Testimony of Paul Steely White, Executive Director, Transportation Alternatives to the New York State Assembly Public Hearing on

Good Morning. I am Paul Steely White, executive director of Transportation Alternatives. Transportation Alternatives is a 5,500 strong membership organization and a steering committee member of the Citywide Coalition for Traffic Relief, a coalition of over 140 neighborhoods groups throughout New York City. Transportation Alternatives is also a steering committee member of the Campaign for New York's Future, a coalition 80+ public health, environmental, labor, civic, business and neighborhood groups.

The 16 transportation initiatives within Mayor Bloomberg's 127 point PlaNYC Sustainability Plan will clean our air and prepare New York City's transportation infrastructure to meet the challenges of growth and global warming. Honorable members of the Assembly, Transportation Alternatives is here today to say in no uncertain terms that we strongly support PlaNYC, and we beseech you to support it as well.

Without question, PlaNYC's most controversial and most needed initiative is congestion pricing. While there are vigorous discussed aspects of this plan, and details that still need to be ironed out, congestion pricing is the most powerful tool to clean our air, reduce unnecessary traffic, promote environmentally sound transportation and finance 21st Century improvements to our aging transportation infrastructure. There is simply no better way to reduce congestion and raise billions of dollars for necessary transit expansions needed to maintain and improve our quality of life and to remain the world's leading city.

At first glance, it may appear as though this plan is only relevant to New York City. In fact, PlaNYC is highly relevant to New York State, the United States and the world. Make no mistake. The city, the state and the world are all watching.

If traffic congestion is not reduced, and if our transit system is not significantly expanded, then New York City's role as the economic engine of New York State will be severely compromised. The State's economy and tax base will suffer dearly if New York City continues to shoulder the growing $13 Billion in lost annual economic activity due to traffic congestion while facing the influx of one million new residents and their attendant travel needs. Congestion could very well push business to relocate and leave the region. And, the State will suffer unless major expansions are made to New York City's transit system. It is clear that over the past several decades, the massive rehabilitation of our transit system has significantly aided the growth of our local and regional economy and the rebirth of the city.

You may have noticed that many of us here today are wearing green. This is to symbolize the fact that now, in light of the overwhelming scientific evidence that we are irrevocably spoiling the natural systems that sustain us, the environment is now the paramount challenge of our day. It is our responsibility to put in place sustainable systems that will help guarantee a healthy world our children and for their children. PlaNYC is nothing less than the most concerted effort made by any metropolitan area in the world to meet this challenge, a challenge that is of great importance and to every big city in the world. Because the majority of the world's population now resides in cities, and because New York City is the world's leading city, and because New York is coastal city that faces both rising populations and rising sea levels, your decision on this plan is highly relevant to cities and people across the Earth. I do not need to remind you that the choices that other big cities make, and the emissions that result from those choices, have very real repercussions for all of us.

If you support this plan, then the message to the leaders of the world's other cities and states will be clear: It is possible for different levels of government to work together to pursue bold solutions to solve our environmental problems. If you reject the Mayor's plan and the congestion pricing experiment included therein, then the message will be equally clear: government is incapable of making the tough decisions necessary to save our cities from ruin.

I would like to conclude my testimony with some facts that speak to the concerns that some have raised about the Mayor's congestion pricing plan.

  • Only 5% of commuters in Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island and the Bronx commute to the Manhattan CBD by private car. Of that number, 80% have time-competitive mass transit available.

  • 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.

  • Most delivery vehicles will be charged a flat $8 per day, regardless of how often they enter and exit the zone. While the City has not yet defined the criteria of "trucks" that will be subject to the higher $21 dollar charge, the truck definition appears unlikely to include delivery vans and other 2-axle vehicles with a maximum gross weight under 7000 lbs. Moreover, reduced traffic congestion will significantly lower the amount of time trucks spend stuck in traffic, so the productivity increase will make up for (and in many cases, exceed) the charge. A plumber who charges $50 an hour could potentially schedule an additional job each day as a result; a florist might need fewer trucks to make the same number of deliveries. In London the overall effect of the charge on small businesses since 2003 has ranged from neutral to positive.

In closing, I remind you how important it is for you to support the Mayor's Sustainability Plan. The future of New York City and New York State hang in the balance, as does a viable model for other cities to follow. What's more, this plan is important to future generations who will hopefully look back on the year 2007 as the year that elected officials set aside their differences and together made the tough decisions necessary to ensure a future for them and for their children. Please lead, so that our children and their children can look back in good health and appreciation on the smart decision you made.

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PlaNYC's Transportation Components, Bar Association of the City of New York.