Wednesday, April 9, 2008


ALBANY, NY -- State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver today that the
congestion pricing plan for New York City would not come to the floor
of the Assembly for a vote.

NYC Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg's ambitious dream to remake New York
with an elaborate plan for congestion pricing appeared to die today in
a private conference room on the third floor of the State Capitol.

It was there that Democratic members of the State Assembly, who
control the chamber, held one final meeting to debate the merits of
Mr. Bloomberg's plan, ultimately conferring, before Sheldon Silver,
the speaker, emerged to announce the outcome. The opposition was so
overwhelming, he said, that he would not hold an open vote of the full
Assembly, though many Republicans were supportive of Mr. Bloomberg.

"The congestion pricing bill did not have anywhere near a majority of
the Democratic conference, and will not be on the floor of the
Assembly," Mr. Silver, who represents the Lower East Side of
Manhattan, said after his meeting with fellow Democrats.

Today was the deadline for the Legislature to approve a congestion
pricing plan, a device that has been used in many cities worldwide,
like London, so that the city could qualify for $354 million in
federal grants for traffic mitigation and mass transit aid.

The collapse of the plan, which would have charged drivers $8 to enter
parts of Manhattan during peak hours, was a huge blow to Mr.
Bloomberg's environmental agenda and political legacy, and his second
major defeat at the hands of Mr. Silver and the state Assembly, which
in 2005 blocked the mayor's plan to redevelop the West Side railyards
and allow a big sports stadium to be built there.

"The word `elitist' came up a number of times," said Assemblyman Mark
Weprin, a Queens Democrat, who said his constituents overwhelmingly
opposed the measure. "The members who oppose it did so because their
constituents opposed it," Mr. Weprin said. He estimated that opinion
among Assembly Democrats ran four to one against the plan.

Assemblyman Ruben Diaz Jr., a Bronx Democrat, said it was "morally
reprehensible and unconscionable to subject the 1.4 million residents
of the Bronx to a potential double whammy consisting of a congestion
pricing tax with absolutely no guarantee that they will not be subject
to yet another transit fare hike in the near future and without
addressing traffic congestion concerns in any of the four boroughs
outside of Manhattan."

The mayor had furiously advocated the plan to state and city officials
for nearly a year and worked to assemble a coalition of business,
transportation, environmental and labor groups to support it. The
Legislature's approval was needed for the city to enforce the plan and
collect revenues and fines, money from which would have gone to the
Metropolitan Transportation Authority's capital budget.

In recent weeks, the plan had seemed to gain momentum, as the mayor
managed to secure support from Governor Paterson and from the City
Council, which on March 31 voted, 30 to 20, to endorse it. But up
through this afternoon the fate of the plan had seemed uncertain. The
leader of the Republican majority in the State Senate, Joseph L.
Bruno, gave his support the plan, and even Mr. Silver, the Assembly
speaker, voiced partial support for it, while warning that he did not
believe the members of the Assembly's Democratic majority were convinced.

It was on April 22 last year, Earth Day, that the mayor unveiled his
plan for the traffic fees. Opposition quickly emerged, particularly
from residents and businesses outside Manhattan, but the plan won
support from Eliot Spitzer, the governor at the time, and from the
Bush administration. Mr. Silver was never really convinced, even
questioning the mayor's claim that his plan would reduce rates of
asthma and other respiratory ailments.

After weeks of keeping Albany guessing, on July 16, 2007, lawmakers
shelved the plan, for the time being. However, hope was kept alive,
and advocates of congestion pricing did not give up, as Albany agreed
to create a 17-member commission to study the issue and report back to
the Legislature.

The members of the commission held months of meetings, starting on
Sept. 25. The panel considered ideas like raising parking meter rates
and creating taxi stands, as well as imposing tolls on East River
bridges and also more fanciful ideas like license plate rationing,
under which cars would be barred from the area below 86th Street on
certain days, depending on their license plate.

