Support Builds for NYC Congestion-Pricing Plan
LIANE HANSEN, host:
In New York, traffic congestion is like so many things there, outsized. You got to see it to believe it. New York's mayor has a plan to get things moving a little faster on the street his city. Michael Bloomberg wants to impose fees on drivers as they enter Manhattan.
Beth Fertig of member station WNYC has the story.
BETH FERTIG: By 5 o'clock on a weekday afternoon, cars and trucks are lining up to cross the 59th street bridge from Manhattan to Queens. Traffic agents in red and yellow vest take control of this situation, waving along the vehicles that they can have extra time to cross the crowded intersection.
(Soundbite of traffic)
David Allen(ph) pulls up to a red light in his SUV. He commutes from suburban Mount Vernon and he's heard all about Mayor Michael Bloomberg's plan to change drivers a fee to cross into the busiest parts of Manhattan.
Mr. DAVID ALLEN: I mean, I don't think that somebody's out there - that some people who have to take two and three and four different kinds of transportation in order to get where they're going. That's why they drive. It's more convenient. Even though you do get stuck in traffic, it's still worth the time of driving.
FERTIG: But traffic also comes in a price. The city's business community estimates congestion is costing New York City $13 billion a year in fuel and productivity losses. That's expected to get even worse as the city grows. Planners predict this city of more than eight million will expand to nine million over the next 20 years.
To accommodate that growth, while also improving air quality, Mayor Bloomberg has proposed using the revenues from a congestion pricing system to pay for improvements in mass transit. Drivers would pay $8 to cross into Manhattan between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. on weekdays; trucks would pay $21. His plan was endorsed by U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters.
Ms. MARY PETERS (Secretary, U.S. Department of Transportation): This plan will keep the city that never sleeps from becoming the city that never moves.
FERTIG: She noted the success of a similar system in London. Like the one over there, Bloomberg's plan would allow drivers to pay their $8 fee in advance, over the phone or Internet, enforcement would be handled by a network of cameras scanning license plates. But the city needs state approval and while Governor Eliot Spitzer supports the proposal, many legislators are weary. A flat $8 fee is an increase over the current system of tolls that are mostly under $5 and some bridges are free. At a state assembly hearing on Friday, Bloomberg was questioned by a Harlem lawmaker Denny Farrell.
Mayor MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (New York City): Well, number one...
Mr. DENNY FARRELL (Lawmaker, Harlem): Would this affect the working folks a lot?
Mayor BLOOMBERG: Mister Chairman, the working folks of this city are the great beneficiaries here. It is those people that can afford $30 and $40 parking garages in Manhattan. Those are the people who are going to pay these fees rather than taxes.
FERTIG: Bloomberg argues that most commuters already take mass transit. One study found 70 percent of those who work in Manhattan rely on buses and trains. And among the New York City residents alone, that number climbs to 95 percent. That's why the mayor's plan is especially popular on the subways.
(Soundbite of subway)
Unidentified Man: And clear the closing doors please.
FERTIG: On the Lexington Avenue line, Nilly Citrone(ph) of Westchester said drivers should pay more.
Ms. NILLY CITRONE (Commuter, Lexington Avenue Line): If they're coming during rush hour, and they want to drive instead of taking public transportation, they should pay for the privilege because they're contributing to the congestion that's already there, let alone the pollution and everything else.
FERTIG: Environmentalists, business leaders, and transit advocates also support the mayor's plan. They'll be lobbying skeptical lawmakers, hoping to win their support before the end of the session this month.
For NPR News, I'm Beth Fertig in New York.
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