson for Assembly Democrats told Gotham Gazette of the for-hire vehicle surcharge, “We passed it as part of our budget proposal.”

Spokespeople for the Senate Republicans and the governor did not return requests for comment for this story. The Senate did not include even the surcharge in its one-house budget plan.

In recent days, and amid uncertainty about congestion pricing’s fate in budget negotiations, coalitions of transit, business, and technology leaders have come forward to encourage the state to enact the initiative. “Traffic congestion costs our region $20 billion every year, and the Fix NYC recommendations are the only plan on the table to address our transit crisis and get our economy moving,” said Alex Matthiessen, director of the Move NY Campaign, in a press release. Before the Fix NYC panel, Move NY had the model congestion pricing plan that was the topic of public debate and advocacy for several years. Matthiessen embraced the Fix NYC recommendations when they were released.

Julie Samuels, Executive Director of Tech:NYC, said in a press release, “New York City’s transit crisis slows down business, hinders our productivity and efficiency, and makes it harder for our companies to recruit employees. The congestion pricing plan sitting with leaders in Albany will ease congestion and, crucially, help fund our transit system.”

“We must get this done because we need a functional transit system if we want tech and business to succeed here,” Samuels continued.

While Council Member Lander acknowledged there are challenges in convincing the Assembly and Senate to agree to allow congestion pricing in the budget, he argued Cuomo did not make a genuine attempt at doing so. “When an elected leader wants to do something, they have real tools at their disposal to persuade the legislators that it’s the right thing to do,” said Lander. “And he did not do those things.”

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Cuomo Accused of ‘Bait and Switch’ on Congestion Pricing Thu, 29 Mar 2018 04:00:00 +0000
With MTA Facing Massive Shortfall, A Lot Riding on New Congestion Pricing Push http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7435:with-mta-facing-massive-shortfall-a-lot-riding-on-new-congestion-pricing-push http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7435:with-mta-facing-massive-shortfall-a-lot-riding-on-new-congestion-pricing-push Cuomo MTA subway escalator

Gov. Cuomo in the subway (photo: The Governor's Office)


Governor Cuomo’s “Fix NYC” commission produced a framework for a congestion pricing plan, released just after the governor’s Executive Budget for the 2018-19 Fiscal Year, which begins April 1. The congestion pricing framework outlines a three-year phase-in that would provide revenue of $1 billion to $1.5 billion a year starting in 2020, most of which would be intended for the MTA Capital Plan.

That is also the year the MTA must begin its next five-year capital plan for continued investment in the upgrade and preservation of the subway, bus, and commuter rail systems. The current $30 billion plan, the 2015-19 plan, faced a shortfall of $15 billion when initially proposed in 2014, and it was not until 2016 that the governor and the Legislature finally adopted a framework for that plan. The 2020-2024 plan likely faces a similar funding shortfall of $15 billion, so money flowing from a congestion pricing program for the MTA in 2020 would arrive just in time to fill much of that shortfall, although the Fix NYC framework did not outline a specific disposition of the money from a congestion pricing set-up.

A November 2017 report by State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, “ Financial Outlook for the MTA,“ stressed that the MTA’s capital funding shortfalls could be even larger than $15 billion because more than $7 billion in the 2015-19 plan that the state government committed to providing the MTA still does not have an identified funding source.

Beyond that, MTA Chair Joseph Lhota’s Subway Action Plan Phase Two indicated a need to add $8 billion in capital funding for the subway system. The MTA is not under an obligation to offer the details of its 2020-2024 Capital Plan until the fall of 2019 so it is not clear how all these unmet needs and proposals might fit together. But a shortfall of more than $20 billion is likely.

The comptroller’s office suggested the MTA accelerate the release of the details of its 2020-24 plan to enable greater public engagement in the process of coming to terms with these important decisions. The MTA should do this -- the governor, the Legislature, and the public need to get a handle on what the MTA thinks is needed sooner rather than later. (The comptroller’s report confirmed the concerns raised in my September column: “The MTA’s Long-Term Financial Problem is Severe and May Soon be Worse.”)

If the Legislature does not enact a formidable congestion pricing plan, worth $1 to $1.5 billion a year, enough revenue to support $10 billion or more in bonded funds for the mass transit system, or find some other alternative, it will be catastrophic for the subway, bus, and commuter rail systems, the fundamental infrastructure that allows for the wealth of the New York City metropolitan area. In fact, even if the proposed congestion pricing plan is adopted, the MTA’s greater than $20 billion shortfall would only drop by half and there would still be $10 billion to find unless the federal government were to step in to provide much larger amounts of money than at present.

