Bloomberg's Congestion Pricing Plan Has Rivals

Mayor Bloomberg’s congestion pricing plan picked up some Albany competition yesterday, and the quick growth of support for the new proposal could spell disaster for the mayor’s anti-traffic dreams.

Standing on the steps of City Hall, Westchester Assembly Democrat Richard Brodsky issued an alternative proposal to Bloomberg’s plan to charge drivers entering Manhattan on weekdays during peak driving times. Brodsky’s plan would largely rely on increasing taxi fares and punishing traffic violators, rather than charging a toll to enter Manhattan, as a means of raising transit funding and decreasing auto traffic.

“It’s simple, and it’s progressive,” said Brodsky. “It also qualifies for the federal money while the mayor’s proposals do not. On a whole bunch of levels it makes sense.”

Though insiders predict that the City Council will vote to support one of the congestion proposals, the toll must also pass Albany muster. But with Brodsky claiming at least 28 assembly members supporting his proposal, and potentially picking up more supporters as the days pass, the Assembly might be close to creating a firewall that none of the Bloomberg-backed proposals could ever break.

The new Brodsky plan would, for starters, increase the initial taxi fee from $2.50 to $6.50 and decrease the 1/5 mile charge by a nickel, which would significantly boost the charge for shorter trips while keeping the fare relatively stable for longer treks. The proposal would also limit taxi cruising by increasing the number of cab stands in Manhattan, would beef up enforcement on parking violations and traffic laws, and would crack down on parking permit abuse.

All told, Brodsky expects that his plan would bring anywhere between $362 and $372 million in yearly transit funding. In addition, Brodsky said that his plan and his plan alone would ensure that the City would remain eligible for $354 million in federal grants promised to the City should they implement a congestion pricing mechanism.

Supporters of the mayor’s plan are unconvinced that Brodsky’s new proposal will accomplish the funding and environmental goals that Bloomberg’s original plan put forward. Increasing the cost of taxi trips would do nothing to reduce private car and truck congestion. And Brodsky’s plan would do nothing to reduce congestion outside of Manhattan’s central business district, while the benefits of Bloomberg’s plan would extend to Brooklyn, Queens and northern Manhattan.

“The good news is that Assembly Member Brodsky has finally let go of his license plate rationing scheme,” said Paul Steely White, executive director of the advocacy group Transportation Alternatives, which supports congestion pricing. “The bad news is that this sketch of a plan continues in the same vein: a half-baked distraction that does nothing to reduce unnecessary driving and little to improve public transit.”

Brodsky disagreed. The original Bloomberg plan created a northern border for the congestion pricing zone at 86th Street (the border has been shifted to 60th Street), and estimates for that plan’s annual take stood to about $400 million. “This raises about the same amount of money without any huge new bureaucracy and without any unfair tax on the poor and middle class,” said Brodsky.

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