By Maria Rocha-Buschel
Manhattan elected officials argued strongly in favor of congestion pricing at a public hearing last Thursday, but car-owning residents in attendance felt differently about the plan.
“This congestion was caused by the city allowing Uber and Lyft to put hundreds of cars on the streets that were already congested without charging any revenue for the city,” said attendee Sheila Williams. “If they had at least done that, they could have increased revenue and decreased the cars on the street, but now you want all of us to pay for this debacle and it’s already decimated the yellow cab industry.”
Manhattanites got the opportunity to offer their thoughts on the plan at a public hearing hosted by Borough President Gale Brewer at Cooper Union last Thursday evening. Many of the few hundred residents in attendance identified themselves as car-owners and suggested that residents who live in the area shouldn’t be forced to pay a fee just based on where they live.
“I do think that people living in the zone should be exempted from congestion pricing,” Stuy Town resident Lynn Janofsky said. “The only reason I have a car is to drive out of the city. I only go up or down the FDR and don’t drive in the city because I’m too worried about killing somebody, with the bikes, Ubers, pedestrians and phones. I have zero faith in the mayor to think things through before implementing something. For all of us who live in Stuyvesant Town/Peter Cooper Village and our six garages, we should be exempt.”
Although the plan hasn’t been finalized, the current proposal would impose a fee on cars driving into Manhattan below 60th Street. The plan wouldn’t technically tax residents as they are leaving the borough but since they presumably will be driving back into Manhattan to get home, some speakers called for an exemption for residents.
“There should be some exemptions,” Brewer agreed at the start of the hearing. “People with disabilities and yellow cabs should be exempt. But for congestion pricing to work, it has to be part of a larger vision.”
Although many of the residents at the hearing spoke against the plan, some adjustments to the proposal floated by State Senator Brad Hoylman were met with applause.
“We have to be fair to Manhattan,” he said. “You should not be penalized for living in the conges tion pricing zone.”
Hoylman said that he is pushing for residential discounts and a residential parking scheme to be included in the plan, and added that residents who are leaving the zone to go to work in the morning shouldn’t have to pay the fee.
Hoylman also argued for his proposed pied-a-terre tax that would impose a tax on non-primary residences of $5 million or more.
“We have to also think about other sources of revenue (for the MTA),” he said.
An MTA representative at the meeting also said that the agency “strongly endorses” the proposal, noting that if it fails, the MTA will need to increase fares and tolls by 30 percent, raising the subway’s base fare to $3.50 from $2.75 and increasing the 30-day pass to $154 from $121, to cover capital costs. The MTA would also be unlikely to implement its “Fast Forward” plan if congestion pricing does not pass.
Elected officials in attendance also emphasized the impact the plan could have on public transit, not only due to the extra revenue but also because of the congestion itself. Council Member Carlina Rivera noted that the bus system is failing because congestion in Manhattan is so overwhelming and Hoylman agreed. “Our Senate District has the slowest bus speeds in the entire city,” he said, noting that one of the goals of congestion pricing is to speed up bus service. “It was timed and a squirrel can run faster than the M14 bus.”