A recent forum staged by Assembly Woman Alicia Hyndman of District 29, SE Queens, tackled the chronic problem of congestion in New York City. Panelists included Kate Slavin from the Regional plan association, Lauren Patemo of AAA, Thomas Grech of Queens Chamber of Commerce, Natasha Saunders of Riders Alliance and Alex Matthissen of Move New York.

It was refreshing to see the interest and enthusiasm of the panelists who came well informed and offered useful and convincing argument to support their points of view. This subject of congestion pricing is not new as it was introduced a decade ago by then Mayor Michel Bloomberg, to only fail as a proposal, because it was a Manhattan centric plan which gave little consideration to the other boroughs.

This brings me to my argument, which is strongly re-enforced by Alex Matthissen of Move New York. Matthissen said the current congestion pricing proposals would reduce congestion, both in mid-town and downtown Manhattan, reduce vehicle emissions and raise money for Mass Transit. We share the view that the cost of traffic congestion is becoming overwhelmingly high. According to numbers from Riders Alliance, we are spending 20 billion dollars annually in travel time in New York City which represents operating costs to travel, fuel cost and lost revenue while over 113 million hours are wasted annually because we are stuck in traffic in our cars, trucks and buses which means precious time lost at work, both with family and friends.

The reality is, we live in a big city whose density has risen to crisis proportions. The answer to that of course is our transit system, but that is in such disrepair that it compounds the problem of congestion. So, who exactly who would be paying the congestion charge? The proposal from the Riders Alliance suggests cars and trucks entering Manhattan below 60th street; this would exclude FDR Drive. State leaders will of course determine when and how often the charges would apply. The subways are totally unreliable as the subway signals fail regularly and most of the subway cars are more than 50 years old and are operating on 1930s technology.The system is made further unreliable because for every five subway stations there is only one elevator.

The conclusion therefore, is a complete overhaul of the subway system which is estimated to cost over 40 billion in the next 10 years. The light at the end of the tunnel is NYC president Andy Byford on whom we are relying way too much to turn around the transit system. In the meantime if we delay – that estimated 40 billion could quickly become 60 or 80 billion. The suggestion by some that we should bring back the commuter tax is not implausible but it certainly would not generate the much needed revenue to fund the subway system. A congestion tax as we see in the examples of London and Stockholm will free up traffic for local and express buses and for drivers to get where they want to go on time.

Two major cities namely London in 2003 and Stockholm in 2007 introduced congestion pricing in order to reduce traffic congestion and improve the environmental situation. In Stockholm there was great objection to the pricing, so a seven month introduction was implemented, after which residents was so pleased that the program, it was permanently adopted. It was interesting to hear comments from some of the panelists who commented that, “New York is not London or Stockholm.”My response to that is simply this; you are absolutely right.New York, unlike the others, is the most desirable city in the world and it is about to grind to a halt because of congestion: where would you go then, London or Stockholm?

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