2008-04-04 / Front Page

Council Pols Split On Congestion Pricing

By Nicholas Briano

There is a growing number of people in Rockaway and throughout the outer boroughs who believe that the Mayor's congestion pricing plan is wrong, unnecessary and a regressive tax on middle class wage earners.

City Councilman James Sanders voted in favor of the mayor's congestion pricing plan.

City Councilman Joseph Addabbo Jr., voted against the mayor's Congestion Pricing Plan.

The peninsula's two representatives on the City Council, however, disagree with each other about the efficacy of the plan. They proved that again last week by supporting diametrically opposed positions on the bill.

Councilman Joseph P. Addabbo Jr., who hosted a town hall meeting last week to gauge the community's support of the plan, has been opposed to the plan from the time it was introduced by the Mayor, and remained consistent on Monday when he voted against the plan.

"It is a real shame," he said about the vote to approve the plan and pass it along to the state legislature. "There are so many alternatives to congestion pricing and ways to increase revenue."

Many peninsula residents, particularly those who must commute to Manhattan each day, agree with Addabbo.

That is why many residents were surprised when the vote was completed and they learned that Councilman James Sanders, who represents the east end of the peninsula, voted to support the Mayor's plan, despite the contention by many experts that it will have an adverse impact on the community he represents.

The plan was passed by a 30-20 tally, one of the narrowest majorities in years, with the Queens delegation split roughly in half. The affirmative vote left Mayor Bloomberg one last hurdle before making his traffic tax dream a reality.

That hurdle lies with the New York State Legislature, where the plan must win in both the State Senate and Assembly.

While Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver has not yet endorsed the plan, he is reportedly leaning towards approval.

Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno has not yet spoken publicly on the plan, but has traditionally supported the Mayor on his major initiatives.

Bloomberg's plan would charge motorists $8 to enter Manhattan south of 60 Street between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. on weekdays.

Some Rockaway residents have contacted The Wave since the vote to voice their disappointment and disbelief about Sanders' vote.

"I really thought the entire Far Rockaway community was against this," one of the residents said. "I can't believe he [Sanders] did this. I am really surprised because our transit service is really horrible here and if it doesn't get better, our commute will become even longer."

Sanders insists that he understands her frustration and says the plan will only improve, not worsen, service to and from Far Rockaway.

"The service is bad, but we can't sit back and do nothing about it," he said.

According to Sanders, a study done by the Pratt Institute estimated that fewer than four percent of his constituents drive regularly to Manhattan. This weighed heavily in his decision to approve the plan.

"I voted to better improve all of our lives," he continued. "Their anger towards the MTA is real, but we aren't left with many choices to improve our buses and trains."

Addabbo, however, is convinced that the plan holds no benefits for the Rockaway peninsula.

"I spoke to MTA officials and I told them we need better A train service and more express buses to Rockaway," Addabbo said.

"They said no, not at this time, so how could I have possibly voted yes. There is no intrinsic benefit to Rockaway."

Sanders, who says that he is a frequent rider of mass transit, thinks otherwise, calling congestion pricing a "gold mine" for Rockaway.

"The Far Rockaway train stations are all getting rehabilitated," Sanders said. "This is where the money is coming. I ride public transportation and I sit with my neighbors on these trains while being held hostage to bad service."

Addabbo says, however, that the only thing Bloomberg offered to the people of his district, which shares many of the same transit needs as Sanders', was increased C train service. He believes this does not help Rockaway residents at all considering it is a local train that doesn't even serve the Rockaways.

Sanders feels there wasn't a better alternative to improving his district's transit service than congestion pricing, in which part of the revenue created would be secured solely for improving service citywide in order to accommodate increased ridership.

"We can't go on as we have," he said. "I share their frustrations, but I also understand that doing nothing in a declining system is not an option either."

Both City Council members feel they well represented their constituents on Monday.

"My job is to come to City Hall as the voice for 160,000 residents," Addabbo said. "And I feel that was done when I voted against this on Monday."

On the other hand, Addabbo also realizes that if the State officials pass the plan, then he must shift gears in order to gain some benefit from the inevitable.

Even though the result wasn't what he had wanted, he still feels confident about the decision he made.

"You have to do what you feel is right," he said. "I couldn't go back and face my people knowing how much they were against this," Addabbo added.

"I can't see why anyone outside of Manhattan would vote for this. It costs residents money out of their pockets."

Sanders says he was elected to think with his head and mandate change.

"If I thought with my heart, not my head, my heart would have loved to throw a brick at the MTA," he said figuratively.

"But we have been waiting for improvements for what seems like the beginning of time," he continued.

"The politically popular thing to do would have been to vote against it, but that would do nothing to improve the conditions in my district."

Sanders contends that there is plenty of blame to go around for the slow, dirty and unreliable service the MTA offers to not only Rockaway, but the entire city.

"Part of the blame should go to Washington for not providing more money, and you can also argue that the MTAhave been poor stewards with the money, and that we are paying more than most people in the nation for public transportation and not getting enough in return."

"Far Rockaway deserves a better ride and [congestion pricing] will provide it."

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