2008-04-11 / Front Page

Assembly Members Help Kill Congestion Pricing

By Nicholas Briano

As most Rockaway residents are aware by now, congestion pricing died a quick death in Albany this week, and, despite his blustering and threats, there's not much that Mayor Michael Bloomberg can do about it, experts say.

Bloomberg's plan to reduce congestion in Manhattan and raise money for mass transportation by taxing those entering lower Manhattan, quickly drew opposition from residents and politicians in the outer boroughs. They saw it as not much more than another tax aimed directly at the working middle class outer borough residents and seniors who have to go to Manhattan for medical appointments and the like.

As a result, the Assembly members who spoke with The Wave believed there wasn't enough support to even hold a vote.

The Assembly's failure to vote means Bloomberg's chance of receiving the $354 million in federal mass-transit funding aid is lost and will be dispersed among other states.

Two of Rockaway's State Assembly members who backed Speaker Sheldon Silver, in opposition to the congestion pricing plan, told The Wave this week why they felt the Mayor's plan needed to be destroyed.

"This was simply unfair to the outer boroughs and would have set up Manhattan as an elitist area," Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer said.

"There was absolutely nothing beneficial to the Rockaways," she continued.

Pheffer also said there were too many problems that were not thought of before presenting this plan officially. Examples of factors that Bloomberg failed to consider, according to Pheffer, were wheelchair and out of state provisions.

"There are many people from New Jersey that must drive into Manhattan and there were no provisions for them, but that was just one of many problems with this," she said.

"It is unfair to the middle class people."

The plan, which was supposed to dedicate a certain amount of the revenue towards transit improvements, left nearly all Rockaway politicians skeptical, considering that their capital requests, such as the opening of the LIRR and more express buses, have all been rejected with no promise for the future.

"All the things that would have helped Rockaway's transit system, they wouldn't even consider," stated Pheffer.

The Assemblywoman also added that Rockaway was in the third tier of transit improvements generated by congestion pricing revenue.

As third tier, Rockaway's service improvements would have been among the first to be cut if not enough revenue was generated from the plan for all the transit improvements listed in the congestion pricing plan.

Assemblywoman Michele Titus was also opposed to the plan because there wasn't enough support from her district. Her constituents felt this was a burden on not only their wallets but their neighborhoods as well.

"Our neighborhoods would have been turned into parking lots," Titus said as people would flock to her district's neighborhoods to park and get on the train.

"I conducted polls and surveys within my district and found that most believed this was a regressive tax," she added.

Titus, like many on the city and state level, feels that congestion is certainly a problem, but must be looked at with regards to the entire city, not simply Manhattan.

"I still strongly believe that we need a comprehensive Congestion Mitigation plan, but the working class feels that enough is enough already," she said.

When the City Council voted on the proposal two weeks ago, Councilman Joseph Addabbo Jr. voted in opposition, while his east end counterpart, James Sanders, voted with the mayor, in favor.

The MTA, which relied heavily on the congestion pricing revenue to fund the upcoming capital plans, finds many components of it in doubt now, which could even delay the start of the Rockaway train stations' complete rehabilitation. That, however, will remain to be seen.

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