Mayor de Blasio’s proposal to tax millionaires was envisioned to raise $750 million a year, with $500 million to fund $8 billion worth of bonds for the MTA, and $250 million to subsidize low-income New Yorkers’ subway and bus rides with half-fare MetroCards. Together the congestion pricing plan and the millionaires tax might raise nearly $20 billion for the MTA, coming close to closing the gaps in meeting mass transit capital needs.

Both proposals face significant opposition in the Legislature, from State Senate Republicans opposed to the millionaires tax, to everyday legislators of both parties who simply don’t wish to impose new charges or fees on their constituents to drive into Manhattan, either because they feel the charges are unfair or won’t solve the congestion problem.

Governor Cuomo has not yet submitted a bill to the Legislature that provides the details of the congestion pricing plan or how the money would be used. He has said he wants to discuss the issue with the Legislature first, although he has embraced the concept advanced by Move New York that the tolls on the outer borough bridges that don’t feed the Manhattan central business district should be reduced. That means some of the Fix NYC revenue would be diverted to reduce those particular tolls and not available to the MTA for its capital needs.

The governor has also submitted bills in the budget to force New York City government to come up with much more money for the MTA, a move the de Blasio administration is strongly opposing.

One bill would force the City to pay the 50% of Chair Lhota’s Subway Action Plan that the chair had demanded of the City and that Mayor de Blasio had refused to pay. Another bill would give the MTA the power to create special districts in New York City where subway expansions add property value and allow the MTA to obtain portions of city property taxes related to the new value created for the MTA Capital Plan. The concept was used to pay for the 7-train extension by dedicating revenue from property in the Hudson Yards area to cover the costs, although that plan was a creation of the City of New York and the City controlled the dispositions of funds, unlike the governor’s proposal here, where it does not appear the City would have a say in the matter.

Another Cuomo budget bill is perhaps the most dramatic of all -- it says the City of New York must pay the full cost of the New York City Transit Authority capital plan. The City of New York has a seat on the MTA Capital Review Board and a vote on the New York City Transit Authority Capital Plan, so it has the power to veto that part of the plan. This power does not quite fit with the obligation to fund the plan, nor does it square how parts of the New York City Transit Authority Capital Plan might get funded from other sources of revenue and how the City negotiates the package. The MTA’s capital needs are so immense it is reasonable to ask New York City government to increase its contribution, perhaps even in a major way, but the governor’s proposals are orders rather than requests and may simply be opening gambits for negotiation.

Another major issue is the gargantuan expense of the MTA’s construction programs and purchases. A recent New York Times series described the immense waste of funds in the projects. The MTA, the governor, and the Legislature cannot ignore the problem -- the size of the MTA’s needs just costs too much money and the City and State just can’t afford to write checks to cover $20-30 billion shortfalls.

Right now congestion pricing is the main issue on the table. Mayor de Blasio and the Legislature should support it.

Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio should bury the hatchet, at least as far as the mass transit system goes. There needs to be a consensus about addressing the giant shortfalls faced by the capital needs of the system. It’s also worth mentioning that both former Mayor Bloomberg and the newer Move New York plan sought to use congestion pricing funds to improve express bus service in areas of the City poorly served (or not served at all) by the subway system, and that issue, among others, certainly needs to be taken into account.

The MTA needs an astonishing $2 billion a year in new sources of revenue for the cash and debt service on bonds to cover more than $20 billion needed through 2024-25. If congestion pricing fails and there is no meaningful replacement the prosperity and public safety of the metropolitan area will be threatened.

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Jim Brennan was a member of the New York State Assembly for 32 years, where he chaired four committees. On Twitter @JimBrennanNY.

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

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With MTA Facing Massive Shortfall, A Lot Riding on New Congestion Pricing Push Wed, 24 Jan 2018 05:00:00 +0000
Max & Murphy Podcast: Congestion Pricing with Alex Matthiessen of Move New York http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7433:max-murphy-podcast-congestion-pricing-with-alex-matthiessen-of-move-new-york http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7433:max-murphy-podcast-congestion-pricing-with-alex-matthiessen-of-move-new-york

Jarrett Murphy, left, of City Limits, and Ben Max, right, of Gotham Gazette


January 23, 2018 - Max & Murphy Podcast: Alex Matthiessen of Move New York

alex matthiessen move ny

When Mayor Bloomberg's attempt to pass a congestion pricing plan fell short, a new group emerged to figure out what went wrong and plot a new path toward a program to reduce congestion in Manhattan and create new dedicated funds for the MTA. That effort became Move New York, led by Alex Matthiessen, our guest for this podcast, and led to the "Fix NYC" panel assembled by Governor Andrew Cuomo in 2017.

