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REPORT: NYC Commuter Congestion Plan Collides with Middle Class

December 13, 2007

New York, NY - Commuting can be hard enough, but a new assessment of Mayor Bloomberg's "congestion pricing" plan to ease traffic concludes it would hit middle-class residents from Brooklyn, Long Island and Queens the hardest.

The study, from New York City's independent budget office, says the mayor's plan to tax commuters entering Manhattan during prime commuting times would have the biggest impact on people who can least afford to pay it. It's estimated that one-fifth of them are government workers.

The mayor's staff says it would help lower-income, mass transit riders, but State Assemblyman Richard Brodsky believes the plan is not fair.

"The burden of the Mayor's plan falls on middle-to-low income people in the outer boroughs. It is a regressive plan and it is not, I think, going to become the law of the state."

Brodsky points to loopholes in the plan for the wealthy, who can enter Manhattan by limousine; and for New Jersey commuters, whose tolls would be deducted from the congestion fee.

However, environmental groups and some policy analysts support the idea. They believe a "commuting tax" would reduce pollution, generate mass transit funds, and improve the city's economy with more efficient traffic flow. The Transportation Department claims it would save the city $13 billion per year in revenue lost to traffic jams. The mayor's staff hopes it will even qualify the city for more federal transportation money.

Brodsky argues that transit funding and environmental needs can be served without what he calls the "gentrification" of city traffic.

"Pricing mechanisms are the tools of the Bush administration, of market force analysts who believe that the market can solve all problems. The market will be unfair. This plan will not stop the BMWs; it will stop the Chevrolets."

The controversial, three-year plan is now under review by a statewide commission and the state legislature, which must sign off on it before it could be implemented.

Robert Knight/Kevin Clay, Public News Service - NY