Testimony of Paul Steely White, Executive Director, Transportation Alternatives To the New York City Traffic Congestion

Good afternoon. My name is Paul Steely White, and I am the executive director of Transportation Alternatives, a 6,000 member non-profit organization. Since 1973, Transportation Alternatives has worked for healthier, greener and less congested streets and more walking, bicycling and public transit.

On behalf of Transportation Alternatives, I'd like to thank the Commission and its staff for the hard work and long hours they have invested to carefully evaluate all of the traffic mitigation proposals, conduct public hearings and move this process forward towards recommending an equitable congestion relief plan that can be implemented quickly to reduce traffic, fund transit, and improve the health and environment of our great city.

Transportation Alternatives strongly supports the "Alternative Congestion Pricing Plan" outlined in the Commission's interim report. Of the five options presented, the Alternative Plan strikes the most optimal balance between reducing traffic congestion and air pollution while returning significant transit benefits to our city's middle and low income transit riding majority.

I am also here today to say that it is of the utmost importance that any congestion pricing plan proposed by this Commission direct all of the plan's revenue into a lockbox for transit improvements. This transit lockbox is achievable and necessary to ensure that subway and bus service are increased, that our rail system is fully accessible and brought to a state of good repair and that pedestrian, bicycle and ferry options are widely available and connect with mass transit systems. To remain a world leader, New York needs this sustainable funding source for transit, and as a city, New Yorkers support it.

Last week's Quinnipiac Poll ("NYC Voters Back Congestion Pricing, If It Helps Transit, Quinnipiac University Poll Finds; Strong Opposition to East River Bridge Tolls") gives this commission and our elected officials a mandate to guarantee that congestion pricing revenues are reinvested in mass transit. The poll found that a clear majority of New Yorkers support a congestion pricing plan whose funds are dedicated to mass transit improvements. Instead of listening to the people and working to ensure that this lockbox is put into place, opponents of congestion pricing have cynically insisted that a transit lockbox is not possible. These naysayers are wrong.

Today, we use the gas tax for road repairs, we use the cigarette tax for public health and a special portion of the real estate transfer tax to fund the MTA. With political will and vigilance, it is clearly possible to similarly ensure that pricing revenue is dedicated to transit.

The Alternative Congestion Pricing Plan is fair, feasible and can be put into action immediately to raise money to improve transit and reduce traffic. It incorporates many points and addresses many concerns raised at previous Commission hearings and at Community Boards and other public forums.

The Alternative Plan is fair on economic, geographic, traffic reduction and transit improvements grounds. The lower a person's income, the more likely they are to commute by public transportation. Congestion pricing will clear the streets for the city's 3 million daily bus riders its dedicated transit revenues will clearly benefit the majority of low and middle income New Yorkers who have no choice but to take transit.

Opponents claim that the Alternative Plan gives Manhattan residents a free ride, but that's just not true. Even though the Alternative Plan eliminates the intra-zone charge, Manhattan residents still 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.

The traffic reduction and transit benefits of the Alternative Plan will be felt throughout the city. The Alternative Plan will equalize travel demand across all bridges and tunnels to prevent "toll shopping," effectively cutting traffic in peripheral neighborhoods as much or more than within the congestion pricing zone. The short-term infusion of $354 million in federal transit aid and the long-term dedication of pricing revenues to mass transit improvements will spread better bus and subway service across the city and region.

The Alternative Plan is feasible: Eliminating the intra-zonal charge and charging drivers who use the FDR and West Side Highway below 60th Street greatly simplifies the charge and reduces its start-up costs and overhead. The significant reduction in the number of cameras to enforce this plan also addresses privacy concerns raised.

The Alternative Plan will yield immediate improvements: When approved on-time by our city and state legislatures, New York will receive $354 million in immediate transit aide from the federal government. This funding will benefit the city's 3 million daily bus riders by creating new local, express and Bus Rapid Transit routes in every borough and by delivering 367 new buses, including 136 new express buses to serve neighborhoods farthest from the congestion pricing zone. The federal grant will also fund more frequent subway service on the 1, C, E and F trains and increased ferry service.

No other plan comes close to being as good as the Alternative Plan. License plate rationing and other inferior options do not meet the federal government's criteria for using some form of congestion pricing to reduce traffic and would therefore not qualify New York to receive $354 million in federal transit aid. Furthermore, the other options would generate zero ongoing revenue for transit and would rely instead on an unpopular and regressive tax on small business. License plate rationing would further hurt small businesses by preventing them from making deliveries on certain days of the week, would restrict the mobility of disabled people with handicapped placards and would require untenable coordination with Departments of Motor Vehicles across multiple states. License plate rationing has failed in every major city in which it has been tried because there are so many ways around it.

Another option to the Alternative Plan—tolling Harlem River and East River Bridges—is not fair because it charges a fee regardless of time of day, day of week or number of trips. It would charge for trips at times and locations where congestion is not a problem. This round-the-clock tolling subverts the incentive for off-peak deliveries offered by the Alternative Plan.

The Alternative Plan's provision to increase metered parking rates within the zone and implement other parking management initiatives currently underway by the NYC DOT will complement the modified congestion pricing plan. Increased meter rates will promote parking turnover and reduce millions of miles in annual parking cruising. As an added benefit, this parking pricing program should be expanded and some revenue should be returned to neighborhoods for pro pedestrian improvements to the streetscape. Mayor Bloomberg's plan to reduce government agency parking permits by 20% will also help reduce congestion within the zone, especially in Lower Manhattan where government employees drive to work at twice of the rate of others because they have free parking. Parking demand is already extremely scarce in downtown Brooklyn and other areas outside the congestion zone. The way to manage this demand is by heading it off at its source, by giving those drivers the transit options that the Alternative Plan provides. By disallowing interloping drivers to park on residential streets and by reforming the use of government permits the most determined deadbeat drivers can be discouraged even further. In our estimation, the transit and parking improvements in the Alternative Plan will result in less park and ride behavior, not more.

Our current challenge is formidable, but the costs of inaction are even greater. $13 billion and 37,000 jobs lost annually because of traffic congestion; a mass transit system far from a state of good repair and running at and above capacity; and, after Los Angeles, the dirtiest air in the nation.

Transportation Alternatives urges 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. Together, these benefits will prevent New York from falling into gridlock and environmental degradation.

Thank you.

Testimony Old URL
Secondary Title
Mitigation Commission Public Hearing on Interim Report