Monday, October 22, 2007

Full Of Congestion

The NY Daily News reports that Mayor Moneybags is playing games with his traffic congestion pricing plan numbers.

The mayor is selling the plan - which will charge cars $8 and trucks $21 to drive into Manhattan below 86th Street on weekdays between 6 AM and 6 PM - as a boon to mass transit.

He claims his congestion pricing plan will raise at least $390 million a year for mass transit.

He says this money can be used to offset future fare hikes for buses and subways and/or to improve the transit system around the city.

Of course improvements will need to be made to the transit system if congestion pricing happens because hundreds of thousands of extra people will be taking buses and trains every weekday.

Still, the mayor says not to worry, his plan will raise plenty of revenue and everything will be beautiful.

But the Daily News takes a closer look at Bloomberg's claims and finds them wanting:

Mayor Bloomberg says congestion pricing will raise $390 million a year for mass transit, but that figure is nothing more than an educated guess, a Daily News probe has found.

The expected profit could be swallowed by operating costs if any of the city's assumptions go awry - like how much it costs to identify each car and truck, and how many times a day sensors will spot each vehicle, internal city documents show.

And although the city counts on billing 70% of drivers through their E-ZPass tags, the remaining 30% will be tracked by their license plates - a process that costs much more and fails more often, industry experts say.


In London, a similar congestion pricing plan cut traffic dramatically when it was unveiled in 2003. But it produced far less profit than originally predicted until the daily fee was hiked from about $10 to about $16.

New York's cost projections changed several times from January to April, when Bloomberg first threw his support behind the plan. An early draft estimated that 44.4% of the system's revenue would be swallowed by operating costs, but by April, the figure was down to 35.2%.

The costs shrank, in part, because the city simply removed the cost of chasing down violators from its projections - figuring it would charge fines high enough to recover those costs. And although the city at first projected cars and trucks would pass four of the 340 sensors on each trip, it later cut that assumption to just two sensors - which instantly cut processing costs in half.

While the mayor's plan assumes it will cost $232 million a year to operate the system, just two little tweaks in the model - four sensors per trip, and 75 cents to read a license plate - would raise the cost to $685 million per year, leaving nothing for mass transit. City profit would also be squeezed if the MTA or Port Authority raises tolls on bridges and tunnels, because those tolls are credited against the congestion pricing fee.

MTA Executive Director Elliot Sander says the congestion pricing plan will probably raise about $100-$200 million for mass transit, not enough to cover the extra costs of the added riders taking mass transit.

So if Bloomberg's congestion pricing plan goes into effect, not only will drivers probably have to pay more than the $8 a ride for cars and $21 a ride for trucks, but subway and bus riders will probably have to pay more to take mass transit.

The MTA already plans to raise fares to $2.50 a ride because the mayor has insisted the transit agency spend a few billion dollars to expand the 7 train to 34th Street and 11th Avenue so that his billionaire real estate buddies can turn the West Side into the "Next Big Thing."

What will the fare be after Mayor Bloomberg's congestion pricing plan goes into effect - $2.75? $3.00?

The mayor needs to be honest and up-front about the costs and benefits of his traffic congestion pricing plan and New Yorkers need to take a very close look at the plan before it goes into effect.

Since it is clear the mayor refuses to be honest and up-front about the costs and benefits of his plan, New Yorkers should kill this thing right now.

I'm all for reducing traffic congestion and auto exhaust.

But the mayor's plan, which will costs mass transit riders extra money, inundate the neighborhoods above the congestion-pricing zone with traffic and exhaust, add an additional tax to good and services in Manhattan after companies factor in the extra trucking costs, and cost much more than initially stated, is not the best way to do that.

And I say this as a Manhattanite who owns no car, never takes a cab, and either walks or takes the subway whenever I go anywhere.

Surely there are better ways to reduce traffic in Manhattan than Bloomberg's "Big Brother- Cameras Everywhere" congestion pricing plan.

Not to mention that it bothers me that Bloomberg refuses to be up-front and honest with the pricing plan numbers.
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