Numerous members of the state Assembly introduced a congestion reduction proposal last week, effectively announcing that they do not support the mayor’s Alternative Congestion Pricing plan on which they are expected to vote March 31, which needs City Council approval.
Thirty Assembly members signed on to a proposal drafted by Assemblyman Richard Brodsky (D-Elmsford) that claims it is more equitable, practical and progressive because it targets the primary causes of congestion without taxing middle-class New Yorkers or creating pockets of congestion on the perimeters of the congestion zone.
“If you really care about reducing congestion, this is a proposal that everyone can embrace,” Assemblyman Rory Lancman (D-Fresh Meadows) said.
Agreeing, Assemblyman Jose Peralta (D-Jackson Heights) indicated it is certainly better than nothing, which is what the city would get after the state refuses to act. He ventured to guess that about 90 percent of the Assembly’s Democratic membership opposes the Alternative Congestion Pricing plan.
Coalition members said their proposal dramatically reduces congestion, improves air quality, funds mass transit, qualifies for a $354.5 million federal grant and enhances mass transit.
They admitted that it would generate about $130 million less than the mayor’s proposal, but noted that it does not necessitate the increased use of mass transit, as does the commission’s plan. Both plans require the revenue to go toward mass transit improvements, but the coalition’s plan would have “little or no administrative overhead,” according to the proposal.
The three areas of focus in the coalition’s proposal are reducing congestion impact of taxis, black cars and limousines; enhancing traffic law enforcement; and reducing illegal use of placards.
Concentrating on all these issues will maximize results, the coalition members said. They also blasted Mayor Michael Bloomberg, for insisting that congestion reduction can only be achieved by diminishing vehicle mile of travel.
The Assembly proposal aims to reduce time of travel in addition to VMT, mostly in for-hire vehicles. “There is nothing more self-indulgent and luxurious than taking a taxi cab in Manhattan,” Lancman said. “Especially when you’ve got subway lines that run every few blocks.”
The city has more than 13,000 yellow taxis, which account for 31 percent of VMTs in the congestion zone. Responsible for about 10 percent are 10,000 black cars — large sedans that service primarily corporate clients — 25,000 livery cabs and several thousand limousines.
Increasing yellow cab charges from $2.50 to $6.50 within the zone would reduce VMTs by about 1.9 percent and TOT by 2.5 percent, according to the proposal. The yellow cabs’ 1/5 mile charge, currently 40 cents, would be dropped to 35 cents for trips within the zone. The city’s 80 disabled-accessible cabs would be exempt.
If implemented, this would generate about $187 million annually and place the burden of absorbing the increased fares on wealthier citizens, who tend to choose for-hire vehicles as a mode of transportation.
The proposal also calls for reforms in the way for-hire vehicles pick up riders. Between 39 and 43 percent of the time yellow cab drivers are on duty, they cruise the streets, coalition members noted.
To reduce cruising by 10 to 15 percent, the city would have to increase the number of cab stands, expanding designated pick-up locations and use more “electronic hailing” through text messaging. This would reduce VMTs by 1.3 to 2 percent and TOT by 0.9 percent.
Increased drop charges for black cars and limousines would generate about $80 million annually and designated parking lots for idling vehicles could reduce TOT by about 1 percent.
Increased enforcement is a critical component of the plan, according to Peralta. “We can pass all the laws and all the policies we want, but if we don’t enforce it, what’s the point?”
One of the proposal’s methods of enforcement drastically increases fines and summonses in order to deter drivers from parking illegally.
The price drivers would have to pay for expired meter violations would jump from $65 to $125. For double parking they would be issued tickets for $200 instead of $115. Fines for parking in loading/unloading zones would be raised from $95 to $250, and parking in bus lanes, currently a $115 violation, would cost drivers $250.
This would produce roughly $80 million a year. An additional $15 to $25 million would be generated if enforcement of “blocking the box” violations was increased by about 300 to 500 tickets per weekday.
The coalition members also want to crack down on the abuse of government issued parking permits. Throughout the city there are about 47,000 authorized parking placards and tens of thousands of unauthorized and fake placards. If 30,000 of those fake ones were exposed, they would cut down the number of vehicles entering the zone by 10,000, reducing congestion.
Lancman is a key proponent of the proposal’s call for telecommuting programs, which could drastically diminish the number of city government employees who drive to work.
Noting Bloomberg is technologically savvy, Lancman said “There’s no reason that New York City shouldn’t have an aggressive telecommuting program for its employees.”
Although Assemblyman William Scarborough (D-Jamaica) would have liked the proposal to address problematic trucks — which parking illegally, idle and deliver during peak hours — he is confident that this plan covered the most significant issues and will be the most effective.
The mayor’s plan has met with opposition from many Queens residents and elected officials. “This is the moment of truth” for Bloomberg, Lancman said: either he will show that his priorities lie with reducing congestion and pollution, or that he is too emotionally invested in his own plan.