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Today's Dumb Stat: Most NYC Drivers Oppose Congestion Pricing

Today, Reuters reports that “most” NYC drivers oppose Mayor Bloomberg’s proposal to implement congestion pricing for vehicles entering Manhattan (below 96th Street) during prime times. The polling margin was actually 51% opposed, which means that 49% of drivers either favor the proposal, or aren’t sure.

Well, duh! Obviously drivers don’t favor paying an extra $8 for their daily commute. What the article didn’t say, is that only about 10% of those employed in Manhattan drive to work. A poll showing a bare majority opposed, when the other 90% of the population is left out of the survey, doesn’t mean much.

Probably half of the 10% who drive to work in Manhattan would use mass transit, if it were available and convenient to the area where they live. And that’s the whole point of Bloomberg’s proposal — to use the congestion pricing fee to invest in mass transit. It’s a needed corrective to almost 70 years of neglect.

Since 1940, many new expressways, bridges, and tunnels have been built. But the city’s mass transit capacity actually shrank, because many elevated lines were demolished, and the subways that were supposed to replace them — such as the Second Avenue Line — were never built. Many of the lines that do exist aren’t in a state of good repair. And most lines could run more trains, were it not for antiquated signalling systems that are long overdue for replacement.

Manhattan can’t accommodate any more cars. But it can accommodate more transit lines. Building mass transit is the only way to get more people into Manhattan. It would also help the existing population, since transit is nearly always faster than driving, provided the starting and ending points of the journey are reasonably close to one’s home and office.

But Bloomberg’s proposal is still going to be a heavy lift, as many politicians in the outer boroughs oppose it. The trouble is that congestion pricing would take effect almost immediately, but building new transit capacity takes years. Politicians are loath to vote for short-term pain, when the long-term gain probably won’t materialize until after they’re out of office.

It will take plenty of political strong-arming to get congestion pricing approved. We simply must.

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