The City Council last Tuesday passed Mayor Michael Bloomberg's congestion pricing plan by a vote of 30 to 20. On Monday, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, bowing to the wishes of Assembly Democrats in conference, refused to let it come to the floor for debate. Congestion pricing is dead.
We hail the legislators' perspicacity. Few worse officially promulgated ideas have come to New York City in the 110 years since Queens, Brooklyn, The Bronx, Manhattan and Staten Island were consolidated into one municipality in 1898.
We applaud and share the desire of the powers that be to alleviate some of the traffic and its attendant problems such as pollution, that chokes the city. All congestion pricing would have accomplished, however, would have been to impose a greater burden on the other boroughs. In Queens, for example, congestion pricing as it was presented, would have added to pollution and parking problems and placed a greater burden on an already crammed-to-the-rafters mass transit system.
The monies realized from the $8 per car and $21 per truck fee imposed on vehicles driving into Manhattan below 60th Street from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays were touted as being earmarked for mass transit. Indeed, those who mourn congestion pricing's demise have already adopted the hortatory attitude of parents chastising toddlers. "When the people don't have their new busses and they have to wait longer for the subway that congestion pricing would have paid for, they'll realize how wrong they were," some politicians- mostly representing Manhattan constituencies- are saying.
We quote them another adage we were raised with: "Experience is a wise teacher". Experience has taught us that almost without exception every time some new scheme to raise money for public purposes comes along, the monies raised seldom, if ever, are applied as they were meant to be. Congestion pricing would not immediately provide funding to the city's mass transit system, which is already underfunded and by rights ought to receive a major cash infusion before it can take on more commuters. It would be years before funds generated by congestion pricing bought one new bus or realigned one wheel on a subway car. The city missed out on $354 million in federal funding when the congestion pricing plan failed to pass by the Monday deadline. That seems like a lot of money- and it is, no doubt about that- but measured against the city's multi-billion-dollar annual budget, it is inconsequential and in actual fact, would not have helped implement congestion pricing or alleviate the strain on an already jam-packed mass transportation system to any great extent.
We know of no- repeat, no- Queens residents who drive into Manhattan during the morning or evening rush hour for the fun of it. We no of no- repeat, no- Queens residents who would welcome fleets of cars parking on already crammed streets so their drivers could pack onto already jammed subways and busses to ride into Manhattan. We can think of no circumstances under which more traffic would alleviate the pollution that already afflicts Queens neighborhoods.
Congestion pricing would penalize everyone who has to drive into Manhattan, but would offer no compensation in return. It was a thinly disguised commuter tax that would have been imposed on residents of the other boroughs. It would have allowed easier use of the central business district only to those so fortunate as to live there. It had no merits whatever.
Congestion pricing is dead- for now. For the sake of the entire city, let's hope it stays that way.