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

Hello my name is Paul Steely White and I am the Executive Director of Transportation Alternatives. Transportation Alternatives is a 6,000 member strong non-profit citizens' organization that works with communities in every borough to reclaim New York City's streets from the automobile, and to advocate for bicycling, walking and public transit as the best transportation alternatives.

We strongly support using congestion pricing in New York City to fund transit, reduce traffic, clean the air and improve quality of life. The congestion pricing plan proposed in Mayor Bloomberg's PlaNYC long-term sustainability plan is fair and will bring benefits to the entire city: drivers, transit riders, walkers, bikers, lower income and working class people and anyone who happens to breathe New York City air.

Quickly, I'd like to review the facts of the City's proposal. Congestion pricing will charge drivers entering or exiting Manhattan south of 86th Street, Monday through Friday from 6am to 6pm. Cars will pay a once a day $8 fee and trucks over a certain weight and number of axles will pay $21 daily, no matter how many times they enter and exit the zone. Any other fees they pay to cross already tolled bridges and tunnels will be deducted from their daily congestion charge. Drivers who never leave the zone but make trips within it will pay $4 each day, and we understand that there will be no charge for moving a car during alternate side parking days. Drivers adhering to the west side highway or FDR will not be charged. Taxis, livery cars, emergency vehicles and handicapped cars are also exempt.

This plan is a means to an end. The point of congestion pricing is not simply to charge people who drive in Manhattan on weekdays. The goal of congestion pricing is to make New York a better place to live, work and raise a family. Specifically, congestion pricing will raise very sorely needed funding for mass transit, it will improve public health by reducing pollution, cleaning the air and reducing crashes, and it will thin traffic, allowing New York City to make greener, more efficient and healthful use of its streets. In reviewing the proposal, we should ask ourselves what kind of city do we want? A vital, diverse, healthy and economically and culturally thriving one or a polluted and decaying one, stuck in gridlock 24/7? And we need to ask ourselves: What kinds of lives to we want to lead? Lives where we can get to and from work and around the area quickly, efficiently and at low cost, see our families at the end of the day and breath clean air or one where we spend hours waiting for subways and buses, stuck in traffic and away from our family, friends and neighbors?

To achieve the goals of a healthier, more viable and economically robust city and region, we need to invest in a more modern, robust transportation system. New York has the second dirtiest air of any city in the country, after Los Angeles; we lose 37,000 jobs and $13 billion each year to traffic delay and traffic; pollution and transit crowding and reliability will only get worse unless we take bold and decisive action.

Congestion pricing is the only proposal on the table right now that will raise significant funds for mass transit. The New York City region is facing a $31 billion transportation funding gap. While our transit system is in better condition today than its been in the past twenty years, it is still far from reaching a state of good repair and meeting today's travel demand, let alone the projected increase in demand brought on by a growing population.

The Mayor's proposal is the only one that meets the requirements set forth in the Urban Partnership Agreement signed by the City, State, MTA and the US Department of Transportation, which grants $354 million to New York. This agreement, among other measures, requires any plan implemented in New York to use pricing as the principal mechanism to achieve a 6.3% reduction in vehicle miles traveled within the congestion zone, and provide for at least 18 months of congestion pricing operation. If New York's plan does not meet those criteria, then New York will lose $354 million in free transit funds from Washington D.C.

On top of this immediate injection of $354 million in transit aid, Mayor Bloomberg's congestion pricing proposal will bring in an annual revenue of up to $400 million.

Today, Transportation Alternatives is here to express our strong support for a plan that deposits congestion pricing revenue into a transportation funding Lockbox. For any congestion pricing-based plan to operate and function as intended, its fees must be restricted to paying for NYC metropolitan area transit improvements and the plan must include a general mandate for doing so. If congestion pricing fees are not placed into a Lockbox from which they can only be spent on NYC Metro Area transit improvements, they will almost surely be lost amongst the State's general expenditures. Equally problematic, congestion pricing fees will come to be viewed (and likely rejected) as just another way of taking money from NYC Metro Area residents to pay for the rest of the State's needs.

