Those who have opposed congestion pricing have charged that it would overload our transit system. The fact is that congestion pricing will create much more transit capacity than it will consume. While an optimistic 10% switch of driving trips to transit trips would do wonders in terms of clearing our streets, reducing the worst traffic congestion and improving our health and quality of life, because transit riders far outnumber drivers, this 10% switch from driving would only yield only a 2% increase in transit ridership. This 2% ridership increase would be spread over dozens of transit lines, and the federal government has pledged $354 million dollars in short term transit aid to immediately accommodate it. So even in the short term, congestion pricing will not overload our transit system.
More often, those who have opposed congestion pricing have charged that it would spell doom for middle and low-income New Yorkers. But they have leveled these charges without citing supporting facts. They have leveled this charge with willful or accidental ignorance of census and household survey data. What do the data show? The data show that if you are a middle-income commuter, chances are greater than 25 to 1 that you do not drive into Manhattan. If you are a low-income commuter, chances are even more remote that you drive into Manhattan.
Opponents of congestion pricing say that the only reason why some New Yorkers drive is because they lack a transit option. The fact is that the majority of drivers across all income levels have a transit option that for matters of personal preference they are not taking. Driving to Manhattan is much more often a matter of personal choice than necessity. Census data, compiled in last year’s T.A. study titled “Necessity or Choice”, show that 80% of Manhattan bound drivers have a viable transit option that they are not exercising.
To further see that driving is much more a choice than a necessity, you only have to, again, look at the census and household survey data to see how the neighbors of Manhattan bound drivers get to work. If you are from eastern Queens and you drive to Manhattan; if you are from eastern Brooklyn and you drive to Manhattan; if you are from Staten Island and you drive to Manhattan, there is one thing that the large majority of your neighbors have in common: they are taking transit. In fact there is not one single neighborhood in New York City where Manhattan bound drivers even come close to outnumbering Manhattan bound transit riders.
A small fraction--about 4%--of commuting New Yorkers drive to Manhattan. An even smaller fraction of this driving 4% are low-income. Within this tiny group, a still smaller fraction of drivers lack a viable transit option.
What is the best way to prepare this relatively small group of New Yorkers to meet the economic and environmental challenges of the 21st Century? What can you, as the leaders of our city, provide them that will put them and their children on track for a better future? Will you give them free parking? Discounted gasoline? Discounted auto insurance? Do they need a tax incentive to purchase a new hybrid car? No. These handouts will only exacerbate the problem delay the onset of a healthy 21st Century city where driving is reduced and transit use is dramatically increased.
There are two things that will prepare low-income New Yorkers, and indeed all New Yorkers, to meet the economic, transportation and environmental challenges of the 21st Century: 1) congestion pricing improve their subway and surface transit options, and 2) hard-fighting elected representatives to ensure that future transit funding not just guaranteed, but maximized through additional revenue sources.