Wednesday, August 08, 2007

"Motorist Vilification and Taxation Plan"

There was a great piece in the Wall Street Journal last month (subscription required), that really exposes the mayor's congestion plan for what it is-a motorist vilification and taxation program that will do very little to reduce traffic and pollution. As Holman Jenkins underscores, "Listen to half an ear to the mayor and his acolytes, however, and their goal isn't easing congestion at all. It's raising money. The city's plan foresees only negligible improvement in traffic density and speeds, less than 8%, but millions for the city to spend on other priorities."

Jenkins goes on to highlight the dubious asthma prevention claims of the mayor and his supporters and further points out that, if traffic congestion was the real goal her, the mayor would be all for tolls on the East River bridges. "But something much bigger is afoot, and voters not just in New York should be paying attention."

The attention they should be paying is to the way the 6,000 cameras in London have become part of an elaborate surveillance system that makes Briton the most monitored society in the world. Even worse, this is all part of making motorists into a lucrative pinata-in Briton the cameras sent out 2.2 million traffic speeding tickets as a result of street cameras; "Tens of thousands more tickets were sent to drivers who had been photographed talking on cell phones or committing other minor offenses. More than one million of Briton's 33 million drivers are now one ticket away from losing their licenses." (added emphasis)

The implications here are far reaching-from both a financial as well as a personal privacy perspective. Think first of a mammoth PVB bolstered by a network of thousands of cameras all over the city streets. Now watch as the "fee" gets raised and drivers are bombarded by summonses, any number of which could be potentially challenged if the city actually had an equitable adjudication system.

As Jenkins observes, "The issue isn't cameras, but networks of cameras, combined with software to extract information from the pictures and match it with information held in databases. On top of it all, the issue is an overpowering political incentive to use the system to extract more and more money from motorists..."

All of which highlights what we have been saying all along. The mayor's plan is ill-conceived as a traffic relief program and, more in keeping with his propensity, is a plan to tax New Yorkers while making sure that they learn to behave better-or else!

If we need a better transit infrastructure-and more money to pay for it-there are much better ways to do this-as Comptroller Thompson's discussion of the MTA's proposed fare hikes in today's NY Post, makes abundantly clear. The State has shortchanged the city for too long and, as Thompson says, we need to reverse our priorities and recognize mass transit as an "economic engine."

In order to do this we need to coalesce around a more comprehensive mass transit plan, The mayor's congestion tax is a red herring, one with significant social costs, that doesn't address the problems in the most constructive manner; and by failing to do so, prevents us from developing the most optimal solutions to the overall public transit crisis. With the federal congestion money in abeyance, we need to look for a more creative solution.