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The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman


    NYC Congestion Pricing Plan Stagnant in Albany, for the Benefit of The City

    New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s congestion pricing plan, one component of his “PlaNYC 2030: A Greener and Greater New York” plan, has been stalled in the State Senate, and is unlikely to be passed. As a result of missing the Apr. 7 deadline, the state has forfeited $354 million in federal assistance that will now be allocated to other U.S. cities.

    Although the estimated $490 million the plan would have raised each year, after being fully implemented, would have been a much valued source of funding for the city’s aging and overcrowded mass transit system, ultimately the plan is better off dead.

    Congestion fees in Manhattan would be $8 for cars and $21 for trucks traveling south of 60th St. during weekdays from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., with certain vehicles and routes being exempt from the fee. Although the idea was to reduce traffic, people traveling the outer boroughs, especially the Bronx, would still most likely do so by car. This creates a regressive tax on lower and middle income families who might not to be able to afford the extra $50 a week for the daily commute.

    Traffic will not be initially reduced, because the mass transit system is not currently equipped to handle the extra bodies, and there is no plan to improve New York’s subway and bus system before the pricing plan would be implemented. Anyone who has ever taken a New York City subway during “rush hour” knows that the system can barely handle its current traffic, and people would still opt to go by car, even if they couldn’t afford it, rather being stuck in a subway station and late to work.

    Alternatively, since mass transit is unlikely to improve, taxi use — taxis are immune to tolls — is likely to increase, which won’t ease traffic concerns. New York State Assemblyman Sheldon Silver also points out that commuters will merely choose to park outside the congestion pricing zone, creating even more traffic and pollution outside the area, and, presumably, more parking lots to meet the demand.

    The Congestion Pricing zone corresponds to Manhattan’s business district, and perhaps traffic would decrease in this area, but it could also effectively increase traffic in other areas, such as Harlem, Bedford-Stuyvesant and the south Bronx. These districts have some of the highest asthma rates in the city and would have the most to lose from increase traffic corresponding to more pollution. In addition, camera installations for tracking purposes raise concerns about civil liberties.

    Although heavy NYC traffic is still a significant problem, the Keep NYC Free Coalition, which opposes congestion pricing plans, points out that the plan would probably not significantly reduce traffic, and alternative means to reduce traffic may be more effective, and far less costly. According to their website,, mass transit use is increasing at a rate faster than population expansion; meanwhile, the number of vehicles on the road is naturally decreasing.

    These facts suggest that the sources of traffic concerns are not necessarily the number of cars on the road, but, rather, mundane things like double-parked vehicles, blocking the box, and poor construction site management. These problems do not require congestion pricing, which brings with it expensive infrastructure, to fix.

    People living in places in the outer boroughs of Queens and Brooklyn often do not have a convenient mass transit system available to them, and would have to somehow travel to get to an already overcrowded subway. By directing funds intelligently, directly into the mass transit system, rather then to a congestion pricing plan with a faulty premise, and by managing traffic flow at the source, the city can decrease traffic and pollution and improve mass transportation.

    The infrastructure that congestion pricing brings with it will be more costly than the revenue generated by it, according to the Keep NYC Free Coalition. New York City’s Independent Budget Office projects the Mass Transit Authority’s (MTA) 2008 operating deficit would be at $799 million MTA fiscal year 2008, exceeding $1.45 billion in fiscal year 2009. The plan would recoup no losses in 2008, and would raise only an estimated $200 million in 2009. Clearly, the congestion pricing will not pay for itself, not even if the federal grant was received. In these times of economic downturn, the city can’t afford to place extra financial burden on its inhabitants.

    A congestion tax is a tax on business, which without any alternative mass transit system, would be forced to pay $21 dollars for trucks carrying goods and service vehicles entering the congestion zone. This price, would, of course, be passed down to the consumer, making life even more expensive for people living in a city that ranks among the most highly taxed in the nation.

    I am not upset to see the Apr. 7 deadline pass without the Congestion Pricing bill coming to a vote, meaning that the system will probably not get actualized due to a lack of federal funds. It is the responsibility of the state and municipal governments, therefore, to investigate the implementation of an effective, in terms of functionality and cost, traffic reduction plan. Traffic congestion pricing is simply an expensive and unnecessary behemoth which succeeds in spending money and appearing to tackle important issues but actually accomplishing nothing.

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