Summer 2003, p.26


Make Motorists Pay

The "provocacteur" piece by Alex Marshall is muddled, and its confused message is at odds with what T.A. often says. Marshall proposes transportation be treated as "a service" akin to education, rather than like a private business that "has to make a profit."

But as T.A. often writes, motorists should pay for ALL the costs of their driving--in taxes, charges and in fines for violation of rules. The point of the report by Martin Wachs, cited by Marshall, is that U.S. motorists do not pay enough of their costs and are paying less and less. His report shows that at the city and county level, only 40% of road and bridge costs are paid directly by road users. But when one includes Federal and state road related income and expenses, highway-user taxes and tolls paid for 81% of road spending. Marshall's 60% figure is based on fees paid by motorists after some funds went to transit and elsewhere. For more than 50 years, the tie between user-charge financing and highway spending has limited highway spending. Breaking the tie by treating transportation like education is likely to increase, rather than constrain highway spending, while doing little to increase transit financing. If we think of the public sector of transportation in an urban area as an enterprise that should be financed by users, except when a strong case can be made for subsidy from other funds, then people can be encouraged to use transportation more efficiently--think congestion charges for auto use, or the way in which the MTA has used Metrocard to encourage off-peak travel.

Dick Netzer
Professor Emeritus of Economics
and Public Administration
Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service

Taxis Are Too Cheap

In 1974, the New York City taxi meter was hiked to 60 cents per mile, which is equal to $2.20 in 2003 dollars. Yet 2003's New York cab drivers are expected to get by on 75 cents less per mile, in real terms, than in 1973--double the drag on lease drivers' income, who get to keep only the last hours of their take. Whatever excuses may be made for growing economic inequality in America from sea to shining sea, there is no explanation beyond unchecked neglect for New York yellow cab drivers to suffer under a fare structure that is almost 75 cents a mile below the real value of what their American born predecessors were paid for the same work almost three decades ago.

Denis Drew
NYC Taxi Driver

Midtown Crosswalk Barricades Should Stay

While thumbing through my Spring, 2003 edition of T.A. Magazine, I was
disappointed to come across an article advocating the removal of the Midtown Recessed Crosswalks, or "Crosswalk Barricades" as your magazine referred
to them. It contained a number of statements that warrant some comment. First, the fences were installed and are maintained by D.O.T., not the N.Y.P.D., although we did advocate their installation as a practical tool for expediting the flow of crosstown traffic on what was then called the Transitway. Regrettably, as your article correctly points out, there is no shortage of jaywalkers at these locations (not to mention many others around the city). The risks associated with jaywalking could, perhaps, be effectively addressed if the existing fences were extended around the corners onto the crosstown streets, creating recessed crosswalks there, too. In any case, the advent of the D.O.T.'s Thru-Streets Program hardly renders the recessed crosswalks 'pointless,' as your article suggests. The Thru-Streets program, however, has no impact on the Sixth Avenue Crosswalks as there are no restrictions on vehicles turning onto Sixth Avenue from either 49th or 50th Streets. If anything, these recessed crosswalks help to facilitate the additional vehicles turning north onto Sixth Avenue from 49th Street. As for the turns onto Fifth Avenue, there are restrictions on turns at these locations for only 8 hours per day, five days per week, or, for 24 per cent of the time. The limited overlap of recessed crosswalks with Thru-Streets, is hardly a reason to call for their demise, although the lack of maintenance may, in the end prove fatal to the project (there are currently two fences that are badly in need of repair). While I agree that the recessed crosswalk is not the answer to all of our traffic concerns, I do believe that, if used properly, it can be a useful tool in the continuing efforts to balance the rights of motorists, pedestrians and, of course, bicyclists.

All the best,
Deputy Chief James McShane

Ed: T.A. respectfully disagrees with the Chief. The barricades encourage jay walking, making the intersection less safe. The barricades also penalize city-friendly pedestrians in a failed attempt to increase traffic capacity.

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