Consider congestion pricing


To the editor:

New York City has added 1.3 million people and more than a million jobs since 1990. The Bronx alone has gained more than 250,000 residents, and nearly 100,000 jobs during the same period.

But our transportation infrastructure is about the same as it was in the 1980s.

The New York state legislature has just days to approve a smart plan for modernizing our region’s bus, subway and commuter rail services. Most New Yorkers recognize the desperate need for more reliable and accessible transit services, so reform of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and funding for necessary improvements should be a no-brainer. But that is not necessarily the case in Albany.

Many legislators are hung up on the plan’s primary source of funding: congestion pricing. This is a toll on private cars and trucks that enter the Manhattan central business district south of 60th Street. Other world cities like London, Stockholm and Singapore have reduced traffic gridlock and increased funding for public transit with congestion pricing, and are happy with the results.

The proposal for Manhattan would involve a toll that varies based on traffic conditions, so it would be highest during rush hour and less on weekends, nights and holidays.

Opponents of congestion pricing are addicted to a car culture that rapidly growing urban centers can no longer afford. Only a fraction (13 percent) of Bronx residents regularly commute into Manhattan by private car, compared to 86 percent who use public transit. Those who drive do so largely because subway and bus alternatives are uncomfortable, inconvenient and unreliable. That is what must change.

Instead of objecting to congestion pricing, the legislature must demand transit investments that will make it easy to choose a fast-moving and timely bus or train rather than driving into a district where parking charges are routinely as much as $50 a day. They also should restrict dashboard placards that allow government workers to park their cars illegally and at no charge anywhere they choose.

(Government is the industry with the highest number of workers driving private cars into Manhattan).

Bronx residents have a lot riding on the funding of a new MTA capital plan that will bring four new Metro-North stops to the borough, a significant increase in elevator access to subway stations, re-routed and expanded bus service (including bus rapid transit and a predictable Bx5 service), and new signaling that will reduce subway delays and enhance reliability.

The cost of upgrading transit services is high: More than $40 billion over the next five years for the capital improvements, and many billions more to run the system.

Transit riders pay for about half the operating costs through the fare box. Businesses and other taxpayers contribute more than $5 billion a year in tax subsidies.

But many of the vehicle owners who benefit from a thriving city economy (and create the traffic congestion that costs the region more than $20 billion a year in delay and lost productivity) are not paying their fair share.

Transit services have deteriorated to a point where customers are leaving the system. The result is a crisis that threatens the continued vitality of every community. It demands immediate action by the state legislature through the adoption of congestion pricing as part of the state budget.

It also requires a better planning process for transit services — one that reflects local priorities and changing commuter patterns.

Only with these actions will New Yorkers get the transportation system that our city deserves.

Alessandra Biaggi, Kathryn Wylde

Biaggi is the Democratic state senator representing this part of the Bronx as well as parts of Westchester County. Wylde is president and chief executive of Partnership for New York City.