Congestion Pricing Debate

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As debate continues to swirl regarding Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s controversial congestion-pricing plan, one Queens City Councilmember is calling on the administration to provide more public transit options allowing all city residents a 30-minute commute into Manhattan before further examining the plan.
City Councilmember John Liu, Chair of the Council’s Transportation Committee, called his own suggestion a stretch, however, one that he believes can happen.
“It can absolutely be done by greatly expanding express bus service all throughout the city; implementing very new high-speed ferry service and also greatly expanding access to the Long Island Rail Road and Metro North,” Liu said, during a recent business forum at Queens College.
Liu, who said he has not supported or ruled out Bloomberg’s plan to charge drivers $8 and truck drivers $21 to enter Manhattan, along with Councilmember Leroy Comrie, Chair of the Queens Delegation, sent a letter to Bloomberg saying real transportation options were necessary before exploring his plan.
“To impose fees on these commuters without giving them feasible alternatives would be unfair,” Liu said. “So let’s first provide every New Yorker with a fast and affordable commute to Manhattan, much the same way every New Yorker should live within a 10-minute walk to a park.”
Meanwhile, opponents to the mayor’s congestion-pricing idea continue to assail that the charge is an unfair tax that would hurt residents of the outer boroughs and shift traffic from Manhattan to the other four boroughs.
“I would be more than happy to invite the mayor to visit Jamaica Avenue and other parts of Queens to view the congestion problems faced by the residents of the borough each day,” Comrie said. “I would challenge the notion that traffic issues in Queens are any less problematic than those in Manhattan.”
In addition to lack of public transportation options, business groups spearheaded by the Queens Chamber of Commerce have denounced the plan saying it would have a crippling effect on businesses.
Bloomberg, who originally greeted the plan with hesitancy, announced the details of the plan during an Earth Day speech highlighting a number of future initiatives for the city.
The congestion price model is based on a similar model implemented in London in 2003, which has decreased traffic in that city.
However, detractors of congestion pricing both in Queens and in London are saying the success overseas has not come without additional consequences and costs.
According to a report published in 2005 by the London Chamber of Commerce, 84 percent of businesses reported a drop in revenue, 63 percent said they had fewer customers and 37 percent of respondents reduced staffing after the congestion pricing charge was implemented.
“Clearly, the congestion charge has not delivered the benefits promised at the outset,” Paul Biggs, a spokesperson for the Association of British Drivers (ABD) told The Queens Courier by e-mail from London. “It is a regressive tax that hits the poorest hardest, and doesn’t deter the better-off.”
“Little money has been raised for public transport, due to the high costs of implementing, running and enforcing the scheme,” Biggs continued. “There has been a detrimental effect on business, less people visiting London, and the charge has not improved air quality. Congestion is no better than before the charge was introduced.”
In addition, Biggs said the comparison of London to New York is difficult to make. Gas prices in London are nearly $8 per gallon, and public transportation costs in London are higher than New York.
“My warning to New Yorkers is, if you accept the implementation of congestion pricing, then you have written the city a blank check, with little or no control over what will be written on it in the future,” he said. “And, the promised ‘benefits’ are unlikely to be delivered from what is a regressive tax that will hit the less-well-off hardest.”