In light of the state Assembly's refusal yesterday to endorse Mayor Bloomberg's congestion pricing plan and instead form a commission to study ways to relieve traffic, it's tempting to view the deflation of the mayor's plan for New York City as another case of Albany standing in the way of progress. Certainly the roads are clogged, representing a decision by hundreds of thousands of ordinary New Yorkers that they are preferable to others ways of getting around. The problem, if that's what one calls it, will only worsen as the city's population expands to 9 million.
Meantime there's a deficit of city and state funds needed for improvements to the socialistic mass transit, improvements that could — or could not — get more people to switch to public transportation. The attraction of charging motorists to drive into Manhattan is, in theory, it would relieve traffic by discouraging unnecessary trips into the city while also providing a long-term mechanism for paying for refurbished stations, new bus routes, expanded ferry service, and the construction of the Second Avenue subway line.
While it's likely that a fee would dampen traffic in the early years, how do we know that traffic wouldn't rise back to intolerable levels in ensuing years, as it has done in London? What assurances do New Yorkers have that the money raised by the fees will be spent on the projects outlined by the mayor? What's stopping the state or city government from raising the fees well beyond the $8 introductory level? Why does a three-ton SUV get charged the same amount as a small hybrid vehicle?
Mr. Bloomberg's response was to tell the Legislature to trust him and just approve the thing. He waited until the end of April to roll out a complicated plan, expecting lawmakers to rubber stamp a phone-book sized bill by June. He distributed leaflets showing a little girl with an inhaler, suggesting that if lawmakers failed to approve congestion pricing, then she and others suffering from asthma would be hurt. It turns out that the worst rates of asthma are outside the Manhattan charge zone, infuriating the very lawmakers the mayor needed as allies.
These columns have often criticized the Legislature for its obeisance to narrow interests against policies that would clearly benefit the rest of New York. When the Assembly resists the expansion of charter schools, for example, the body is reflecting the will of the teachers union, rather than the will of the people. Yet, in the case of congestion pricing, the general opposition in the Assembly appears to be a more legitimate political calculation, raising the question of how a mayor who is so so easily thwarted by the Assembly speaker, Sheldon Silver, can be expected to deal with a much larger legislature in Washington, D.C.