With the panel's recommendations out and both Cuomo and Move New York supporting them, Matthiessen discussed the path to this moment and what lies ahead. Hear his insights into the next steps and how those supporting a congestion pricing plan can win passage in Albany this year.

Listen to the full conversation and let us know what you think -- we're on Twitter @TweetBenMax and @jarrettmurphy, with guest @AlexMatthiessen of @MoveNewYork. You can listen to the episode through the embedded audio below or download the episode wherever you get your podcasts.

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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Max & Murphy Podcast: Congestion Pricing with Alex Matthiessen of Move New York Tue, 23 Jan 2018 05:00:00 +0000
Leading Congestion Pricing Advocate Explains Path to Passage http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7437:leading-congestion-pricing-advocate-explains-path-to-passage http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7437:leading-congestion-pricing-advocate-explains-path-to-passage subway station MTA

(photo: The Governor's Office)


Alex Matthiessen, the founder and director of Move New York, joined the Max & Murphy Podcast Tuesday to discuss the path ahead for congestion pricing now that Governor Andrew Cuomo’s “Fix NYC” panel has releases its recommendations and the governor is vowing to negotiation with the Legislature to pass measures that will reduce congestion in Manhattan and create dedicated funds for the MTA.

Matthiessen explained the recent history of congestion pricing in New York and how his group came together in the wake of former Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s ill-fated attempt at a version of congestion pricing and took a multi-year approach to crafting and promoting a new, more inclusive plan.

Matthiessen said that while there are some differences, including positive ones, Move New York is strongly behind the plan put forth by Fix NYC and vowing to lead a campaign to see it passed.

“I thought that we had created the gold standard of congestion pricing plans, especially for the City of New York, tailored for the City of New York, and these guys actually improved upon our plan in a number of ways,” Matthiessen said of Move New York and the new recommendations, citing the panel’s notion of tolling a congestion zone, but not the East River bridges. The plan includes new transit investments, a dedicated Manhattan zone that would require an additional fee to enter, added surcharges on for-hire vehicles and trucks in the zone, and other measures to fight congestion and improve the public transit system. It is outlined for a three-step and three-year phase in, eventually estimated to raise about $1.5 billion annually for mass transit.

Matthiessen pointed to the subway crisis that developed this past summer and tens of billions of dollars in estimated lost productivity because of Manhattan congestion as key drivers of the urgency now behind congestion pricing, starting with new support from Cuomo, who he indicated will be the key actor in determining whether a deal can be reached with legislators.

“There is a lot of pressure on the governor and on the Legislature to deliver something, and I don’t think that we can afford to wait,” he said, pointing to the April 1 deadline for a new state budget. “This is the most viable plan out there at the moment, I don’t expect that to change. There is a lot of momentum behind this.”

“I think there is a lot of expectations by the public that Albany has to deal with this issue this year,” Matthiessen said. “They’ve got elections coming up. No one likes to get behind a plan that’s going to cost people more than it cost them before, in terms of their daily commutes, but I don’t think they want to go into a 2018 election, either, having basically abandoned the 9 million people that use the region’s transit system.”

While Cuomo has referenced items that his Fix NYC panel did not put forward that he may pursue as he negotiates with the Legislature, such as reducing the tolls on existing bridges with them, like the Verrazzano and Whitestone, many including Matthiessen want to see funding for reduced-price MetroCards as part of the final deal. There will be no shortage of moving pieces and points of negotiation, but Matthiessen is confident that the timing is right and the political stars aligned, despite the fact that there has been cold water thrown at congestion pricing from the Democrat-led Assembly, the Republican-led Senate, and Mayor Bill de Blasio.

“You just can’t continue to underinvest in a trillion dollar transit system like ours and not pay the price for it. We’ve already paid the price for it,” Matthiessen said on the podcast.

There’s a lot more to the conversation -- listen to the full discussion on the Max & Murphy podcast here, or find it wherever you get your podcasts, including on iTunes.