The supermajority of New Yorkers who take transit everyday will have quicker and easier commutes, because congestion pricing revenue will be invested in transit improvements. Under the Urban Partnership Agreement with the US DOT, the MTA has committed to immediately adding 367 busses citywide, 51 in Manhattan alone. These buses will come online before congestion pricing is implemented and will improve the lives of the 2.5 million people who ride the bus everyday. They will have shorter waits, quicker commutes and better service. And, once pricing is implemented, the estimated 24% reduction traffic delays will mean faster busses and even better service. These better buses, plus additional near term bus and subway improvements, will make the predicted 2% increase in transit ridership unnoticeable and keep the system from becoming overloaded.

Census data show that the lower a person's income, the more likely they are to take public transportation to and from work. Among commuters who live beyond walking distance to a subway station, workers earning less than $25,000 are TWICE as likely to take the subway as drive, and three times as likely to take bus, subway or commuter rail than drive. Among commuters who earn between $25,000 and $50,000 a year, transit remains the preferred option to driving, by a 3-1 margin.

Presently, much of the mass transit system is slow, unreliable, and operating at or above capacity. Who suffers from these deficiencies the most? Without a question, it is current and aspiring middle class New Yorkers, most of whom must rely on mass transit to move about the city. Without the availability of congestion pricing fees to pay for better mass transit, these hard-working New Yorkers will be forced to spend more time commuting to and from work, which leads to less time at home with their families. As the importance of parents spending quality time with their children is well-understood, I will not belabor the point. Suffice to say that quality time with one's children should not be allowed to become a luxury to which only rich New Yorkers have access. Only implementing congestion pricing and placing the revenue in a transportation funding Lockbox can we ensure its funds will be used to benefit all New Yorkers, including the current and aspiring middle class New Yorkers who, as a group, rely on mass transit the most.

Few people will pay the congestion pricing fee, and everyone will benefit from the plan. Citywide, less than 5% of employed New Yorkers drive to work in the proposed congestion pricing zone. In Manhattan, 75% of households do not even own cars and only 2-3% of workers here currently drive into the zone. With immediate improvements, like 51 more busses throughout the borough, Bus Rapid Transit on 1st and 2nd Avenues and on 125th Street and an expanded bicycle network, and longer-term initiatives, like bringing all subway stations to a state of good repair, making them accessible to people of all abilities and building the 2nd Avenue subway, Manhattanities will have increasing transportation options to commute to and within the zone and less necessity to drive within it.

In periphery areas of the proposed congestion pricing zone, Transportation Alternatives does not believe there will be significant negative effects. These neighborhoods stand to benefit greatly by an estimated 11% reduction in vehicles entering Manhattan's Central Business District. Furthermore, it is already extremely difficult to find parking in neighborhoods on the periphery of the congestion pricing zone, and it is unlikely that drivers will spend 45-minutes to an hour looking for a parking space on the zone's periphery, then walk or pay $4 to take transit to and from work to avoid paying the congestion pricing fee. Nonetheless, Transportation Alternatives does support a residential parking permit program for periphery neighborhoods to guard against any potential negative impacts.

Another benefit of reducing traffic is that traffic safety will greatly improve. In London, after congestion pricing was implemented, traffic crashes went down 13% within the pricing zone and 11% outside of it compared to the previous year. This is because streets with fewer cars are inherently safer streets. In preventing crashes, and in cleaning the air, congestion pricing will literally save lives.

Congestion pricing will benefit small businesses because they will not be paying their employees to sit in traffic to do their job. The times savings will mean lower overhead to businesses. It will also mean that workers will get more done in less time and get home for dinner at a more reasonable hour.

Testimony Old URL
Secondary Title
Commission public hearing on Traffic Congestion and Mitigation in the City of New York