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Congestion pricing fails, but the goal of sustainable transportation remains

Rich Kassel

Posted April 10, 2008 in Curbing Pollution, Environmental Justice, Green Enterprise, Health and the Environment, Living Sustainably, Moving Beyond Oil, Solving Global Warming, The Media and the Environment, U.S. Law and Policy

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By now, of course, anybody who has followed the saga of congestion pricing in New York knows the outcome:  on Monday, the New York State Assembly failed to vote on the congestion pricing program, ensuring that it won’t go forward, at least for the time being.  Various reports said that the plan, in the end, had fewer than 20 positive votes in the entire Assembly Democratic conference.

Uugghhh.

I haven’t been on such a losing side since I worked on Walter Mondale’s campaign staff in 1984. 

I am not going to join the blame game, as easy as it would be to do so.  As Switchboard readers (and my NRDC colleagues) may know by now, that’s not how I play the game. 

Rather, I will point out that I cannot think of a major environmental issue in New York that was resolved in a single year.  It took seven years to convince the MTA to clean up their buses; more than one City Council speaker had to oversee the revamping of the City’s solid waste plan once the Fresh Kills landfill was slated for closure; and safeguarding the NYC watershed is an ongoing venture that won’t ever be fully completed.  And so on.

So, I will use a sports analogy to point out that this is just the first inning of a game that will continue in various City and State forums for some time.

The game, of course, is ensuring a sustainable city for the future. 

The goal of this game to ensure that we are ready for the one million new residents of New York City—and the three million new members of our region—who will live here by 2030.  This includes ensuring that we figure out how to reduce congestion so the City and the region work better, whether we’re measuring “better” through the lens of elbow room on the subway, the cleanliness of our buses, getting a seat on the morning train from Lynbrook or Yonkers, or our region’s ability to handle the ever-increasing pressures of growing goods movement through our port and the demand for on-time deliveries throughout the City and the region. 

Another goal of this game is also to figure out how to handle all of these people and all of these goods, while also reducing air pollution to levels that are safe enough to breathe, every day of the year.  Yes, every day. 

Of course, another goal of this game is to find a fair, equitable and sustainable way of financing the billions of transit and other transportation investments that will be necessary to build and maintain all of what’s needed to create a sustainable city and region for the future. 

And, last but certainly not least, another goal of this game is to create sustainability models that will be adaptable to other big cities in the U.S.—and around the world—so all of our cities are more sustainable in the long run (I’m actually writing this from Beijing, where particulate levels are often six times those in Manhattan.).

This game is not about a single vote on a single bill about congestion pricing. 

We lost a few runs in the first inning.  But this game ain’t over.  And the goal of this game is too important to give up after just the first inning.

Stay tuned.

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Comments

DENIS EVANGELOUApr 13 2008 01:22 PM

Congestion pricing was not about pollution. It was a way to raise even more money for a city that is constantly tapping into our pockets because the voted in officials can't do there promised jobs of fixing an ailing system on their own. No one trusts the administration and frankly we, as city residents are tapped out financialy.
Case in point, the Verrazano Bridge. When it was built the people of NY and especially the residents of S.I. were told that a 50 cents toll would be necessary to pay off the expense of the bridge and then once paid it would be stopped. I crossed that bridge yesterday, $10. Toll is still in place, so much for promises, need I say more?

Frank ColaoApr 13 2008 07:00 PM

I totally agree with Denis. This is just another intolerable tax, especially for small business people like myself who have to work in NYC. Having a commercial vehicle, I'd be charged $21 and that would go up every couple of years. Bloomberg is already fleecing people with his gestapo parking ticket tactics. That didn't do anything for congestion. So all the trucks, cabs and busses are going to go away with congestion pricing? The supporters of this tax are ignorant.

Tom McManusApr 16 2008 01:13 PM

I work for New York City Transit, and I agree more revenue will be needed to improve service, but not by congestion pricing. Why, does the city and state government underfund transit then look to raise revenue from motorists? If their goal is to reduce polution why not do what was done for the transit strike of 2005, MANDATORY CAR POOL!
No passenger vehicles with less than three people allowed below 96th street. I live out of state and I carpool. And I certainly wouldn't be opposed to a small commuter tax as we had in the past. Greedy incompetent politicians will one day want to tax us for the air we breath.

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