To deal with the problem, his commission has proposed a plan to raise more than a billion dollars a year dedicated to the MTA by charging cars and trucks to enter Manhattan below 60th St.
The commission’s plan is not perfect. For the purpose of raising money for the MTA, it’s something, and something may just be better than nothing.
But it has a major flaw. It is called congestion pricing, but unless it charges far more to attack the real cause of the problem, it will not solve the current congestion crisis.
Traffic has never been good in New York City. But ask any motorist and they’ll tell you it is far more problematic than ever, not just in Manhattan, but in every borough.
Tackling the problem correctly means identifying the real source of the problem. It isn’t people driving in from the outer boroughs or Long Island. It is the tens of thousands of new for-hire vehicles (FHVs) driving around every day: Uber, Lyft, Via.
Just look around. Look at the license plates. All those cars that look like regular cars but have Taxi & Limousine Commission plates are causing the problem. Count them. Some streets are flooded with them. Since 2010, the number of such cars on Manhattan’s streets has risen from 37,782 FHVs to 102,536 in 2017. That’s a 175% increase.
These cars have infected the city like a plague of locusts. They have not paid one additional cent to the city or to the MTA for entry into the market. No environmental impact statement was done.
Unlike yellow cabs, no limits are placed on the number of vehicles that can be in service. Unlike cabs, which are legally required to have 50% of their vehicles wheelchair accessible by 2020, the FHVs have done virtually nothing to provide accessible service and only recently have agreed to a limited pilot to provide a very small amount of service, nothing on the order of what the yellows are required to do.
If we got rid of those cars or at least severely capped their numbers, traffic congestion would be greatly reduced.
What should be done?
The Cuomo plan does propose charging the FHVs a per-ride fee in parts of Manhattan of as little as $2 and as much as $5 depending on the scenario, but it does not go far enough, and it makes matters worse by charging some vehicles that should not be included.
Far smarter would be a fixed fee (a permit fee, if you will), for FHVs put in service since 2010, of at least $10,000 to $15,000 a year to operate in the congested areas.
Limit their total numbers to about 50,000 citywide. A charge of $10,000 would bring in a half a billion per year for the MTA. If we need more vehicles beyond that, just sell more yellow and green medallions.
Second, there should be no equivalent charge for yellow and green cabs. The yellow cabs have already paid the city billions of dollars, through medallion sales, to have the contractual and what was supposed to be the exclusive right to pick up street hails in the city.
Not only have they already paid the city, they have also paid the MTA hundreds of millions of dollars with the 50-cent surcharge on every ride. They also pay a road tax to the city, medallion renewal fees, sales taxes on the vehicle leases and inspection fees and costs — none of which are paid by the new FHVs.
The number of cabs has been stable. They are not the cause of the increased congestion.
Uber gets to charge less than cabs for two reasons: They do not pay the $15,000 to $20,000 in fees that cabs pay (plus medallion financing), and they are subsidized by investors (who may soon lose their investments).
Finally, there are additional ways of raising money for the MTA that should be considered in this debate: residential parking permits and increased vehicle registration fees in the MTA region, to name a couple. Residential parking permits would keep “interlopers” from getting free parking in neighborhoods near subways to avoid the congestion charge.
And let’s not forget: Mayor de Blasio wants a tax on the very wealthy. Why isn’t that on the table? It’s a political winner that would generate billions in one fell swoop.
Something has to be done to help the MTA. Something has to be done to reduce traffic. The governor has opened the door. Let the debate begin