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Congestion pricing: The wrong idea & wrong time

Congestion cameras are pictured on Second Ave. and E.60th Thursday, March 20, 2024 in Manhattan, New York. When congestion pricing goes into effect it will cost drivers $15 to cross into Queens on the free Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge. (Barry Williams for ˵Ӱ)
Congestion cameras are pictured on Second Ave. and E.60th Thursday, March 20, 2024 in Manhattan, New York. When congestion pricing goes into effect it will cost drivers $15 to cross into Queens on the free Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge. (Barry Williams for ˵Ӱ)

I am a lifelong New Yorker who grew up riding a bike or taking the subway everywhere throughout the five boroughs. Now, 70 years on, I still use both to get around. In that time, I’ve been a full-time taxi driver, a driving instructor, delivery truck driver, and served as chair of transportation committees of two Community Boards, in Manhattan and Brooklyn. I now serve as the Queens County Commissioner on the .

I’ve seen this city change in many ways — like having more than 100,000 “For-Hire Vehicles” on the roads (while the number of drivable linear lane miles has decreased), and the flood of Amazon and other last-mile delivery vehicles as well as all the double-parked vehicles.

Congestion isn’t just in Manhattan anymore. It’s particularly acute and noticeable in Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx, where the local and highway traffic is equal to — or even exceeds — what happens in Manhattan. This would only get worse if congestion pricing was implemented, since there has not been consideration given to the increase in vehicles that would now be looking to park in the areas outside the zone and close to public transportation — like Long Island City, Sunnyside, Mott Haven, Uptown Manhattan, parts of Brooklyn, as well as Jersey City and Hoboken.

Congestion pricing, as a concept, developed about 15 years ago based on certain criteria and dynamics that existed then but have changed drastically since. We have more traffic agents writing out parking tickets than assisting with traffic flow, unlike other international cities where there are agents at all major intersections. The air quality was also much worse 15 years ago and has been improving steadily.

The proposed is backwards — the pain is front-loaded, and any benefits will take time to be apparent. The better approach is to improve public transit with expanded and reliable service, and people must feel safe — then we can re-consider congestion pricing.

The MTA also has a problem relative to confidence and trust from New Yorkers. This is an agency that took 16 years to spend $11 billion to build a new rail terminal (that took almost 50 years to go from idea to construction) and then neglected to buy the additional cars for it.

There is also a built-in contradiction regarding reducing traffic below 60th St. and new revenue. As the number of vehicles decreases, so does the associated toll revenue.

To fund transit upgrades, two relatively new sources of revenue coming into the state present themselves: tax revenues from legalized cannabis sales and online and casino gambling. The just-passed is expected to generate $3 billion per year (and why shouldn’t we look at the toll and airport revenue collected by the Port Authority, an entity even less accountable than the MTA?)

Years ago, we had a commuter tax on those traveling to the city for work. This was discontinued because of political considerations. That tax could have contributed approximately $13 billion to mass transit infrastructure improvements. There were some economic inequalities with it, but we should revisit the concept, and maybe only tax that part of an individual’s income above $400,000.

My point is that the revenue sources exist now — without layering an entirely new and burdensome mechanism on daily life — if the political will can be found to use them to fund the maintenance and proper capital projects of the MTA.

Congestion pricing may work in some European cities, but NYC is not as compact as they are, so comparisons aren’t as applicable. We are the only major city in the country where there is no interstate highway connecting to the core or city center. This makes it much harder to enter or leave, especially for commercial vehicles — just look at the tremendous backups at the tunnels and bridges.

New York City has serious transportation issues. We have under-invested in transit and road infrastructure for years even as our population has grown. But the challenges are solvable if smart individuals who know and understand the rhythms of the city, its ebbs and flows, apply themselves to the problems, and are not influenced by small advocacy groups who do not represent the millions of hard-working people of this city who work long hours.

New Yorkers just want to be able to get safely and efficiently to work, to the doctor or hospital, or travel to see their friends and families.

Bader is a former yellow taxi driver who now runs a printing business in Queens and serves as a commissioner on the Taxi and Limousine Commission. This op-ed does not represent any official position of the TLC.

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