Poor People Don’t Drive In Manhattan

Subtitle: Criticizing Critics of Congestion Pricing in NYC

New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg recently outlined a plan for congestion pricing to reduce the amount of traffic that enters the City and drives on its busiest streets during the day.

Cars would be charged $8 per trip (trucks pay substantially more), though taxis are excused from this fee. The fee would be charged electronically, so drivers needn’t worry about extra time waiting in line at a toll booth.

The impact of this proposal would be great. Bloomberg expects to raise 400 million dollars a year, as well as gain what has been estimated at 5 billion dollars in lost time, plus a number of other economic losses due to congestion and fuel costs. The money raised, he pledged, will go towards the improvement of public transportation.

Though this is just one of the aspects of the giant-sized plan he introduced on Earth Day to make New York City a global leader in environmental policies, it has understandably been the most controversial. The majority of the commentary has been pretty negative, with a lot of folks decrying the “unfairness” of the proposal to those with low incomes. In fact, a poll showed (unsurprisingly) that a majority of those who drive into Manhattan daily oppose the regulations. No way!

But critics of the plan are missing a big truth: Poor people don’t drive cars into Manhattan. If they do, well that’s a really good reason they’re poor. The cost of a week of parking alone is more than the $76 for an unlimited MetroCard, which covers all subway and bus transportation into and around the City. Not to mention insurance, car payments, gas!, and the other costs of maintaining a vehicle. This proposal only affects those already wealthy enough to own cars in the first place.

A large percentage of drivers into the City say this proposal would force them to give up their cars (it’s an extra $2000 or so yearly), and this is being touted as a reason not to enact these regulations. I’m sorry, but isn’t this the point - to reduce the number of cars coming into the City unnecessarily? Excuse me if I fail to weep for you and your need to drive crosstown for lunch at a speed less than you might achieve on foot. Proof of concept: Yesterday it took an hour and fifteen minutes for my Peter Pan bus to travel from 85th Street to Port Authority (42nd Street) on 9th Avenue. This is not even 3 miles.

We need to do something to reduce congestion, to reduce vehicle pollution, and to raise money to help modernize one of the premiere public transportation systems in the world. New York City can become a major leader in the fight for the environment, and this proposal forces major lifestyle changes which are the only way to enact real, appreciable change over time. Some folks will have to make sacrifices, but the alternative (even if you disbelieve the Hollywoodization of climate change)is far worse than the effort it will take to change.

The question, Bloomberg has aptly noted, is “not whether we want to pay but how do we want to pay?”

EDIT: I can think of one real negative to this plan. More bicyclists. Scary.