Congestion pricing nearing a vote

Congestion pricing advocates are making their final efforts to persuade city and state lawmakers to support a congestion pricing plan that would decrease traffic in Manhattan’s central business district as well as raise money for mass transportation projects.
The controversial plan, which would charge cars $8 and trucks $21 to enter Manhattan south of 60th Street during the weekdays from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., is quickly approaching the state and federal deadline that would qualify the city to receive $354.5 million to help implement the plan and provide increased mass transit options.
Federal authorities had originally set their deadline for ninety days after the legislature session began, making it in fact April 7. The state legislature originally set a March 31 deadline last summer to approve or reject a plan.
“Mayor Bloomberg is pushing all of the councilmembers and legislators very hard on his plan, and there won’t be any vote until there is an overall agreement that has been signed on by a council as a whole and the state legislature as a whole,” said City Councilmember John Liu, who is the Chair of the Transportation Committee.
Overall, New York State voters oppose the congestion-pricing proposal by 50 to 33 percent margin, but voters support the plan by a 60 to 30 percent margin if the fees collected are dedicated entirely to mass transit, according to a recent Quinnipiac University poll.
Although congestion-pricing proponents maintain they will create a lockbox to ensure funds raised go directly to improvements to mass transit, the Quinnipiac poll found that 50 percent of responders were skeptical that the money would go completely to fund mass transit projects.
Meanwhile, city transportation officials answered questions from City Councilmembers on Monday, March 24, and a public hearing lasted until the late hours of the night to discuss the topic.
Many experts predict that the City Council, with the backing of Speaker Christine Quinn, will pass the congestion plan and approve a home rule message that would go to the state legislature for a final vote.
“The benefits so far outweigh any of the negatives, the concept of inaction is simply, in my opinion, not an option,” Quinn said. “We have to seize this moment to create a sustainable revenue source for mass transit.”
Bloomberg also received a key backing from new Governor David Paterson, who announced his support for the plan only days before the Senate introduced the piece of legislation.
Currently, legislators are debating whether to include language in the bill that would charge drivers coming into the city from New Jersey a fee - something that is absent from the proposal.
However, Queens City Councilmember David Weprin, who is Chair of the Council’s Finance Committee, said that would not be enough to get him to support the plan because he believes the people from Queens and Brooklyn who drive into the city would be hurt the most.
“Those are the only ones that would be paying for the entire MTA revenue stream,” Weprin said. “That’s totally absurd and ridiculous and unfair.”
In the legislature, the State Assembly could provide the most opposition to the plan as Bloomberg has recently hosted private meetings with downstate assemblymembers trying to convince them to support the proposal.
“I’m not seeing anyone move towards the mayor’s plan,” said Queens Assemblymember Rory Lancman of his colleagues.

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