New Yorkers love the idea of tolling NYC’s East River bridges! So says a deceptive poll “partially” released by Move NY Fair Plan advocates to sell their East River tolling scheme in Albany. (See poll). While poll answers matter, the questions asked matter more. When 880 “likely voters” were asked which they’d prefer to improve the MTA’s finances: of course toll swaps (imposing tolls where none exist in exchange for reducing them in places where they are now) won out over raising taxes or raising the bus and subway fares. Second place: None of the Above. The poll was a brazen attempt to mislead the public into pressuring Albany to adopt the Move NY Fair Plan to toll access to Manhattan presently before the Legislature as Assembly Intro A09633.
But, with the Move NY Fair Plan, which is neither a fair nor good plan for New Yorkers, sketchy poll data is not the only flaw. Here’s more
THIS IS NOT A FAIR PLAN
- NJ residents and businesses get a free pass. Tolls will be placed across Manhattan at 60th street and at the East River bridges below 60th street. Vehicles coming into the area below 60th street from the Lincoln or Holland Tunnels will not be tolled.
- The tolls fall unevenly on Brooklyn, Queens and Long Island based business and individuals while offering no improvement in their transportation. Free upper Manhattan bridges will not be tolled.
- Brooklyn, Queens and Long Island based companies that operate trucks in the conduct of their businesses will be at a competitive disadvantage.
- Businesses and individuals who do not have or cannot afford EZ Pass, will pay higher rates and be subject to violations for non-payment.
- Manhattanites who presently park their cars for free in many of the neighborhoods in the affected districts, choking traffic and interfering with the delivery of goods and services, will not be affected unless they cross the tolling boundaries.
- Coincidently, the projected revenue under the Move NY plan, $1.5 billion per year, is about the same amount as the projected annual tax break given to real estate developers under the §421-a program.
- Those toll swaps: The TBTA bridges and tunnels, which would reduce their tolls under the Move NY Fair Plan, would get reimbursed off the top of any new funds collected.
ROAD / HIGHWAY INFRASTRUCTURE, STAKEHOLDERS VIRTUALLY IGNORED
- More than half of the projected $1.5 billion annual revenue would be tied up to secure debt for the MTA. Fuzzy formulas leave City bridges and roads with, at best, less than a quarter of that. Of the new debt, $7.3 billion would go directly to the MTA and $4.5 billion would go to the new Transit Gap Investment Fund (TGIF).
- All of the funds collected will be administered by a new entity, The Move New York Highway and Transit Authority, run by the MTA and the State Comptroller.
- Yet another bureaucracy, the Transit Gap Improvement Board, will administer the TGIF. That Board will consist of appointees of the Governor, Assembly Speaker, Speaker of the Senate, NYC Mayor, NYC City Council Speaker and NYC Borough Presidents. Non-voting representatives are to come from the Regional Plan Association, Transit Workers Union and other transit oriented groups. No representatives of the commercial truck industry or private vehicle owners are included.
- $3.5 billion of the TGIF funds are directed to a laundry list of mass transit oriented projects. None to improving roads or highways.
- The remaining $1 billion in borrowed TGIF funds would go to local politicians throughout the region for “hyperlocal transit accessibility projects”. Like your City Council member needs a new bus shelter with her name emblazed on it.
Interestingly, the poll showed that only 28% of respondents knew that the Governor controlled the MTA. What percentage of New Yorkers know that those un-tolled bridges belong to the City of New York, not the state? Why would the City mortgage its assets for more state controlled debt and red tape?
Given the sorry state of both MTA finances and New York infrastructure, it would be naive to think that charging for access to the Manhattan business core will never happen. But when it does, all stakeholders must be considered and additional sources of revenue explored. Any proposal must improve both transit and highway infrastructure, remedy congestion and improve transportation for outerborough businesses and residents.
Don’t’ be swayed by self-serving poll data. In its current form, the moneys collected under the Move NY Fair Plan would largely flow into the MTA without correcting any of the systemic problems at the heart of it’s borrow, spend, search-for-more-revenue cycle. The discussion about tolling and MTA finances is an enormous opportunity to implement sound financial planning and improved regional transportation for all.