David Weprin: Against Congestion Charging Because It Hurts The Outer Boroughs; Most Pols Afraid To Take Opinion On Matter

From NY Times (“Bigger Push for Charging Drivers Who Use the Busiest Streets” by William Neuman, November 24, 2006):

One of the most outspoken opponents of congestion pricing in New York has been David I. Weprin, a City Council member who represents some neighborhoods in eastern Queens that are far from subway lines and where residents with jobs in Manhattan are more likely to drive to work.

He said congestion pricing amounted to an unfair tax on residents in those areas, many of whom can ill afford it.

“The potential for causing hardship to people who rely on their cars in boroughs other than Manhattan is too great to try to implement congestion pricing at this point,” Mr. Weprin said.

In response, advocates said revenue from a congestion pricing program should be reserved for public transportation improvements that would help the outer boroughs. For instance, if new or faster bus routes could bring residents into Manhattan or to subway stations more efficiently, they may be more willing to forgo driving. That would also help answer critics who have said congestion pricing is nothing more than a new tax that would go straight into the city’s general budget.

Most of all, the advocates of congestion pricing have their eyes on the long-term strategic plan for the city being prepared by Deputy Mayor Daniel L. Doctoroff. The plan is a response to predictions that the city will add one million residents by 2025, and figuring out how to keep people and vehicles moving around an ever more crowded city will be an important part of it. The activists hope that it will include a recommendation for some form of congestion pricing.

Mr. Doctoroff refused to talk about what the plan would include, but he said he was aware that traffic is a concern.

“It’s clear the level of congestion is an inhibitor to growth,” Mr. Doctoroff said. “We believe that smart growth is good, and therefore we need to provide additional capacity on every mode of transportation.” That, he said, includes city streets, and he added, “How we do that, that’s what we’re thinking through now.”

I can’t say I know what the scope should be, or how high the charges, but it seems to me that congestion charging makes sense. If billions of dollars per year is being lost in traffic jams due to unnecessarily burned fuel and wasted labor time, why not?

But it’s hard not to be sensitive to Weprin’s objection. Considering the vast majority of the city doesn’t live in Manhattan, it really is high time to consider that the outer boroughs of New York City could really use improved subway service. If you live in Brooklyn and work in The Bronx, you probably have to drive. If you live in Queens, you probably have to drive unless you’re lucky enough to live near a subway line. And if you live or work in Staten Island, you have to often drive no matter what.

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