The Commute: Should The Move NY Plan Be Approved?

The Commute: Should The Move NY Plan Be Approved?
Two of the three East River crossings, circa 1981. Source: Wikipedia
Two of the three East River crossings, circa 1981. Source: Wikipedia

THE COMMUTE: The answer is obvious to all the car haters out there. However, those who are more objective in their analysis have legitimate reasons to oppose such a plan. Among those is Queens Councilman Rory Lancman. He stated in the Queens Chronicle:

It’s unfair…a teacher driving into Manhattan to a local public school would pay the same price as a high-level executive driving in from Long Island…In the MTA’s current capital plan, most of the funds would go toward maintaining and improving existing service…Rather than penalizing drivers to improve traffic flow, we should incentivize alternatives. We should offer incentives like tax breaks for businesses that allow employees to telecommute and increased funds for car pool lanes, and encourage nighttime deliveries to keep trucks off our streets during rush hour….The advocates behind the Move NY plan seem to think the only way to fund the MTA and reduce congestion is to penalize residents who live in transit deserts.

Why Is Move NY Being Proposed?

Move NY is also known as the son of Congestion Pricing, Mayor Bloomberg’s failed attempt to toll the four free East River bridges and charge for those entering the central city. The initiative, which was inspired by London’s “congestion charge,” was the brainchild of former Department of Transportation (DOT) Commissioner Sam Schwartz, better known as Gridlock Sam.

Move NY, however, differs in several ways from former proposals to toll the free bridges, which was originally proposed in the 1970s. The initial tolling plan would have simply placed tolls on the free East River and Harlem River bridges. Its purpose was to raise revenue for the city and to equalize usage on the free and pay crossings, thereby moving traffic more efficiently. It failed to win approval because of the increase in air pollution generated at the toll plazas as well as for other reasons.

Bloomberg’s plan was a little different. Additional revenue amounting in the billions was to be used specifically for mass transit. It also eliminated plans to toll the Harlem River bridges because not only are those crossings much shorter, most users never even enter into Midtown or Downtown. Like Move NY, it also provided a hefty charge to those entering Manhattan south of 60th Street.

Bloomberg’s plan, however, differed from the other two, in that it did not charge for using the Brooklyn Bridge if you immediately entered and stayed on the FDR Drive until you were north of 60th Street. Also, there was no charge on the free bridges or to enter Manhattan between 6pm and 6am. Although, new technology making increased air pollution near the toll plazas was no longer an issue, it was also rejected.

Now comes the Move NY Plan, which adds the carrot of cutting tolls on the non-Central Business District (CBD) bridges in half to garner support to toll the free East River crossings. It also eliminates the free ride for those bypassing Midtown on the FDR, which was a feature of the Bloomberg plan.

What Will The Money Supposedly Be Used For?

Supposedly, it will help fill the MTA’s $30 billion Capital Budget black hole and improve existing service. New Yorkers already started paying more earlier this year to ride the buses and trains and to use the toll crossings. Yes, some of the money will go toward the MTA’s Capital Budget, but will it be more than the amount the state provided in previous years? Governor Cuomo bragged about how he balanced the state budget prior to his re-election, but he did that by not funding the MTA, claiming he wasn’t convinced the MTA really needed $30 billion more. How do we know that Move NY will result in better transportation? We don’t.

Lied To Before

How many times were we promised a Second Avenue Subway and Brooklyn subway extensions if we approved a bond issue? Weren’t we promised greatly increased funding for education if we only approve a lottery? What we got was a substitution of funding of New York State general funds with lottery funds freeing the state to spend that money as it saw fit. There was minimal if any increase to education funding.

When the MTA took over the Tri-Borough Bridge and Tunnel Authority, tolls were doubled with the promise that the MTA’s long-term funding problems would be solved forever. Those funds made the rehabilitation of many subway stations possible, but it did not cure the MTA’s funding problems as promised. The MTA eventually resorted to raising fares and tolls every two years with no end in sight. What transit advocates said was needed was a long-range plan to provide a steady influx of new revenue so that fares and tolls could be maintained for more than two years at a time, and so Bloomberg’s Congestion Pricing Plan was born.

Now Move NY is being proposed, but the promise not to continue to increase fares and tolls every two years forever, has disappeared. Fares and tolls will continue to rise at the same rate every two years, but now we will also be paying to drive into Manhattan south of 60th Street. What’s more, as Lancman stated, is that we have no assurances as to which transportation improvements will be made if we agree to the Move NY Plan.

History Repeating Itself?

Just as state funding of education from the general fund was shifted to the new lottery funding source instead of the lottery providing an entirely new revenue stream, we are likely to see similar shifting of funds with Move NY. The Move NY plan promises 75 percent of net revenues will go to mass transit. Monies that currently fund bridge and road reconstruction — road resurfacing as well as pothole repair — will be shifted from the city’s General Fund to the Move NY revenue source. The city’s contribution to mass transit will probably also be shifted and we will never see the state contribute any money as it has in the past if Move NY comes to pass. The MTA will have less incentive to improve efficiency and reduce costs.

If the city contributes less to the MTA, it enables them to use those funds to provide additional tax breaks to big real estate developers. It has been estimated that, currently, the city loses a billion dollars a year to these tax breaks, which is why the city is only able to make a measly contribution to the MTA’s operating budget. Not nearly enough to subsidize MTA Bus Company routes taken over from private operations, reimburse the MTA for reduced student ant senior fares, and to pay for the extra bus service to schools that really should be the city’s responsibility. The MTA provides this service because it already has an extensive bus system in place and can provide this service more efficiently than if the city started a brand new bus network to serve schools where subway service does not exist.

Bus Service

The Move NY Plan says much about how increased transportation funding would help subways. Regarding buses it only states that bus fares in the outskirts of the city would be lowered. What that means is that express bus fares would initially be cut to $5 with no assurances it would not be raised again once the plan is approved.

The plan says nothing about providing increased bus service. The Q101 along Steinway Street in Astoria, a heavy commercial corridor, operates at 20-minute intervals. The poor service encourages residents to walk up to nine blocks to the N and Q trains, rather than using the Q101 to the M and R trains, which may better serve them. Bus patronage could conceivably double with improved service. The MTA believes they have a captive audience and does not consider poor bus service a deterrent.

The Commute is a weekly feature highlighting news and information about the city’s mass transit system and transportation infrastructure. It is written by Allan Rosen, a Manhattan Beach resident and former Director of MTA/NYC Transit Bus Planning (1981).

Disclaimer: The above is an opinion column and may not represent the thoughts or position of Sheepshead Bites. Based upon their expertise in their respective fields, our columnists are responsible for fact-checking their own work. Their submissions are edited only for length, grammar and clarity. If you would like to submit an opinion piece or become a regularly featured contributor, please e-mail nberke [at]sheepsheadbites [dot]com.