1:15 pm Oct. 18, 2012
"Please, no matter what you do, do not call it 'Sam's congestion pricing plan,'" pleaded transportation engineer Sam Schwartz today at a Municipal Art Society conference at Jazz at Lincoln Center. "It is more than congestion pricing."
In the past year, Schwartz has embarked on a one-man crusade to convince New York City's ruling class that congestion pricing is both a necessity and politically feasible, if done right.
Today, during a rapid-fire, 10-minute presentation, Schwartz made his case yet again.
New York City bridges and tunnels have, said Schwartz, been a "cash cow" for the M.T.A. for nearly a half-century.
"And it's worked for 45 years," he said. "But it's not gonna continue to work because the prices are getting way too high."
In March, round-trip tolls on bridges like the Throgs Neck, Verrazano, and Triborough will go from $13 to $15.
Schwartz predicts that by 2020, round-trips on those bridges will cost drivers $25. By 2030, he predicts a round-trip toll of $51.
"The current system is a broken system," said Schwartz. "It's a system in which people shop for the cheapest bridge."
To avoid paying tolls, drivers will, say, hop off the Long Island Expressway or Grand Central Parkway and take the toll-free Queensboro Bridge, or, to avoid the Verrazano, take the 103-year-old Manhattan Bridge through Chinatown and SoHo and then drive free through the Holland or Lincoln tunnels.
"So if our policy is to try to invite as many people as possible in big trucks into Manhattan, we're doing a really good job of it," said Schwartz.
Schwartz has a plan to fix all that, and he says it's more politically palatable than the version put forth by Mayor Michael Bloomberg that died in Albany in 2008.
That one, says Schwartz, was rife with flaws, and hamstrung by significant voter skepticism.
First, it was viewed as a tax that would violate the "sanctity" of free, inter-borough travel. Further, few had faith that the M.T.A. would spend the new money wisely, with the skepticism particularly acute in car-centric communities in Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island, not to mention the suburbs.
In the meantime, the Bloomberg plan created the impression that Manhattanites, because they rarely had to cross East River Bridges, were getting off "scott free."
Schwartz said that in his plan he targets that "crescent of opposition."
Namely, he would lower tolls on the Triborough, Verrazano and Whitestone bridges, and impose them on the East River ones.
He'd require those driving in and out of Manhattan south of 60th Street to pay up too.
Manhattanites would pay, too: Taxi riders would pay surcharges, the parking tax rebate would be no more, and on-street parking prices would go up.
In addition to funding the M.T.A., some of the resulting revenue would also go toward driver-friendly bridge and road repairs.
Finally, Schwartz would reduce bus fares in neighborhoods with no subways, build three new pedestrian and bike bridges—one connecting Brooklyn, Governors Island and Lower Manhattan; another from Hunter's Point and Greenpoint to the Cornell campus on Roosevelt Island; and the third from New Jersey to Manhattan.
But don't, he reiterated, call it a congestion pricing plan.
What is it then?
"It's more a master plan for the City of New York that is evolving."
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