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.