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by Matthew Sweeney, Gotham Gazette

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Leading Congestion Pricing Advocate Explains Path to Passage Tue, 23 Jan 2018 05:00:00 +0000
Debate Showcases Sharp Differences Among Mayoral Candidates on Transit, Congestion http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7245:mayoral-candidates-differ-sharply-on-fixing-transit-congestion http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7245:mayoral-candidates-differ-sharply-on-fixing-transit-congestion de Blasio subway

De Blasio on the subway (photo: Edwin J. Torres/Mayor's Office)


The first general election mayoral debate, held Tuesday, was often devoid of substance amid repeated interruptions of a restive audience and candidates who seemed more interested in scoring political points than talking policy. Mayor Bill de Blasio regularly retreated to stump speech talking points as his opponents, Assemblymember Nicole Malliotakis and retired NYPD detective Bo Dietl, attacked him over and over again. Malliotakis offered up a few policy proposals while Dietl largely blustered and ranted through his time, at times overshadowing any policy ideas he was putting forth.

On the issues of mass transit and street congestion, however, none of the candidates, including de Blasio, seemed to have immediate solutions for the city’s problems with its deteriorating subways and clogged roadways.

Earlier this year, de Blasio faced ample criticism for a seemingly lax attitude over problems in the subway system, which cascaded into a full-blown crisis this summer with repeated train breakdowns, derailments, and unrelenting delays. He was dragged by transit activists and political opponents to ride the subways more and to use his bully pulpit to advocate for increased funding and immediate action by the state, which controls the MTA and bears most responsibility for the subways.

After MTA Chair Joe Lhota put forth an emergency subway action plan and asked the city and state to split the $836 million price tag, Governor Andrew Cuomo agreed and de Blasio balked, saying the city should not be on the hook for any more funds and insisting that the state repay money it had raided from the MTA -- ironically, the same $456 million figure now being asked of the city.

De Blasio pitched a millionaire’s tax proposal to fund MTA repairs as well as subsidized fares for low-income New Yorkers, addressing another area of significant criticism, his unwillingness to fund the “Fair Fares” campaign. His proposal was immediately panned as having little hope for passage in Albany and as lacking immediacy. The mayor pointed back to the state, and Governor Andrew Cuomo.

At Tuesday’s debate, both Malliotakis and Dietl agreed that the city bears significant responsibility for the MTA, where the mayor has four of 14 board appointees, and should contribute its fair share.

“If my kids are riding on a school bus and the school bus needs brakes and I have the money to fix that, I’m gonna fix it,” responded Dietl, to a question from debate panellist Gloria Pazmino, a Politico New York reporter, about whether the candidates would fund half the MTA emergency action plan and support a potential congestion pricing proposal. “This mayor over here says it’s not his responsibility. He’s the mayor of New York, it is his responsibility,” Dietl added, shouting. Dietl veered into incomprehension before seeming to say that regarding congestion, the de Blasio administration’s issuance of thousands of parking placards to “flunkies” is a major factor in the problem.

“I absolutely do believe that the city has a responsibility, the mayor has a responsibility to make sure that his constituents can get to and from work,” said a more measured Malliotakis. She emphasized the role the mayor’s appointees to the MTA board could play, in seeking more capital investment from the state for necessary infrastructure upgrades. And she vowed to work with the governor to solve the crisis, before snarkily turning to de Blasio and challenging him, “Are you afraid of Governor Cuomo?”

Although, Malliotakis did not directly answer either part of the question -- whether she would agree to fund half of the MTA emergency plan and whether she favors a congestion pricing scheme -- she has publicly said before that the city could use funds set aside in reserves for the MTA emergency action plan. "On congestion pricing she has said she likes the Sam Schwartz plan but, remains open minded regarding other plans,” campaign spokesperson Rob Ryan clarified in an email on Wednesday. Schwartz is a renowned traffic engineer and the proposal Ryan referenced is Move New York, which involves reducing tolls at bridges with less traffic and increasing them in higher traffic areas, variable pricing for peak and off-peak hours, and adding tolls to the East River bridges, among other ideas. It is a popular plan aimed at both fighting congestion and raising revenue to create a city with improved mass transit and better flowing roads. 

Malliotakis has also supported converting all traffic signals into Smart Lights that use sensors and artificial intelligence to control the flow of traffic and reduce congestion, while also preventing accidents and cutting down on vehicle emissions. The assemblymember's plan would prioritize communities with high vehicle ownership in Queens and Staten Island, and envisions a total cost of about $1 billion to replace every traffic light in the city.   

De Blasio does not support the Move New York plan, and has called congestion pricing a “regressive tax,” instead proposing his own tax on wealthy New Yorkers. “The solution is a millionaires tax...Millionaires and billionaires can pay a little more in this city so the rest of us can get around,” he said at the debate.

