Saturday, August 04, 2007

Commuting Traffic Nonsense

In what was quite a fascinating round table discussion, three of our favorite bloggers sat down with NBC's Day DeDapper at the channel's News Forum for a discussion of politics. Naturally, the talk with Sewell Chan, Liz Benjamin and Azi Payabarah got around to the mayor's congestion taxing plan.

All three of these political observers agreed that the mayor was in for a difficult time in the next few months; and see any number of pitfalls in the way before any kind of acceptance of the mayor's plan can be achieved. Liz gets to the core of the mayor's problem: the substantive, political and personality differences between the Assembly Democrats (and many Democratic Senators we might add) and the mayor.

Here's her money quote: "...what I mean is that in the long term...this might be a question of should we kill the congestion pricing now or should we kill it later as far as the Assemble Democrats are concerned. I mean, I don't know exactly what's going to happen over the next few months that's going to significantly change their minds...And one of the things that really angers them regarding the mayor and the way he approached this was that he sort of seems to brush them aside and sort of downplayed their importance when it came to his plan."

She then goes on to point out that the mayor's aristocratic condescension really put the legislators off; "He just like, this is a great plan, this is going to work, it's important to reduce asthma, to reduce pollution, etc.,and yeah, yeah, it's the legislature yeah, they're going to do it. So I think that really made them-offended a number of legislators.

Sewell Chan goes on to say that the mayor still has time to improve his "care and feeding" of the legislators, and he's right, but little we've seen so far indicates that his skills lie in this area. Which leads the discussion into the establishment of the commission, and Azi's comments that it appears to him that there are any number of ways for the plan to fall-and the commission only recommends, but the legislature approves. As he points out; "But lawmakers still have to step forward."

The congestion tax discussion ends with DeDapper asking the three pundits about whether they're optimistic about the mayor's chance for success. All three agreed with the question: "None of you would be as optimistic as the mayor at this point?" Of course Bloomberg set the optimism bar pretty high here.

The real conundrum in all of this is how this commission process will unfold. The commission, as far as we know, is without both staff and any investigation resources. How will the commissioners, legislators and not policy experts, review the mayor's plan in order to determine whether its environmental assumptions are valid-after all, the mayor himself is arguing that any alternatives to his proposal must reduce traffic by the same 6.3% that he claims his own scheme does.

What this means is that all of the congestion relief, asthma reduction and pollution amelioration supposedly integral to the mayor's plan must be tested empirically. How will this be done? Will a thorough and comprehensive evaluation of the plan's assertions find a wide gap between the rhetoric of the mayor and his supporters-some of whom take the car service in from Bay Ridge-and the actual impact of his planned tax? Will the mayor balk when the call for an EIS is made, giving fodder to the critics of the plan?

We agree that there is a great deal of time between now and the time when a final decision is made on all of this. One thing we are confident about, however, is that the more people find out about the real hardships and limitations of the mayor's plan, the more they will join with those legislators that are skeptical, and remain opposed to this new tax.