New York City’s Congestion Pricing proposal, which would have brought the city $354 million in federal funding to help finance major public transportation initiatives, expired Monday at midnight. Commuters will be relieved to avoid the $8 fee to enter Manhattan at peak hours but New York City residents can rest assured that traffic will continue to be a nuisance, public transportation will remain inadequate and the city’s air hazardous to breath. Despite City Council’s 20-10 vote in favor a week ago, the State Assembly didn’t even vote on the bill citing an overwhelming lack of support for the City’s proposal. In a statement issued on Monday, a Mayoral spokesman went so far as to call the decision “the biggest copout in New York City History.”
Proponents of the plan argued that congestion pricing would ease gridlock, improve air quality and raise revenues to improve the city’s mass transit. Those who rallied against it made the case that the tax would ultimately affect the commuting working class who already have to deal with the increase of gas prices.
In an appropriately unsympathetic statement, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg responded to the denial by saying “Today is a sad day for New Yorkers and a sad day for New York City. Not only won’t we see the realization of a plan that would have cut traffic, spurred our economy, reduced pollution and improved public health, we will also lose out on nearly $500 million annually for mass transit improvements and $354 million in immediate federal funds. I will also express my deep disappointment that, sadly, even Washington, which most Americans agree is completely dysfunctional, is more willing to try new approaches to longstanding problems than our elected officials in the State Assembly. It takes true leadership and courage to embrace new concepts and ideas and to be willing to try something. Unfortunately, both are lacking in the Assembly today.
“The idea for congestion pricing didn’t start in our Administration and it won’t end today. The $354 million we would have received from Washington tomorrow will go to another city in another state. But the problems congestion pricing could have helped solve are only going to get worse. And too many people from more than 170 environmental, labor, public health and business organizations recognize the merits of congestion pricing and hopefully someday, we will have more leaders in the Legislature who recognize it too.”
Speaker Christine Quinn coincided with Mayor Bloomberg saying “I am disappointed that we missed an opportunity to make a significant investment in our mass transportation system, an investment that would have secured the long-term vitality of our city and improved the health of people living in our most congested neighborhoods.
Despite this setback, the Council remains fully committed to environmental responsibility and to improving and expanding our mass transit system. We must now build new coalitions around forward-looking transportation policy that will improve public health and move people out of their cars and into buses, trains and ferries.”
Governor Patterson issued a statement saying, “Congestion Pricing failed to achieve the consensus necessary to move forward on the state level. As, I’ve said all along, this is an important program to reduce congestion and pollution in New York City while raising vitally needed funds for mass transit. Now we need to come up with innovative approaches to the challenge of funding mass transit.”
Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno’s office told the Gazette “Over all we are disappointed that the assembly didn’t even take the bill up to vote…the Senate was prepared to take it up and pass it.” When asked about the Assembly’s private meeting that ultimately denied the bill a spokesman said, “they (the Assembly) said that there really wasn’t enough support for the bill. As for the meeting…you are going to have to ask them about it.”
Despite assurances to continue looking at alternatives to the proposal, no one seems to be making these specific. Senator Bruno’s office said that those in favor were too busy trying to pass the bill and that alternatives should have come from those who were so quick to deny the plan.
The decision to negate what was a bold, progressive plan was made without transparency and devoid of alternatives by an antagonistic Assembly leadership that seemed to overlook the needs and wants of the city (not State) that is often called the greatest in the world.