13 February 2008

On a congestion tax for cars entering lower Manhattan

NYC is currently considering congestion pricing for automobiles entering "lower" Manhattan, by which they mean Manhattan below 60th St. This tax would not apply to bicycles, pedestrians, or public transportation. As you may have guessed, I am totally in favor of this; it's a plain and simple example of polluter-pays.

The benefits of this plan include:
  1. Taxation is applied directly to those who choose to pollute. It is not based upon income level.
  2. It will act as a deterrent, discouraging people from driving when they don't need to. As a result, emissions will be reduced.
  3. As a corollary to [2], it will encourage public transportation ridership. With a higher percent of the population on public transportation, there will be a greater push for improved services.
  4. It will make the streets of Manhattan safer, since there will be fewer cars to run over pedestrians and cyclists.
Opponents of the plan claim:
  1. That this is a regressive tax, since it taxes those who can't afford to live in lower Manhattan. This is false. Of the people who don't live in lower Manhattan, but who wish to enter, the lower-to-middle class are more likely to take public transportation, walk or bike, while the middle-to-upper class are more likely to drive or take a taxi, car-service or limo. Furthermore, many of the lower-to-middle class who live outside of lower Manhattan also work outside of lower Manhattan.
  2. Councilman Lew Fidler claims that this tax will "segregate communities," (Park Slope Courier, 8 Feb 2008). This is sort of false, since the communities are already divided. I live in Brooklyn, and I don't think of lower Manhattan as my neighborhood. Hell, walk 10 blocks in any direction, and I don't think of it as my neighborhood.
  3. That these commuters need to drive to work. This is false. We have extensive, 24-hour public transportation in this city, tons of bike lanes and paths, and unlike some places I have lived, every street has a sidewalk.
I would also note that Lew Fidler's alternative plan calls for hydrogen fueling stations (Park Slop Courier, 8 Feb 2008). The keen-eyed reader will note that this simply displaces pollution to the point of hydrogen isolation, and is in effect moving the pollution to places with lower property values. I think that's regressive.

On a similar note, London is doing right. A recent report says that London's congestion tax will be expanded, charging roughly $50 for gas guzzlers, and $0 for low-emission vehicles. This is on top of their plan for a billion dollar bike path.

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