Tony Simone Comments on the Central Business District Tolling Program Environmental Assessment

I have long supported the concept of congestion pricing and have urged its immediate implementation. The Manhattan Central Business District (CBD) is plagued by traffic congestion, noise, poor air quality and street safety issues, all issues that can be mitigated by congestion pricing. The 75th district is reliant on access to mass transit; in fact, every Manhattan subway line passes through this district. The funds generated from congestion pricing will help modernize our transit system, increasing accessibility and reliability. It is critical that any balance of exemptions and tolls, achieve the goal of funding and modernizing our transit system. As the program is finalized, the specific upgrades and timelines that will be made possible by the tolling program should be made clear to the public. As we approach implementation of the tolling program, I continue in my support with some recommendations.

The 75th district includes entry points into the CBD on the west side of Manhattan. I urge consultation with local community boards along the borders of the CBD on the location of tolling infrastructure. Wherever possible, existing street furniture should be used for the mounting of toll cameras to reduce any intrusions on pedestrian space on sidewalks. Any new infrastructure should avoid impacting the presence of street trees.

Intense congestion and an imbalance of street space between motor vehicles, bicycles and pedestrians has long been the cause of street safety issues which too often result in injury and death. A significant reduction in congestion will allow for the City to design safer and more equitable streets, reducing collisions and saving lives.

New York State has set ambitious goals to reduce emissions in the fight against climate change. Congestion pricing will help reach the goals set forth in the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act.

Many residents of the CBD leave the area during the business day, reducing local congestion and opening up street parking. I support a pricing model that would place heavier tolls on those entering the CBD during peak hours than those leaving the area. The tolling program should also collect heavier fees for larger and heavier vehicles.

Under the enacting legislation, all residents of the CBD earning $60,000 annually or less are to be provided tax rebates to offset the additional costs of traveling in their vehicles. I support legislation in the State Assembly, A.6598, that would increase the income level for rebates to 120% of AMI, which is $100,300 for an individual. Under London’s congestion pricing system, often held as an example of a successful program, all residents of the affected zone pay a reduced fee. Using the London model, even under a phased out temporary model, would allow for an adjustment period for residents of the CBD, particularly those whose employment requires them to travel to areas not served by current transit.

I have concerns over using tax credits for low-income residents. Many people with limited incomes cannot afford to pay the toll up front and wait until tax time for their credit. A system that allows for deferred payments for qualifying individuals so that they are not billed until they file taxes and can receive credits would reduce an undue financial burden.

Vehicles transporting people with disabilities deserve special attention. New York City’s current mass transit infrastructure is often inaccessible, leaving vehicles as the sole option for transportation. The Transit Mobility Review Board should take care in determining how a vehicle transporting a disabled person will be identified. I urge the board to consult with disability rights organizations to ensure implementation is responsive to their needs.

Congestion in the CBD has led to economic loss, and negative health and safety impacts. With these factors combined with the MTA’s financial crisis, I urge rapid implementation of the tolling program.

Thank you for the opportunity to submit comments on the MTA’s Central Business District Tolling Program.