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A new plan to increase funding for the MTA and reduce congestion in central Manhattan will further strain the budgets of Queens residents, who are already struggling to make ends meet in the City with the highest housing, food and education costs in the nation.

The plan, called Move NY, aims to increase funding for the MTA by charging tolls each way on the East River bridges, as well as charging commuters for crossing 60th Street in Manhattan. It aims to reduce congestion in lower Manhattan and inject money into the underfunded MTA.

The plan is a thinly disguised version of former Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s “congestion pricing” plan, which envisioned keeping the common folk out of central Manhattan by financially squeezing them out of their cars. In both plans, drivers would be required to pay a toll just to enter or leave Manhattan below 60th Street. Traffic would increase immediately north of the tolls. Congestion would increase in Western Queens and northern Brooklyn, as commuters would drive to the bridges and then park to avoid the tolls. It’s unfair that under both plans, a teacher driving into Manhattan to a local public school would pay the same price as a high-level executive driving in from Long Island.

As with the failed Bloomberg congestion pricing plan, there is nothing in this plan that ties the revenues generated from tolls to specific transit improvements that would benefit Queens residents, which means there is no guarantee that bus and subway service would improve in our borough. In the MTA’s current capital plan, most of the funds would go toward maintaining and improving existing service. Queens neighborhoods that lack transit access won’t be helped by this spending. They also won’t be helped by the construction of the Second Avenue Subway in Manhattan, or by the MTA’s plan to bring Metro North trains into Penn Station.

Closing the MTA’s budget shortfall shouldn’t fall on the backs of Queens commuters, who suffer a dearth of public transit options. Most of my constituents don’t live within walking distance of a subway, which for many makes driving the best option to get to work, or to a doctor’s appointment. Further straining the budgets of these residents, who already deal with the highest gas costs in the continental United States, shouldn’t be a part of any transportation policy.

Workers in Queens can’t afford to pay hundreds of dollars more per month to get to work, and they shouldn’t have to. Rather than penalizing drivers to improve traffic flow, we should incentivize alternatives. We should offer incentives like tax breaks for businesses that allow employees to telecommute and increased funds for car pool lanes, and encourage nighttime deliveries to keep trucks off our streets during rush hour.

These kinds of measures reduce traffic without costing commuters hundreds of dollars per month. For people who work in Manhattan year-round, this amounts to a $2,700 per year tax. The advocates behind the Move NY plan seem to think the only way to fund the MTA and reduce congestion is to penalize residents who live in transit deserts. That’s clearly wrong, and it’s why I’m standing with so many of my colleagues in the City Council and state Legislature, as well as the Queens borough president, to oppose this plan.

Rory Lancman is New York City Councilman for the 24th District, in Central and northern Central Queens.

(2) comments

Simon Phearson

While significant parts of Queens are underserved by rail, many Queens neighborhoods would be helped by the improved funding promised by the MoveNY, including those along the 7, E, M, F, R, N, Q, A, and J lines. Moreover, improved service along existing rail networks would lay the groundwork for pushing for expansion deeper into Queens, which would help even more Queens residents avoid the high costs of car ownership and parking in this city.

It's also worth noting that it's unlikely many of Lancman's constituents are actually driving into the city below 60th on a daily basis, since parking there is prohibitively expensive by itself. Many of them, if they drive at all, are likely already parking in neighborhoods that are better-served by rail transit, in which case they're already causing traffic and pollution problems in those neighborhoods AND they would be served by improved funding for existing MTA service.

Indeed, many of even those drivers would probably prefer to take the bus to a rail line, if only the buses ran efficiently through their neighborhood. Unfortunately for them, Lancman has consistently opposed efforts to improve bus service through his district.

What's clear is this: No one is served by supporting the status quo. The MTA's capital plan is significantly underfunded, which will lead to increased service disruptions, longer commute times, higher fares, and slower system expansions throughout the city. That will create a transit gap that cannot be served by putting everyone into single-occupancy vehicles on our roads, which are already near or at capacity. That gap, in turn, will begin to tear this city apart at its seams.

What we need is a funding plan and a political initiative to strengthen the MTA and fill in some of these transit deserts that Queens pols like Lancman and Katz like to complain about without doing anything about them. MoveNY is not perfect, and is really only a band-aid for an increasingly neglected but vital agency. But it's better than Lancman's proposal, which is: do nothing.

Simon Phearson

It's worth pointing out, too, that the main expressways running through Lancman's district all lead to toll bridges or tunnels - where the tolls would be lowered, under the MoveNY plan. If you're driving from his district to lower Manhattan, you're either paying those tolls... or you're avoiding the tolls by leaving those expressways. Say, by taking the LIE to Sunnyside or LIC and skipping over to Queens Boulevard for a toll-less transit over the Queensboro bridge. Or LIE to BQE, if you're going downtown.

As residents of those neighborhoods can attest (and as the data show), drivers using these toll-beating strategies bring with them a great deal of air and noise pollution and pedestrian/cyclist injuries and death, as they cut through residential roads not designed for highway traffic, in an effort to save a few bucks. If I were a cynic, I'd suppose *that's* what Lancman's afraid of losing access to.

Eliminating that kind of rent-seeking behavior is another benefit of the MoveNY plan - there's no reason to preserve that incentive structure in order to benefit east-Queens toll cheats.

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