Good evening, my name is Richard Gans, and I live in Morris Park and own a home there. I've lived in the Bronx for 30 years, in Sound View, Baychester, Norwood and Morris Park. And, for the past 15 years I've volunteered with Transportation Alternatives, a non-profit organization that works with communities in the Bronx and citywide to reduce automobile use and promote walking, bicycling and transit.
As the Commission heard at last week's hearing, Transportation Alternatives strongly supports the "Alternative Congestion Pricing Plan" outlined in your interim report. We can all agree New York City has a traffic problem, that it's streets do not have the capacity to accommodate the current levels of traffic and that its transit system needs expansion in order to accommodate the growth to come. The question then becomes how New York can reduce driving, clean the air and raise money for transit and how can it do this in fair and timely fashion. We therefore need a traffic mitigation plan that doesn't just move traffic; we need a plan that gets rid of traffic, while simultaneously providing a sustainable source of transit funding, so people will have mass transit alternatives to driving. The Alternative Congestion Pricing Plan is the most fair and feasible option for achieving these goals.
We believe that it is of utmost importance that all revenue from congestion pricing be put into a lockbox to be used specifically for transit improvements. With revenue from congestion pricing plan going specifically to transit improvements, Bronx residents, currently underserved by transit, stand to gain tremendously from this plan. According to the latest Quinnipiac Poll released earlier this month ("NYC Voters Back Congestion Pricing, If It Helps Transit, Quinnipiac University Poll Finds; Strong Opposition to East River Bridge Tolls") the clear majority of Bronx residents (57%) support congestion pricing plan if the funds raised are dedicated to mass transit improvements.
Congestion pricing tackles the root of the traffic problem in the Bronx, which is commuting. The high volume of motor vehicle traffic that courses through the Bronx streets hurts our health, economy, quality of life and relationships with our neighbors.
The alternative congestion pricing plan is equitable in that 88% of the Bronx workforce bound for the zone already takes transit or bikes there. For the 3.7% of residents that do drive to commute to the congestion pricing zone, viable transit options will be made available.
The plan recognizes that the Bronx needs better transit for its commuters and so if congestion pricing is approved, new express bus routes, bus rapid transit, improved 1 train service and new MetroNorth service will be implemented prior to congestion pricing. But, this is just the down payment because everyone in the room knows that Bronxites are clamoring for more and better transit service. We need it! 220,000 Bronxites take transit to get to work everyday; that's
over half of the borough's workforce. We need priority funding to implement PlaNYC's proposed MetroNorth-Penn Station access project that will use existing tracks to provide new commuter rail service to Bronx neighborhoods underserved by transit. We also need more bus rapid transit in the East Bronx, on the Grand Concourse and on the highways that divide our borough, and we need more cross-town local bus service. Congestion pricing with revenues dedicated to mass transit improvements is the best sustainable funding source to pay for these investments. If a congestion pricing plan is not approved, the Bronx, and New York, will lose all of the transit funding promised by the federal government.
Congestion pricing will return significant benefits to New York City's middle and low income transit-riding majority. Here, as in every other borough, lower income and working people will benefit tremendously from transit improvements funded by congestion pricing. Less affluent New Yorkers ride transit much more frequently than those with higher incomes. Census data shows that in the Bronx, commuters making less than $50,000 a year are two to three times as likely to take transit as drive to work. Borough- and citywide, households with cars earn twice as much as households without them.
A lot of the people who will stand up after me are going to complain about fairness and talk about the impossibilities of congestion pricing, why it can't work and even say it won't reduce traffic, trying to distract attention from the pricing plans and change the subject. What serious plans are these people offering? What plans do they have that are fair and can be implemented immediately, that will raise sustainable funds for transit, that will reduce traffic, not just make room for more, and that will meet the terms of our agreement with the US DOT and win New York $354 million in transit aide right now?
Opponents claim that the Alternative Plan gives Manhattan residents a free ride and unfairly charges Queens and other boroughs, but that's just not true. Under the Alternative Plan, Manhattan residents pay on par with drivers from the four other boroughs: Manhattanites will pay to drive across the 60th street cordon, Manhattanites will pay increased parking fees, and Manhattanites will pay the congestion surcharge on taxi and livery trips. And, Bronx residents stand to benefit on par with Manhattan and others around the city.
The only way to deliver better transit service is to make a sound investment, and congestion pricing is the only plan on the table right now that will provide significant monies for transit improvements and reduce driving and clean our air. It's fair and proper for those who insist on driving into midtown Manhattan to pay for this right. The vast majority of Bronxites take the subway, express bus or Metro-north Commuter rail into midtown Manhattan, but have to pay for it. Why do drivers get a free ride? So they can clog our streets and pollute our air? It doesn't make any sense.
Transportation Alternatives applauds the Traffic Congestion Mitigation Commission and your commitment and your staff's work to work towards presenting a feasible plan.We also urge the adoption of the Alternative Congestion Pricing Plan with a transit lockbox. It is a fair plan that will garner funding for immediate subway, bus and ferry improvements, reduce traffic throughout the city and establish a sustained funding stream for transit.