Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Inadvertent Admissions On Congestion Pricing Tax

Yesterday, I mused about whether the congestion pricing tax was really just a means to grab more revenue and that it would do little to actually reduce congestion.

Well, it looks like I was right to be skeptical.
The strain on the system is a "big argument" for congestion pricing, Roberts said. The city's pricing plan would generate billions of dollars to fund mass transit projects by charging drivers to enter Manhattan below 86th St.

Gene Russianoff of the Straphangers Campaign agreed.

"The choice is clear: We either act now to handle the coming million ... or drown in the crush," Russianoff said. "Congestion pricing is the answer."

The Straphangers Campaign also would like to see congestion pricing funds used to prevent potential fare hikes.

The first leg of the Second Ave. subway will run from 96th St. to the existing station at Lexington Ave. and 63rd St. It will then follow the same route as the existing Q train. Transit officials said the system potentially could handle as many as 20 southbound trains an hour to ease crowding.

Roberts called a news conference yesterday to "put into perspective" comments that he made Monday. He said then there was "no room" for additional rush-hour riders on the most crowded lines.

Yesterday, Roberts said the increased subway ridership from congestion pricing is expected to be minor - just 3,500 riders systemwide during the peak rush hour.
I don't buy the latest numbers being provided one bit. How exactly did they arrive at 3,500 more riders in the system? Did they pull that number out of thin air? It certainly seems that way. They're now trying to justify that the mass transit system can handle the influx of passengers due to a congestion pricing tax by underestimating the numbers that would switch, all to be able to say that the tax can pass and supposedly bring in more revenue for mass transit programs that will not actually address capacity issues.

Indeed, the MTA admits that the 2d Avenue Line will be maxed on capacity when it's finally completed. The MTA is playing catch up because it simply doesn't have the capacity to add more seats to its subway system. The system can't absorb the ridership from a shift to mass transit due to congestion pricing, and if you believe their figures, you'd have to realize that thousands of drivers will no choice but submit to the onerous tax because they simply didn't have any other option or they'll chose to do business and work elsewhere, undermining the City and regional economies.

Also, if you're going to impose this tax, it should be devoted to capital construction and debt relief, not ongoing funding operations, which should come from fares and already existing subsidies. The system got into trouble when the capital budget was raided for ongoing operations - both suffered as a result and it took nearly 20 years to stabilize the system.

The idea to think big is admirable, but regressive taxes on commuters who have no other options but to drive makes no sense.

Let's also remember that NJ Transit has to factor into the congestion pricing tax, and if they don't have any capacity to handle additional riders at their facilities, this tax will disproportionately affect New Jersey commuters. Indeed, NJ Transit cannot get more buses into the Port Authority Terminal at 42nd Street and unless a second lane is devoted to bus traffic, they can't get more buses into the City through the Lincoln Tunnel either. Traffic at the GWB is similarly at capacity.

NJ Transit rail operations are also maxed out, and some poor decisions have led to spending on capital projects that have not met any expectations. NJ Transit decided to spend more than $450 million on the Secaucus boondoggle - the transfer station, which is not only underutilized, but would be rendered all but obsolete if plans for THE Tunnel are completed to add capacity to the Hudson tunnels. Under THE Tunnel (Trans Hudson Express Tunnel), the Main/Bergen lines would be able to offer one-seat rides into Penn Station, bypassing the Transfer station altogether, which was the original reason for building it. The riders currently using the station are doing so to get into Midtown, and if the one-seat link is established, those riders will simply disappear, leaving the Transfer to be a ghost town (okay, more of one than it already is).

The Transfer is a white elephant that remains underutilized and the locals have opposed building a parking garage to get cars off the roads and onto the trains into Manhattan. Taxpayers and commuters are bearing the burden for that mess, including trains that are short railcars, higher fares, higher debt financing, and railcars that are obsolete (including no a/c). Instead of building a bare bones transfer, NJ Transit went with the gold-plated version which means that precious resources could not be devoted to more pressing issues, including lack of parking in dozens of municipalities around the state.

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