New Congestion Pricing Plan, Same Jeffrey Dinowitz

The recommendation of a modified congestion pricing plan put forth last week by the Traffic Congestion Mitigation Commission has elicited another editorial from Bronx Assembly Member Jeffrey Dinowitz. Tellingly, the piece, from this week’s Riverdale Press, starts off with talking points that fellow Assembly Member Richard Brodsky and "Keep NYC Dinosaur.jpgCongestion Tax Free" spokesman Walter McCaffrey have repeated again and again since the TCMC released its recommendation report:

The Traffic Congestion Mitigation Commission, whose job it was to
evaluate Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s congestion pricing plan, has
succeeded in only making a bad plan worse.

… it seems this new version has raised more questions than it has answered.

But rather than raising more questions, Dinowitz, for the most part, simply restates the same asked-and-answered arguments we’ve come to know by heart. Still, at the risk of repeating ourselves, we thought we’d answer them again, one by one, for old time’s sake.

Who could support a plan that creates a regressive tax on middle-class and working people from the Bronx and the outer boroughs while giving an exemption to drivers from New Jersey who are more likely to be able to afford such a tax?

According to census data, less than five percent of New Yorkers drive into Manhattan’s central business district for work. An analysis by the Tri-State Transportation Campaign and the Pratt Center for Community Development shows that in all but one state Assembly district in the city, households with a vehicle are 50 percent wealthier than those without. In nearly half of the districts — including Dinowitz’s — average income is twice as high. So actual figures suggest that the popular "regressive tax" cry is so much faux-populist bluster. Further, nearly all of the "middle-class and working people" Dinowitz and other pricing opponents claim to be speaking up for are now relying on a transit system that will benefit from congestion pricing.

As for the toll credit "exemption," New Jersey drivers would pay $8 to enter the CBD, same as everyone else, even if the money doesn’t go into the same pot. Are New Jerseyans really "more likely to be able to afford" a fee than New Yorkers? If so, Dinowitz offers no data to back the claim. Even if he did, the argument itself is a red herring intended to put New Yorkers on defense against "the other" — just as Dinowitz and his fellow pricing opponents have tried to cast the "Manhattan elite" as the beneficiaries of a plan designed mainly to improve access to Manhattan from outside the borough.

Also among my chief concerns is the fact that there have been no assurances that the money generated from the plan will actually be spent on improving mass transit.

Dinowitz must have missed out on the opportunity to get with McCaffrey and City Council Member David Weprin when they called a January press conference to raise this same issue. Thing is, state and city electeds were already working on a "lock box" to secure pricing revenues for transit, and the TCMC plan includes such a "dedicated transit account." Has Assemblyman Dinowitz actually read the commission recommendation?

There is no guarantee that the revenues generated by the plan will be as much as the city is claiming, and there is also no guarantee that the expenses involved in setting up and running this project won’t be even more costly than they expect.

This is technically true, but the same can be said of any government plan — or any business model, for that matter. What is known is the cost of doing nothing would be catastrophic for the MTA. Just ask Elliot Sander.

Furthermore, it is important to remember that in the initial MTA proposal, there was not a single improvement recommended for mass transit in the western half of the Bronx.

Though the city says there will be increased service on the 1 train and funding for Bus Rapid Transit service on Fordham Road, and there are references in PlaNYC to making better use of Metro-North and exploring new ferry service, Dinowitz has a point here. But instead of expending so much effort assailing a plan that would fund improvements to transit infrastructure that almost fifty percent of his constituents depend on, perhaps he could use his position as a state lawmaker to expedite and augment those upgrades. Of course, if the relative lack of transit options in the western Bronx mattered all that much to him, he probably would have been doing that already.

To make matters worse, it is shocking that the city has not done an environmental study for a project of this magnitude. There is no way of knowing, for example, if this plan will actually result in cleaner air for Manhattan or, even worse, perhaps more pollution for the residents of the Bronx.

Again, the commission report includes a recommendation for environmental monitoring to begin as soon as the plan is implemented, with adjustments to be made as needed. This is an especially spurious argument, since Dinowitz and other pricing foes would certainly shred any preemptive environmental study that didn’t back up their position, just as they have criticized the TCMC process, which itself was initiated after complaints that the mayor’s original plan was being forced through Albany. And what do you know, a revised plan approved by 13 members of a 17-member bi-partisan commission after months of public hearings isn’t good enough either.

There is the very real possibility that commuters will begin using the outer boroughs as a parking lot to avoid paying the congestion pricing fee.

Surely Dinowitz is aware that the city plans to institute residential parking permits to discourage park-and-ride activity. He must know that DOT has, for the last two weeks, held
neighborhood parking workshops in areas that would border the pricing
zone to gather public input on same, and that the pricing plan recommended by the commission includes an RPP provision. And he must know, if he’s done his homework, that the "edge effect" is a generally discredited phenomena that has not proven a problem in cities where congestion pricing is in place. In fact, research by the TCMC shows that congestion in border neighborhoods would actually decrease with pricing in effect. But reality-based evidence and research would not serve Dinowitz’s purpose nearly as well as another inflammatory broadside.

Among some of the commission’s other faults in their revised plan is the fact that the West Side Highway and FDR Drive will now be included in the congestion pricing zone so that someone driving from Bronx to Brooklyn would have to pay the fee, and that surcharges will be added to passengers in taxi cabs.

The commission’s recommendation to expand the cordon to include the West Side Highway and FDR Drive is indeed new, and since Dinowitz is opposed to the concept of congestion pricing it makes sense that he would be against broadening the plan’s scope — though he gives no credit to the commission for recommending the zone’s northern border be moved from 86th to 60th Street. As for taxi surcharges, in September Dinowitz complained that taxis and car services would be exempt, offering further confirmation that no matter how many times congestion pricing is reviewed, discussed and altered, the assemblyman and his cohorts will never be satisfied, and the possibility of yet another volley of hackneyed half-truths and outright obfuscations will always be as close as the next news cycle.