Friday, October 26, 2007

With Friends Like These...

The Congestion Commission held its Manhattan hearing last night and, as you'd expect, there was more support at the Hunter College venue than there's been so far at the other hearings-more sparsely attended than last night's. That being said, the level of support heard last night from the local and state elected officials was far from overwhelming.

In fact, as the NY Sun story this morning points out, the list of qualifiers was so long that you have to wonder to what extent the current plan-if, of course, it survives in anything close to its current form, will have any chance to succeed when it eventually is sent to the various legislatures for a vote.

As the Sun puts it: "Elected officials in districts that would be affected by Mayor Bloomberg's congestion pricing plan say that while they support the policy in principle, they have reservations about the details." The devil's really in the details here, and if these "small matters" aren't addressed than the whole plan will go down-courtesy of its supporters.

Many of the objections focused on the unfairness of charging residents of the zone when they leave it to commute outside-with Councilwoman Mendes describing how there are areas of her district where you need to walk for fifteen minutes in order to wait another fifteen for-"one of the worst buses in the city." She went on to ask why it was fair to charge someone from the Lower East Side the same $8 bucks for driving two blocks to the Drive. As the Sun says; "With this terrible bus service, one can't blame these residents for wanting to drive," Council Member Rosie Mendez added."

Councilman Dan Garodnick seconded the Mendes observation: "Mr. Garodnick also said there was "an inherent unfairness" in charging residents of the zone a fee to drive out of it." Others, like Assemblyman Micah Kellner, raised the possibility of removing the deduction that out-of-town drivers would get under the plan for tolls paid on the bridges: "Drivers entering the Lincoln and Holland tunnels should not pay a reduced fee, as the plan calls for, Mr. Kellner said. "The burden of congestion pricing should not fall disproportionately on residents inside the zone," he said."

This would be a surefire way to get the whole deal killed, and is the most salient example of how the plan's putative supporters may have a heavy hand in getting the kibosh put on the entire scheme. Many of the other objections focused on the arbitrary nature of the 85th Street demarcation line, with questions raised about how the line was chosen.

Many of the elected officials pointedly were worried about the ability of dedicating any funds from a congestion tax to the improvement of mass transit. And, if the Metro story this morning is right, they have every reason to be concerned. There's also a big question whether the system can accommodate the increased riders-and the ability of the MTA to do, well, almost anything: "The Metropolitan Transportation Authority might want congestion pricing, but it doesn’t have the money to pay for more bus and subway service. The MTA presented options to handle the increased ridership resulting from the traffic fee at Thursday’s meeting of the Congestion Mitigation Commission, which will determine the viability of congestion pricing."

And, since our application to speak was mysteriously deep-sixed, no one at last night's hearing underscored the unfairness of a $21 truck tax that has no correlation with any traffic reduction. At the Hofstra hearing, however, this issue was addressed: "Business owners said the proposal would hurt companies that must make multiple trips to Manhattan each day."Our industry is going to be majorly impacted," said Ron Billing, president of Ron's Rapid Delivery in Hicksville."

So it appears to us that the mayor's original plan has a long way to go before it sees the light of legislative day-and that likelihood isn't increased by the killing kindness exhibited last night by those legislators most inclines to be supportive of the congestion tax concept. What the objections last night did reveal, at least to us, that there are serious questions about the plan that simply can't be answered without a full and independent environmental review.