Transportation policy: intractable opposition

Richard Ravitch’s commission finally made some recommendations about what to do about the MTA. The proposals include a broad range of funding sources, including a small payroll tax in the MTA’s 12-county territory and tolling the East River bridges. From The New York Times (“Mixed Reviews on Transit Plan” by William Neuman and Jeremy W. Peters, 2008-12-04):

State legislators, mainly from Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx, said the plan by a state commission headed by Richard Ravitch, a former authority chairman, would unfairly burden drivers from their districts.

“It’d be an extreme hardship to have to pay a toll every time,” said Assemblywoman Helene E. Weinstein, a Democrat from Brooklyn. “We’re talking about people going to work, people going to doctor’s appointments, elderly people.”

The commission’s plan calls for the revenue from the new bridge tolls — about $600 million a year — to be earmarked for an aggressive expansion of bus service in the city and surrounding counties. It became immediately clear that the two main prongs of the plan would each face very different receptions in the State Legislature, whose approval is required before the plan can be put into effect.

“Any solution that disproportionately burdens middle- and working-class people who live in the Bronx, Queens and Brooklyn is not a fair way to deal with this, and that’s what tolling the bridges would do,” said Assemblyman Michael N. Gianaris, a Democrat from Queens. Mr. Paterson said that his staff would draft legislation to carry out the commission’s proposals. But he acknowledged that there might be changes made during negotiations with the Legislature.

How many working class and middle class citizens of any borough of New York City do they think drive compared to the number who take some form of public transportation? The true answer is probably very few in the region, and even fewer in the five boroughs. So, why are legislators in the city always so adamantly opposed to something that so clearly benefits the majority of their constituents?

It’s really time to let go of this myth that automobiles are the gateway to the middle class. Having automobiles thrust upon New York City made the air dirtier, the streets less safe, and has pushed respiratory diseases upwards. We depend on cars for many things, but there’s no reason we need to depend on them as much as we do.

Then, these articles very rarely touch on a larger problem: the city has very little say about its own transportation system. It’s not allowed to toll its own streets without the approval of a legislature that includes people who don’t represent the city, and the MTA controls the Subway.

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