First, Better Transit Service, Then, ?
Rockaway residents spoke out loudly in opposition to the Mayor's controversial congestion pricing plan, at a town hall meeting in Ozone Park on Tuesday night, hosted by City Councilman Joseph P. Addabbo, Jr.
The congestion pricing plan, part of Mayor Michael Bloomberg's PlanNYC initiative for a cleaner city, is expected to be voted on in the coming weeks by the City Council. The plan would charge motorists $8 to enter Manhattan south of 60 Street from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays.
The mayor's congestion pricing expert, Rohit Aggarwala, Director of Long Term Planning and Sustainability, was on hand at the meeting to formally present the plan and to defend it to the community.
Aggarwala told the meeting participants that congestion pricing is essential to meet the demands of a growing population and to improve the air quality of the city by emphasizing the use of mass transit to and from Manhattan.
Residents, however, were outraged over what they consider to be a tax on working class New Yorkers. They said that the plan was not even worth considering and were skeptical that Rockaway would benefit from improved subway and bus service, should the plan be implemented.
Democratic District Leader Lew Simon, perhaps the most vocal critic of the plan at the meeting, was angered at the present lack of transit efficiency on the peninsula and argued that congestion pricing would only add to the misery, as more people turn to mass transit for the commute to Manhattan.
"I see nothing in this plan that will improve our district at all," Simon said. "All the money will go towards taking care of Manhattan."
Simon, like Addabbo and nearly every person in attendance, was opposed to the plan, mostly due to the fact that it only benefits Manhattan environmentally and financially.
"I am nauseous from hearing your presentation," he continued. "I am opposed to your plan; it is a waste of our time. It is another tax we don't need and if you held this meeting in Rockaway I could guarantee you that every seat in the auditorium would be filled and they'd stone you."
Belle Harbor resident and retired firefighter, Joe Hartigan, had his own share of sarcasm for the Mayor's representative, arguing that Rockaway has the fewest transportation options in the city.
"Queens has five times the population of Staten Island and its residents get 400 express buses a day," he said. "We get four in Rockaway!"
"You throw money at Staten Island like a sailor on shore leave and we get nothing," Hartigan continued.
Leo Fahey, a lifetime Rockaway resident, using similar logic to that of others from Rockaway, said his son took more than four hours to get home one night from Williamsburg, Brooklyn. He elaborated that the transit system is inadequate to support a higher volume of people taking the subway and buses to work.
"How can anyone in the world and any of us in Rockaway without an adaptable transit system support this plan? It relies mainly on something that might, maybe, somewhere in the future, get better," Fahey said.
Addabbo, who voiced his strong opposition to the congestion pricing plan, said that the plan started with good intention and made for great dialogue, but it has been transformed from an environmental initiative to a plan solely based on financial gain.
He said this meeting was held to determine if his constituents feel this plan would be beneficial to their district. In an effort to determine their opinions, in addition to the public speaking portion of the evening, Addabbo took a poll before and after the meeting to see what initial thoughts were, as compared to those once his constituents understood all aspects of the plan.
As the night went on, the consensus grew against Bloomberg's plan. Most people were not convinced by Aggarwala's presentation.
Addabbo says he is against the plan due to the simple fact that it will not benefit the people of his district.
"There is no benefit to my people before congestion pricing," he said. "And there will be no benefit after. Therefore, I am against the plan."
Addabbo says the transit system must get better before the discussion on congestion pricing continues.
"We don't get new buses, we get no extra train service, and I am supposed to think the service will improve once we add 164,000 riders to our already unreliable transit system," he added.
Aggarwala counters Addabbo's belief that this is a financial issue. He contends that the mayor's plan is all about saving New York's environment.
"If we are going to grow we need to plan for our future or we will leave our children a worse city than before," he said. "Congestion pricing is just part of that solution."