By Paul Steely White
What if you had to pay $3 for a subway trip and $114 for a monthly unlimited-ride MetroCard? Straphangers may soon pay that much if Albany doesn’t pass a congestion pricing plan by July 16.
Five hundred million dollars in federal funding is in the offing to help stave off fare hikes and pay for badly needed, short-term mass transit improvements in all five boroughs. But to get that money, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver must pass pending legislation by July 16 to enable Mayor Bloomberg’s congestion pricing plan.
Congestion pricing, which would assess an $8 fee on motor vehicles entering Manhattan below 86th St. weekdays between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m., will raise an additional $400 million per year for further transit improvements that will directly benefit the large majority of city residents especially middle- and low-income New Yorkers who take buses and subways.
In Community Boards 1, 2 and 3 in Downtown Manhattan, for example, census data shows that from 42 percent to 47 percent of people take public transportation to work in Manhattan’s central business district, while only 2 percent to 5 percent of residents drive. And, on average, subway and bus riders earn significantly less income than drivers.
What’s more, with almost a quarter of our local pollution coming from the transportation sector, car and truck emissions greatly exacerbate the city’s already high rates of asthma attacks, cancer and heart disease. Congestion pricing will lead to a huge decrease in single-occupancy commuter vehicles clogging and polluting our streets every day.
Manhattan south of 14th St. is one of the most mass transit-rich areas in the world. There are 58 subway stops and 415 express bus stops. These each move millions of people every day. If we want our mass transit to stay open, clean and affordable, we need a visionary strategy that both cuts traffic and provides revenue for transit for the long haul.
Simply put, there is no other viable solution on the table that meets these dual needs. Without the $500 million of federal start-up money and $400 million per year in fees, our transit system faces a projected $30 billion funding gap for future transit improvements.
The simple fact is that we need steps right now to reduce Manhattan’s traffic during peak hours. And we need to improve the air, public health and public transportation throughout the city, and particularly in Downtown Manhattan. The best way to do all of that is by getting Albany to approve congestion pricing by July 16.
White is executive director, Transportation Alternatives.