Good evening, my name is Karla Quintero, and I live in Astoria and am a lifelong Queens resident. I'm also the Deputy Director of Planning of Transportation Alternatives. Transportation Alternatives is a 6,000 member non-profit organization that has worked with communities citywide to reduce automobile use and promote walking, bicycling and transit since 1973.
As the Commission heard at last week's hearing, Transportation Alternatives strongly supports the "Alternative Congestion Pricing Plan" outlined in your interim report. We can all agree New York City has a traffic problem, that it's streets do not have the capacity to accommodate the current levels of traffic and that its transit system needs expansion in order to accommodate the growth to come. The question then becomes how can New York reduce driving, clean the air and raise money for transit and how can it do this in fair and timely fashion. We therefore need a traffic mitigation plan that doesn't just move traffic; we need a plan that gets rid of traffic, while simultaneously providing a sustainable source of transit funding, so people will have mass transit alternatives to driving. The Alternative Congestion Pricing Plan is the most fair and feasible option for achieving these goals.
A lot of the people who will stand up after me are going to complain about the fairness and impossibilities of congestion pricing. Opponents claim that the Alternative Plan gives Manhattan residents a free ride and unfairly charges Queens and other boroughs, but that's just not true. Under the Alternative Plan, Manhattan residents pay on par with drivers from the four other boroughs: Manhattanites will pay to drive across the 60th street cordon, Manhattanites will pay increased parking fees, and Manhattanites will pay the congestion surcharge on taxi and livery trips. And, Queens residents will benefit on par with Manhattan and others around the city.
If congestion pricing opponents are going to oppose the plan, they need to offer a serious plan, one that is fair and can be implemented immediately, one that will raise sustainable funds for transit and reduce traffic and one that will meet the terms of our agreement with the US DOT and win New York $354 million in transit aide.
We believe that it is of utmost importance that all revenue from congestion pricing be put into a lockbox to be used specifically for transit improvements. With revenue from congestion pricing plan going specifically to transit improvements, Queens' residents, currently underserved by transit, stand to gain tremendously from this plan. According to the latest Quinnipiac Poll released earlier this month ("NYC Voters Back Congestion Pricing, If It Helps Transit, Quinnipiac University Poll Finds; Strong Opposition to East River Bridge Tolls") the clear majority of Queens' residents (61%) support congestion pricing plan if the funds raised are dedicated to mass transit improvements.
Congestion pricing tackles the root of the traffic problem in Queens, which is commuting. The high volume of motor vehicle traffic that courses through Queens streets hurts our health, economy, quality of life and relationships with our neighbors. When I testified before this Commission in October, I told you about my research around the city, conducting 600 in person interviews to assess the impact of motor vehicle traffic on New Yorkers' quality of life. For the study "Traffic's Human Toll," I interviewed 150 residents in Astoria and found that Queens traffic had a profoundly negative impact on quality of life. Astoria residents living on high traffic streets sleep less, go out on their street less often, have fewer friends and are more frequently disturbed by traffic than people who live on low traffic streets. About a quarter of Astoria residents thought traffic had gotten worse on their block over the last few years, and 40% suspect that traffic will get worse there in the next five years. This is our challenge: to prove them wrong.
The alternative congestion pricing plan is equitable in that 87% of the workforce bound for the zone already takes transit, walks or bikes there. For the 4.5% of residents that do drive to commute to the congestion pricing zone, viable transit options will be made available. Relative to any other borough, the plan recognizes that Queens is in dire need of better transit for its commuters and so if congestion pricing is approved, 105 clean air buses, 3 new express bus routes, 3 new local routes here and improved service on the E and F trains will be implemented immediately. In fact, if congestion pricing is approved, Queens will receive more transit improvements than any other borough. If a congestion pricing plan is not approved, Queens, and New York, will lose all of the transit funding promised by the federal government.
Congestion pricing will return significant benefits to New York City's middle and low income transit-riding majority. Here in Queens, as in every other borough, lower income and working people will benefit tremendously from transit improvements funded by congestion pricing. Less affluent New Yorkers ride transit much more frequently than those with higher incomes. Census data shows that in Brooklyn and Queens, commuters making less than $50,000 a year are twice as likely to take transit as drive to work. Borough- and citywide, households with cars earn twice as much as households without them. (Please see U.S. Census analysis at the end of this testimony.)
Transportation Alternatives applauds the Traffic Congestion Mitigation Commission and your commitment and your staff's work to work towards presenting a feasible plan. We also urge the adoption of the Alternative Congestion Pricing Plan with a transit lockbox. It is a fair plan that will garner funding for immediate subway, bus and ferry improvements, reduce traffic throughout the city and establish a sustained funding stream for transit.