Schwartz on tolls, transit, and “employee raises”

by Nicole Gelinas |  | NY Torch

Former NYC traffic commissioner, ex-cabbie, and all-around legend “Gridlock Sam” Sam Schwartz had an intriguing piece in today’s Daily News on “how to fix New York City traffic.”

Schwartz sees the problem as being “the maddening illogic” of how New York tolls its bridges and tunnels.

The city and state (via public authorities) toll people going from one relatively sparsely populated part of an outer borough to another, and “we toll everybody driving to Staten Island as if it were one giant central business district.”

But people don’t pay tolls to come over the bridges from Brooklyn to core Manhattan.

One result is that people drive around for no reason but to avoid tolls.

“Dumb.”

Schwartz would fix this problem by implementing congestion pricing by the back door. This approach would involve:

  • lowering tolls where the city and state don’t need them to be so high to manage traffic in a scarce space;
  • adding tolls where traffic managers do need a financial incentive to keep people off Manhattan streets if they don’t need to be there, including on bridges and street crossings into the most congested parts of Manhattan;
  • and levying new charges on parking and on riding in black cars for Manhattanites, some of whose cars rarely leave the island (the 2008 congestion-pricing scheme gave such people a free pass).

Schwartz would use the money — some $2 billion in new revenue — both for road improvements and transit improvements, including Brooklyn and Queens investments.

Schwartz’s plan isn’t perfect.

For one thing, it’s not clear that New York needs to raise $2 billion in new revenues without at least trying to cut costs significantly elsewhere.

But Schwartz did bring something particularly valuable to the debate.

In noting how people worry that new money would “disappear into the black hole that is the MTA,” he says that transit money should “largely go to infrastructure improvements, not fare reductions or employee raises.”

Hmmm.

Yes, one has to wonder what that word “largely” means. But after that caveat, it’s a huge breakthrough for anyone in the transit or congestion-pricing “communities” even to acknowledge, however so implicitly, that money for the MTA does not automatically equal money for better transit.

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