Like many, I have been following the debates surrounding congestion pricing in New York. As someone who lived in Manhattan for close to 20 years, I am keenly aware of my Manhattan biases when it comes to transportation, costs of bridges and larger issues surrounding equitable transportation for those who live in the outer parts of the outer boroughs.
Opponents of coalition pricing state that this proposal is merely another tax for those not living in Manhattan. They see congestion pricing as a means to subsidize parts of the city across the river. A brief look at the president’s recent budget and the acquiescence of the leadership in Washington, D.C., has many New Yorkers concerned about the assistance of the federal government. It appears the president has no interest or intention of supporting infrastructure projects in his home town. Therefore, for many Queens residents, congestion pricing seems to be a punitive measure in the form of a tax.
However, the Riders Alliance and Environmental Justice Alliance teamed up with the #FixTheSubway coalition in support of congestion pricing. They argue that congestion pricing is needed to fix the crumbling subway system. Their argument claims that money garnered from congestion pricing will go towards updating and repairing the subway and bus systems. Many folks forget that the bus system in the city carries millions of passengers each day and is woefully in need of increased capacity. These organizations also argue that the increased revenue will benefit communities who most depend on public subways and buses.
Their data state that African Americans and Latinos make up 53.3 percent of all transit riders in New York City and New Yorkers who earn $35,000 or less per year depend most on public transit. Many residents cannot afford a car, taxis, or shared ride vehicles for convenience. Additionally, a Federal Reserve study found that lower income city residents have longer commutes and as a result are the hardest hit by delays. They argue, “Congestion pricing would fund major reliability, capacity, and accessibility upgrades to the transit system by charging a fee to cars and trucks in the Manhattan central business district. The generated revenue could particularly help reduce commuter rail and express bus fares for commuters in communities far from the subway system, like Southeast Queens and parts of the Bronx.”
I am still trying to dissect the myriad of opinions and policy proposals surrounding congestion pricing, but hopefully our elected officials will devise a plan that does the least harm to the most vulnerable New Yorkers. No matter which side of the debate most resonates with you, it is your responsibility to let your concerns and opinions be known to your representatives. You are responsible for the city and the democracy you would like to see.
Christina Greer, Ph.D., is an associate professor at Fordham University, the author of “Black Ethnics: Race, Immigration, and the Pursuit of the American Dream,” the co-host of the new podcast FAQ-NYC, and the host of The Aftermath and The Counter on Ozy.com.