2007-05-04 / Columnists

From the Editor's Desk

Congestion Pricing: Not Your Common Cold
Commentary By Howard Schwach

Commentary By Howard Schwach

Mayor Michael Bloomberg abhors the middle class like nature abhors a vacuum.

He'd deny that, probably saying that some of his best friends are middle class, but he'd by lying.

Look at the facts.

Rich people are allowed to drink wine in public parks while they listen to Bach. Middle class people can't drink beer in public parks like our beach while they listen to, well, The Beach Boys, of course.

The mayor and his minions at the MTA want to add an extra lane at bridges and tunnels such as the Lincoln Tunnel. Those "Lexus Lanes" would be only for those willing to pay a hefty premium toll. Those lanes will certainly not be for the common man, but for Bloomberg's friends, who don't want to wait on line with the rest of us.

Bloomberg wants to do away with the law against "scalping" tickets to high-profile events. He does not care much that the law keeps ticket prices relatively stable and affordable. Take off the roof and the skies the limit. Who would benefit? His rich friends who want tickets to Broadway and sports events without having to muck about with the common man and who don't care much what the price might be.

Then, we have "congestion pricing." That does not take place when you have a head cold and go into your nearby pharmacy to buy a remedy.

That takes place when you want to drive from Rockaway to downtown Manhattan.

There are just too many cars in lower Manhattan, the mayor believes. They get in the way of his limousine friends, who then actually have to wait at stoplights.

The solution? Keep those truck drivers and pesky middle class drivers out of Manhattan by charging high fees to get in.

That's what congestion pricing is all about, after all.

It's just like a giant "Lexus Lane."

Only the rich need apply.

Under the mayor's plan, drivers would have to pay eight dollars a day to drive in lower Manhattan during rush hours. That comes out to more than $2,000 a year for those who use the streets each working day. That's a large chunk of change for a middle class person who prefers to drive rather than use the chaotic public transportation that defines the Rockaway experience for many residents.

Taxi cabs, cars with handicapped license plates and emergency vehicles would be exempt, although it escapes me why handicapped people would not have to pay the extra freight. Are they less able to pay because they are handicapped? Are they less able to drive in traffic? I fail to understand.

If you enter Manhattan over a bridge or through a tunnel with a toll, that toll would be deducted from your fee for that day. If you use a free bridge such as the Queensboro Bridge, you would have to pay the extra fee. If you start and end in the same zone, you would only have to pay four bucks, although I don't see how they will figure that out to collect the tolls, which will be paid through EZ-Pass.

Don't have an EZ-Pass? You'll have to pay by credit card or check within two days of entering Manhattan.

Sounds like a plan thought up by Wylie Coyote while he was planning on attacking Roadrunner.

Trucks, by the way, would have to pay a lot more. We don't need those pesky trucks and the things they deliver to middle class people, after all, do we?

Sam Schwartz, who once worked for the city, likes the plan. He says, "The rich will move faster and the poor will get better transit."

Let them eat cake.

He says that Queens and Brooklyn residents will benefit from the plan, but they don't yet understand how they will benefit.

Neither do I.

I don't go to Manhattan often, but I haven't been on the public bus in 40 years and haven't seen the inside of a subway car in 30.

When I do have to go to Manhattan for a sports event, a show, a restaurant, Central Park or to a doctor's appointment, I don't want to have to pay eight more bucks on top of the forty bucks that it would cost me to park. I already pay a heavy tax for driving into the city: tunnel tolls, parking, wear and tear on my nerves.

Bloomberg, of course, blows off the negative comments as he did those of the UFT.

Those people don't count, he says. They are against the city and against everything. They don't understand, he thinks, that only I know what's really good for the city because I am the mayor.

Of course, he didn't actually say that, he was only thinking it.

What he did say is, "It sounds like a lot of money, but you go to the movies, it's 12 bucks…so let's put some of this stuff in perspective here."

He added, "Motorists who drive into Manhattan tend to be people who can afford it."

Bloomberg's first problem with ruling this city is that he thinks that "Manhattan" equates with "New York City." He not only doesn't understand that the other four boroughs are different from Manhattan, he doesn't like the people who live there very much, doesn't trust them as he does those who live in Manhattan.

Very few people outside of Manhattan pay 12 bucks for a movie. Nor, do they pay eight bucks to visit the nearby city center.

Brooklyn City Councilman Lew Fidler had the proper answer for Bloomberg's comment.

"I think the comparison is totally inapt," he said. "People don't have to go to the movies, they often have to go to Manhattan. The whole concept is incredibly elitist and so is that comparison."

Elitist. That is the word that does the job. It describes Bloomberg to a "T."

Politicians and residents are lining up against the plan, and it may well not get past the New York State Legislature, which has to vote on any plan to increase the cost of coming into the city.

A number of politicians, including the council's Transportation Committee Chair, John Liu, who was recently in Rockaway for a hearing, have asked the mayor to hold off on his plan until the city provides viable alternatives such as more express buses, improved subway service and ferries.

"To impose fees without giving them feasible alternatives would be unfair," Liu said in a letter to the mayor.

Meanwhile, I did a little investigation on the Internet as to how the plan is working in London, the city the mayor points to as the model for New York City's plan.

It seems that the London plan has not been a success. The project has cost the city so much more than expected to administer that the cost to

motorists has tripled - that's right, tripled in the past two years. That would make the cost to motorists, in New York terms, $24 a day rather than $8. Start-up costs were expensive and the plan brought in far less than anticipated by London's city fathers.

All in all, many London critics say, the plan has been a monumental failure in monetary terms.

In addition, many of the inner-city stores have experienced more than a ten percent drop in revenue as people stay away from that area and shop elsewhere.

Perhaps the mayor should take a closer look at the "success" of the London experiment.

Bloomberg, however, is undeterred. He said that he would "fight like heck" to see his plan passed before he leaves office in 2009. We can only hope that he fails.

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