STATE SENATOR TONY AVELLA
Once again, congestion pricing plans, which include the imposition of tolls on the East River bridges, have been circulating throughout the city. Since Mayor Michael Bloomberg first began to push his own congestion pricing plan in 2008, I have been vehemently against congestion pricing in any form whether it is through charging drivers a fee to enter Manhattan or through the implementation of tolls on the East River bridges. Congestion pricing in any form is nothing more than an undue tax on working and middle class families and small businesses. That is why I recently held a press conference with Assemblymember David Weprin, the Queens Chamber of Commerce and the Queens Civic Congress, announcing legislation I will be introducing in the State Senate that would prohibit the installation of tolls on any bridges controlled and operated by the City of New York, which include the East River bridges.
The imposition of tolls on the East River bridges, including the Willis Avenue, Third Avenue, Queensborough, Williamsburg, Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridges, is not a revenue-generating option that the residents of this city should be forced to endure. Such tolls would place an unfair burden upon Queens, Brooklyn, Bronx and Manhattan residents who would be forced to pay to travel between the boroughs. Given the always increasing cost of living in the city and with constant bus and subways fare hikes, city residents are in no position to again face another huge increase in their daily living expenses.
Penalizing businesses, especially small businesses, and individuals for using their cars is not a viable option or solution for reducing traffic. New Yorkers still need to get to work and conduct business and raising taxes should never be the first option. It would have a devastating effect on those families near or at the poverty level. Everyone agrees that we need to address traffic congestion problems throughout the city, but the first step has to be improving mass transit.
A popular plan being circulated by an organization called Move NY, led by former Transportation Commissioner Sam Schwartz, would charge all drivers that enter Manhattan by crossing either the East River or 60th Street a toll, while drivers on bridges linking the other boroughs, would see their tolls go down. According to Move NY, this would lead to more funds dedicated to transportation in the region, with the majority of it going to improved transit service.
In a perfect world, this plan could work. Unfortunately, we don’t live in a perfect world; we live in the real world, where the next fiscal crisis could be just around the corner. What happens to this plan then? What happens when the legislature raids the funds dedicated to transportation, which has happened time and again? How can this plan guarantee that the tolls for the outer borough bridges don’t go up again, when more funds are needed? As the saying goes, there are only two guarantees in life-death and taxes.
In the end, congestion pricing and any plan to impose tolls on the East River bridges is merely another revenue generating plan, not a traffic-reducing plan. It should be the responsibility of the leaders of the city to find ways of decreasing traffic congestion without placing a new fiscal burden upon those who can least afford it.
Avella represents the 11th Senate District