Joe Lhota’s congestion-pricing prerequisites: WiFi and subway terminus park-and-rides

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Traffic in Midtown South. (Darijus Strasunskas via Flickr)
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Before New York City turns to congestion pricing to reduce the amount of traffic in the city's core, it must first take some less drastic steps, according to former M.T.A. chairman Joe Lhota, who's running for mayor as a Republican.

"We've got to do everything we can to mitigate the number of cars in the city by doing smart things, common sense things, before we start saying 'Well, let's start charging people for coming into midtown, or congestion pricing,'" said Lhota this morning on the John Gambling radio show. "That's the last step."

The consensus in transportation expert circles is that the only way to reduce gridlock in Manhattan is to implement some form of congestion pricing that would charge drivers to enter the central business district, with much of the revenue going toward the struggling M.T.A.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg tried, and failed, to push that sort of measure through Albany, and has since given up.

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Traffic engineer Sam Schwartz, however, has been flogging a new and improved version of congestion pricing, one that would distribute benefits more equitably and perhaps make the plan less politically toxic in the outer boroughs.

None of the major mayoral candidates, who will need the support of the outer boroughs to win City Hall, are willing to take the risk, Lhota included.

Today, when WOR radio host John Gambling asked Lhota his thoughts on congestion pricing, he started talking about parking lots instead.

"Long before we have a real formal debate on congestion pricing, we've got to do everything we can to reduce the number of cars in the city and there are ways to do it," said Lhota. "One of the things that I proposed when I was at the M.T.A., and I will definitely do while I'm mayor is, if you look at the end of every one of the subway lines, whether in the north along the Westchester County border, or along the border with Queens and Nassau County, at the ends of each of those lines, I want to be able to build parking garages and basically tell the people who are coming in from Nassau County, 'You know what, don't drive in. Why don't you park in one of these nice, pretty garages that we'll prepare for you and then take the subway in.'"

(Lhota has made this argument on the campaign trail before.)

And to help lure the millenial set: WiFi.

"We've got to make sure that our subway system is WiFi-ed," said Lhota. "We've got to make sure that our buses have WiFi. The number of people who would would get on buses if they had access to WiFi and be able to use their computers or their smartphones would be extraordinary."