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Mayor Proposes a Fee for Driving Into Manhattan
By MARIA NEWMAN
New York Times
April 22, 2007
Saying that he would not spend his final term in office “pretending that all is fine,” Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg made a series of Earth Day proposals this afternoon to improve the environment of New York City, including charging a new congestion fee to drivers who come into parts of Manhattan during peak hours during weekdays.
The $8 congestion fee was one of 127 initiatives included in a sweeping plan by the mayor to help the city of currently 8.2 million people cope with an expected surge in population that he said is sure to put a strain on its transportation, housing and energy systems.
“Let’s face up to the fact that our population growth is putting our city on a collision course with the environment, which itself is growing more unstable and uncertain,” the mayor said.
A key objective is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent by 2030, by which time the population is projected to grow by at least a million people, he said.
The proposal that is sure to attract the most attention, and possibly objections, is one to impose the $8 fee on car drivers, and $21 for truck operators, to drive in Manhattan south of 86th Street.
The mayor said congestion on the city’s streets is the source of many of the city’s health, environmental and economic problems.
“We can’t talk about reducing air pollution without talking about congestion,” he said.
“As our city continues to grow, the cost of congestion to our health, to our economy and to our environment are only going to get worse,” he said. “The question is not whether we want to pay, but how do we want to pay — with an increased asthma rate, with more greenhouse gases, with more wasted time, lost business and higher prices. Or do we charge a modest fee to encourage more people to take mass transit.”
The fee the mayor is proposing would only be imposed during the week, between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m.. And motorists driving the major highways along Manhattan’s east and west sides would not be fined, so it would be possible to go from Brooklyn to Harlem along Franklin D. Roosevelt Drive without entering the zone.
The fee would be deducted from the tolls commuters already pay to come into Manhattan via the bridges or tunnels.
There would be no toll booths, just a network of cameras that would capture license plate numbers and either charge a driver’s existing commuter account or generate a bill to be paid each time.
The mayor said that about half of the fees would be paid by New York City residents — and the other half by commuters from surrounding areas. But he pledged not to begin imposing the fee for at least a year, until city officials can upgrade mass transit service into parts of New York City that are currently not well served by the city’s subway or train system.
Revenue from the fees, he said, would generate about $400 million in its first year, money that would be used to make improvements in the transit system.
The proposed fee, known as congestion pricing, is applauded by environmentalists and alternative transportation groups. But there is little doubt that much of the package of proposals will face stiff opposition from local politicians and trucking companies, as well as from the state legislators who will decide whether to approve many aspects of it.
State Assemblyman Richard Brodsky said he opposed the mayor’s proposal for a congestion fee because it is a regressive tax.
“The middle class and the poor will not be able to pay these fees and the rich will,” said Mr. Brodsky, who is chairman of a committee that oversees the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. “There are a lot of courageous things in the mayor’s package, but this one is not very well thought out.”
Clayton Boyce, a spokesman for the American Trucking Association, a national industry group, told The Associated Press, “It will be a real problem for operations for trucking companies and shippers, including all the retailers in Manhattan, which is substantial.”
“And all the people who get FedEx and UPS deliveries will have problems and will bear extra expense, so we definitely see problems with it,” he said.
The mayor, who has become known for his proposals that affect residents’ lifestyles, including a ban on smoking and a ban on the use of trans fats in the city’s restaurants, at one point in the speech joked about how far his own proposals have gone in forcing people to change the way they live.
“Banning trans fats is not enough. We also have to ban all desserts and sweets,” he said, before quickly letting on to his audience that he was only joking.
The mayor spoke, appropriately enough, at the American Museum of Natural History, in the Milstein Hall of Ocean Life, under an imposing model of a 94-foot blue whale suspended from the ceiling— the largest model of a blue whale in existence.
Mr. Bloomberg is a mayor who has in many ways practiced what he preached today, riding the subway to work almost every day. He also pointed out that the museum’s president, Ellen V. Futter, walks to her job everyday.
The mayor’s congestion tax is patterned after one imposed by London in 2003, where government officials say it has significantly reduced congestion. During Mr. Bloomberg’s speech, he played a videotaped message from Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain, who congratulated the mayor on his leadership.
Mr. Bloomberg talked about how cities and individuals have to take action, even when those actions may not be initially popular with others.
Like with the smoking ban, he said, “we did it, and whole countries followed us.”
“We’re not interested in preaching to others,” he said. “We’re doing what’s best for our city. And when we reap the benefits, perhaps others will continue to follow.”