The mayor did not acknowledge the existence of the Move New York plan, instead appearing to again reference the fact that Cuomo -- who has said it is time to reconsider congestion pricing and is expected to unveil his own proposal in January -- has not yet outlined his own proposal.

De Blasio repeated his assertion that the state should bear the costs of MTA fixes, pointing out as he has done before that the state diverted about $456 million in city money away from the transit authority. “That was earmarked money for the MTA that the governor and the Legislature diverted away from the MTA that would be right now available,” he said. “It is right now available in state surplus to address the problems of the MTA. By the way, the Assembly member voted to divert those funds away.”

What de Blasio did not fully acknowledge, even when pushed by Pazmino, was the timeline for his proposed millionaire’s tax. The tax must be approved by the state Legislature, which will not meet until next year, and there is already opposition to it, particularly from Republicans who control the state Senate. “The millionaires tax is very, very popular,” de Blasio insisted, pointing to support in a recent public poll. “If Governor Cuomo would support it and put the energy you’ve seen put into some other things, it could be achieved in Albany. We don’t have an alternative plan right now.”

De Blasio offered no plans or ideas for reducing street congestion.

Malliotakis rebutted the mayor, insisting that she had supported lockbox legislation to preserve the MTA’s budget, and she was quick to pounce on the mayor’s omission of a plan to address current needs. The millionaire’s tax is a “cockamamie plan,” she said.

“It’s an emergency plan,” she said of the MTA’s current strategy. “It needs to be done now.”

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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Note - This article has been updated.

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Debate Showcases Sharp Differences Among Mayoral Candidates on Transit, Congestion Wed, 11 Oct 2017 04:00:00 +0000
Congestion Pricing Won't Solve New York's Transportation Woes http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7175:congestion-pricing-won-t-solve-new-york-s-transportation-woes http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7175:congestion-pricing-won-t-solve-new-york-s-transportation-woes Cuomo MTA bus

Gov. Cuomo and a bus (photo: Kevin P. Coughlin/Governor's Office)


Governor Andrew Cuomo’s recent vague interest in congestion pricing as a solution to problems at the MTA may give new life to one of former Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s key policy goals, but absent transportation improvements officials could be making now, pricing will not save our subways. We cannot let them off the hook in search of the perceived silver bullet of congestion pricing.

The transportation community has been salivating over Cuomo’s statement that “congestion pricing is an idea whose time has come,” hoping that the governor will be able to convince the state to put a cordon toll around Manhattan south of 60th Street. Such a cordon toll, which would charge drivers entering the area on a daily or per trip basis, is reflective of similar policies elsewhere, particularly London, which implemented a congestion charge in the central city district in February 2003. Yet commenters and policy nerds this side of the Atlantic have missed the real substance of London’s improvements, and in doing so, they are giving our elected officials a pass on work they should be doing right now, regardless of the status of the pricing proposal.

What today’s transportation advocates are missing is that the key ingredient to London’s success was not its charge but its buses.

Beginning in 1993, ridership on London’s double-deckers increased annually, and was up 37% by the time the charge was implemented in 2003. In 2004, London’s buses carried more passengers than the New York City subway. While those ridership numbers are impressive on their own, what they signify is an overall shift away from cars to buses, bikes, and walking. London’s congestion charge was envisioned as a specifically anti-car policy, designed to make it easier for buses and taxis to traverse the city center.

When New York City congestion pricing advocates see London’s roads covered in bus lanes, they may imagine that the charge enabled such a shift, freeing up road space to then be taken over by buses and bikes. In fact, nearly all of London’s 180 miles of bus lanes were implemented before the congestion charge, in that era of increasing ridership between 1993 and 2003. The lanes and other improvements insulated London’s buses from congestion enough, even before the charge, to improve rider experience and reduce excess waiting time at stops. Combined with a lower fare on buses compared to the tube, the operational improvements led to increased ridership and declining car use before the charge policy was even developed.

New York’s bus system pales in comparison.

The city currently has just over 50 miles of bus lanes. While buses have priority at most intersections in London, such priority only exists in New York on four Select Bus Service routes. As congestion has risen, bus ridership has fallen as bus speeds have slowed to a level barely faster than walking.

Nowhere is the lack of bus priority more egregious than on the East River bridges, the very place tolls would be implemented. When Mayor Bloomberg signed the initial contract with the USDOT for his congestion pricing proposal, East River bus lanes were the only specific bus improvement named. When the deal fell through, the East River bus lanes plan mostly died.

