Fix NYC with Better, More Equitable Transit

This fall Governor Cuomo convened the “Fix NYC” advisory panel “to address the pressing issue of heavy congestion on New York City roads and highways, while producing a dedicated funding stream for the MTA.” We hope that the panel and the Governor will seize the moment and come forward with a bold and equitable plan. 

RPA has a long track record of advocating for congestion pricing, from our our Third Regional Plan released in 1996 writing “rather than increases in general taxation rates, greater emphasis should be given to methods of finance that create visible links between fees collected and services provided,” to participating in fora dating back to 2003 with groups like the Eno Transportation Foundation to explore congestion pricing in New York, to rallying support for congestion pricing with public campaigns in the late 2000’s, to endorsing the 2015 MoveNY plan to make the City’s tolling system fairer.

And congestion pricing is an important component of our recently released Fourth Regional Plan for the New York, New Jersey and Connecticut metropolitan area. The Fourth Plan finds that our region’s economy is thriving but we still need to do more to ensure that we continue to remain an attractive place for current and future residents. This includes overhauling, modernizing and expanding our crumbling transit system.

Transit has always helped make our region more affordable, and with the right policies could do even more (widening the range of places where you could create affordable housing within reasonable commutes of jobs). It also has the potential to make our region more equitable (by creating more reliable service for residents who depend on transit to get to work and school, and by expanding transit access to communities that have traditionally lacked it).

Better transit can also help incentivize people to leave their cars behind, reducing congestion, as well as traffic crashes and pollution. But in order to improve transit, to modernize and expand it, requires both funding and political will.

The Fourth Plan recommends the adoption of a congestion pricing plan like MoveNY to raise more than $1 billion annually for roads and transit, while also reducing traffic and eliminating toll shopping. 

MoveNY’s plan calls for tolling the only untolled crossings in our area, the East River Bridges, as well as north-south avenues entering the core of Manhattan. At the same time you could reduce tolls on the other crossing such that all seven East River bridges and tunnels charge the same amount. To reduce backups, tolls could be collected electronically, with the price varying by time of day to encourage fewer people to drive at peak times.

Right now, even though there is no toll on the East River Bridges they are not really “free”. They are paid for by taxpayer dollars, including from many taxpayers who never drive. That is a regressive way to pay for our infrastructure.

On the other hand, a road pricing plan that funds transit is inherently equitable. The Community Service Society’s most recent analysis that just four percent of the city’s outer-borough working residents commute to jobs in Manhattan by vehicle and could be subject to a congestion fee. This compares with 56 percent of outer-borough residents who use mass transit to commute to work in Manhattan, the other boroughs or outside the city. Of the four percent who drive to jobs in Manhattan, the overwhelming majority have moderate and higher incomes. Congestion pricing is a way to ensure that everyone pays their fair share for the infrastructure they use and we generate revenue for transit for those who need it most. 

We hope that the Fix NYC panel’s recommendations to the Governor will be ambitious, creating a sizable dedicated revenue stream to fund the much needed upgrades to our region’s transit and benefitting New Yorkers who need it the most. And we hope the Governor shows the leadership to move forward with these recommendations towards a more equitable region with better transit and less traffic for all. 


Regional Assembly 2011

“New York does have congestion pricing. . . People are paying to drive, they are paying a congestion charge that amounts – collectively – to $13 billion a year… Those proceeds don’t go to anything new, they don’t go to stretching our infrastructure in ways that are constructive… Those expenses are expressed in wasted time, excess strain on our infrastructure… and in fuel that comes from idling in traffic… They are a drain on our economy.”

David Bragdon, Director, New York City Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability

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