Testimony on Central Business District Tolling Program

I am speaking here today to express my strong support for congestion pricing and for a significant exemption for residents who live within the Manhattan Central Business District, in line with successful, international models of congestion pricing.

I represent the 75th Assembly District, which is located almost entirely inside Manhattan Central Business District. The extreme car and truck congestion my constituents face is a detriment to their safety, health and wellbeing. They are plagued by high levels of noise throughout all hours of the night. They are forced to breathe disproportionately high levels of toxic vehicle exhaust. They are under constant threat of drivers hurting or killing them with their vehicles. Everybody who has spent time within the Manhattan Central Business District has been exposed to these hazards to one degree or another. This is daily life for those who live within the district. These harmful effects could be greatly mitigated by the immediate implementation of congestion pricing.

My constituents are highly reliant on access to mass transit; in fact, nearly every Manhattan subway line passes through this district. However, the MTA is facing a significant deficit, and has been unable to meet the needs of our city. The funds generated from congestion pricing will help modernize our transit system, increasing accessibility and reliability.

To not implement congestion pricing would be to maintain a special entitlement for drivers. It is residents, pedestrians and bikers who suffer the worst effects of congestion. Only a fraction of the noise that drivers make is heard within their vehicles. Only a fraction of the toxic vehicle exhaust that drivers produce is inhaled from within their vehicles. And the greatest harm drivers cause in collisions is felt by those outside their vehicles. 

But drivers themselves are not immune to the greatest harm of congestion, the acceleration of climate change through the pollution of our atmosphere with greenhouse gasses. The 1.1 Celsius degrees of global warming that we are currently experiencing has already had devastating effects on our planet and on our city with Hurricane Sandy which killed 233 people and caused over 68 billion dollars in damages. Natural disasters like these are increasing in frequency and severity, resulting in further loss of life and displacement of people. We must tackle climate change from all angles, including decreasing driving and improving public transportation, and we must act now before it is too late.

All of this being said, I cannot stand to allow this congestion pricing plan to use in-zone residents as a source of funding. Car owners make up less than 20% of the congestion zone population, and the expected revenue to be generated from them is a negligible portion of the total expected revenue. However, this cost would be a very significant part of their living expenses.Further, in-zone residents generally use their cars to leave the Manhattan Business District, not to run errands within it, and they should not be punished simply for returning.I am therefore calling for a 90% discount for residents who live within the Manhattan Central Business District. This would be similar to London’s congestion pricing model, which has been able to effectively meet its revenue goals with a 90% discount for in-district residents. The revenue goals of our congestion pricing plan can clearly be met with this discount and must be made part of this plan to be seen as fair to all New Yorkers.

New York City’s current mass transit infrastructure is often inaccessible, leaving vehicles as the sole transportation option for people with disabilities. Congestion pricing must implement an exemption for all vehicles transporting people with disabilities, including when someone else is driving them. We must also ensure that all forms of disability credentials are included as qualifiers for the exemption for people with disabilities.

Additionally, the initial and lasting success of congestion pricing will heavily rely on New Yorkers seeing this new revenue being used efficiently and effectively. We should all have a clear understanding of exactly where this new revenue will be spent and exactly when we will feel the results in our daily commutes. My constituents want to hear how many new trains and buses, how much will service increase, and how much cleaner and safer their rides will be.

Thank you for this opportunity to testify. For the sake of my constituents, pedestrians, bikers, and all New Yorkers, I urge you to rapidly implement congestion pricing with these exemptions for in-zone residents and people with disabilities.