On Jan. 31 of this year, the commission formally recommended a
congestion pricing plan substantially similar to what the mayor had
proposed nine months earlier. As he continued to lobby Albany before
today's deadline, the mayor offered sweeteners like a residential
parking permit program, but also encountered criticism from New Jersey
officials who feared that suburban commuters would bear a
disproportionate burden on the traffic fees.

Congestion Pricing: REST IN ETERNAL PEACE!

Wednesday, April 2, 2008


NEW YORK CITY -- The controversial proposal to charge drivers in the
busiest parts of Manhattan took a major step forward on Monday, with
NYC Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and Speaker Christine C. Quinn
wrenching approval from the City Council by an unusually slim margin.

Under intense pressure from the mayor, Ms. Quinn and their allies that
continued almost until the voting began, council members approved the
plan to charge most drivers $8 to enter a zone below 60th Street by a
vote of 30 to 20, with no abstentions and one absence.

At a news conference after the vote, where Mr. Bloomberg made a rare
appearance on the speaker's side of City Hall, officials sought to
play down the narrowness of their hard-won victory, among the closest
of this administration in a body that typically votes in near unanimity.

Approving the proposal, Ms. Quinn said, would send a message to the
Legislature that the "people who were elected to represent the New
Yorkers who live in our five boroughs are sick and tired of our
streets being clogged with traffic, we're sick and tired of the
children who live in our city literally having to fight to be able to
breathe, and that we see congestion pricing as a solution to this

But the ultimate fate of the proposal now resides in Albany, where the
intentions of lawmakers whose approval is needed remained unclear.
Gov. David A. Paterson and the Senate majority leader, Joseph L.
Bruno, have expressed their support. But Assembly Speaker Sheldon
Silver, who has derailed Mr. Bloomberg's ambitions in the past,
remained noncommittal, telling members of the Democratic conference on
Sunday night that he would not take the issue up until the state
budget was completed.

If the Assembly waits to act until after the budget, it could threaten
the bill's chances in the Senate, because it would come before the
Legislature as a stand-alone item, making approval more elusive.
Several council members complained as they voted that the mayor had
reneged on a promise that they would not be asked to take up the
measure until the State Legislature had agreed to support the proposal.

But other council members took the vote as a sign that Mr. Silver
would ultimately back the plan, since Ms. Quinn had said privately
that she would not call for a vote until she had an indication that it
would gain approval from the state.

But Mr. Silver said that he had made no such assurance.

"I told her it's not before us until they vote on it," he said. "And
we will deal with the issue after we pass a budget."

Speaking to reporters with Ms. Quinn, Mr. Bloomberg seemed
particularly defensive about Mr. Silver. Asked if they had any
indication that leaders in Albany would approve the proposal, Ms.
Quinn said that she had received calls from Mr. Paterson and Mr. Bruno
urging that the Council "move as quickly as possible and do what we
did today, so I thought that was a very good sign."

In response to a question about Mr. Silver, though, Mr. Bloomberg
approached the lectern, sidestepped the question and then cut off the
line of inquiry, saying they could not speak for Albany leaders.

Technically, the Council approved a measure known as a home rule
message, which is a request for the State Legislature to pass the plan
as outlined in a bill introduced into the Senate. The Legislature has
until April 7 to approve the program or risk losing roughly $350
million in federal money to help offset the costs of starting the
plan. Mr. Bloomberg has said that much of that money would go toward
increasing bus service in underserved areas.

Although the administration and the Council's leadership were able to
gain support with promises of programs, projects and political aid in
upcoming campaigns, as well as threats of taking those things away,
opposition remained strong. Several council members argued that it was
unfair to essentially tax residents to move around their own city,
that even after they voted to support the proposal, the Legislature
could approve a different version, and that revenues would not
necessarily go toward the promised transit improvements.

"This plan, while wrapped up in three incredibly important and
laudable goals," including cleaning the air, reducing traffic and
paying for mass transit, said Lewis A. Fidler, a Brooklyn councilman
who strongly opposed the plan, "is designed to deter people from
coming into a part of the city if they can't afford it."

He added: "What's next? We're going to charge a user fee to come into
Central Park because it's crowded?"

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