There are high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes, used by both buses and cars with two or more occupants, in the tunnels and in the mornings on the Queensborough and Manhattan Bridges. The tunnel HOV lanes serve the express buses, the second-most heavily subsidized way to travel in the city after the commuter rail. Currently, the Queensborough bridge carries three local routes and 18 express routes. There are no buses that cross the Manhattan Bridge and benefit from the HOV lane.

For New York’s system to match London’s status before the charge was implemented, we need not only priority for buses on the roads but also more local buses into Manhattan. Based on London’s experience, getting drivers out of their cars requires a double shift.

First, some subway riders shift to buses for shorter trips; then drivers, who generally take longer trips, switch to the newly opened subway space. New York’s bus system largely lacks bus routes to accommodate people switching from the subway to bus. Currently, only a single local bus goes from Brooklyn to Manhattan, the B39, which runs only between the Williamsburg Bridge Terminal and Delancey Street, and comes every half hour. Unsurprisingly, it has the lowest ridership in the bus system. Without more direct bus connections to Manhattan, New York severely limits the bus system’s ability to provide a subway relief valve.

To be clear, there are activists calling for New York to focus on its bus network, but the centrality of the bus network to the functioning of the whole system is not fully depicted. The Bus Turnaround Campaign, comprised of the Riders Alliance, TransitCenter, TriState Transportation Campaign, and the Straphangers Campaign, have called for bus improvements for the sake of riders, but not as a way of improving transportation in the city as a whole, though their recommendations are based in part on London’s improvements, including increased bus priority, less circuitous routing, and improved fare payment.

What is frustrating is that many advocates believe that they have to support the pricing proposal in order to achieve bus system improvements, and that others feel as though they don’t need to advocate as hard for buses because the charging regime will magically improve the buses. The reality is that absent good alternatives to switch to, any charge that is politically feasible (maybe no more than the cost of a subway fare, well short of what is proposed in the most thorough proposal to-date, the Move New York plan) will be ineffective at reducing congestion and thus at improving the buses. London’s temporary drop in congestion following the charge was made possible by the bevy of available bus seats. While New York has available bus seats, they are not yet good alternatives. If they were, we would have seen bus ridership increase during this especially difficult subway summer congestion pricing is supposed to fix, and we didn’t.

If New York wants to seriously improve the transportation system, it needs an all-out campaign on the buses, one with the same level of media attention given to a single Cuomo quote on congestion pricing. Because so much of the bus system is about how we prioritize our roads, this is a goal that a city mayor can actually make a significant dent in without the governor, the kind of transportation improvement our mayor enjoys. So rather than wait for Governor Cuomo to save us via a pricing system that won’t work in our current system, let’s appoint a congestion czar and get serious about a transportation system that provides affordable access for all.

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Rosalie Ray is a PhD student in Urban Planning at Columbia University. Her research focuses on London's bus improvements in the 1990s and early 2000s.

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

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Congestion Pricing Won't Solve New York's Transportation Woes Tue, 05 Sep 2017 04:00:00 +0000
What's The [DATA] Point? $1.5 billion http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7131:what-s-the-data-point-1-5-billion http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7131:what-s-the-data-point-1-5-billion whats the data point


What's The Data Point? Episode 9 -- $1.5 billion, [You can download What's The [Data] Point? wherever you get your podcasts, including on iTunes]

For this episode of the podcast, we were joined by Alex Matthiessen, President of Blue Marble Project and Campaign Director for Move New York, the "congestion pricing" plan that aims to help repair and improve the city's mass transit, roads and bridges, while reducing traffic and creating more equity in tolling around the city.

Matthiessen expains the details of the Move New York plan and its place in this new, unique political moment -- Governor Cuomo has recently said that he's looking at some version of a congestion pricing plan and there is immense attention on how the city and state can improve mass transit, reduce traffic congestion, and repair, sustain, and expand the subway and other transportation options. Matthiessen addresses the next steps for Cuomo, whether Mayor de Blasio should come around to back Move New York or some version of it, and where things are heading for a new paradigm in New York transit.

Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think: Ben Max of GG (@TweetBenMax), Maria Doulis (@MariaDoulis) of CBC (@cbcny), and special guest Alex Matthiessen (@MoveNewYork). Listen below or download wherever you get your podcasts!

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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What's The [DATA] Point? $1.5 billion Thu, 17 Aug 2017 01:16:01 +0000