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PCAC Testimony – Nov 1, 2007 – Congestion Pricing

Testimony of the Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority before the New York City Traffic Congestion Mitigation Commission on Proposals To Reduce Traffic Congestion within the City of New York
Thursday, November 1, 2007

Good Evening. My name is William Henderson. I am the Executive Director of the Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee (PCAC) to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA). The PCAC is the coordinating body for the three legislatively mandated commuter councils: the Long Island Rail Road Commuter’s Council, the Metro-North Railroad Commuter Council and the New York City Transit Riders Council. The volunteer members are appointed by the Governor upon the recommendation of local elected officials to represent the interests of the users of MTA services.

We appreciate the Commission hosting this series of hearings. As strong advocates for public transportation, the members of the PCAC have a profound belief in the potential of transit to contribute to the sustainability of our City and State. Our members are dedicated users of public transportation and encourage others to make use of public transportation as well. For this reason we enthusiastically support the concept of congestion pricing for the improvement of transportation within the New York metropolitan region. While until recently it has been a relatively unfamiliar concept in our State, the use of congestion pricing has produced substantial public benefits in London, Singapore, and Stockholm.

The PCAC’s enthusiastic support for the concept of congestion pricing, however, does not imply our unqualified support for the proposal currently advanced by the City. While the PCAC finds the Mayor’s congestion pricing proposal to be an excellent basis for further discussion and development of a workable system, we also believe that modifications to this plan are needed to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of the resulting pricing system. In particular the PCAC believes that:

The boundaries of the zone in which vehicles are charged must be examined;
More efficient alternatives for collecting user charges must be investigated;
The structure of charges for operating a vehicle within the zone, including rebates to those paying other tolls and vehicles exempted from the congestion charges, must be reevaluated.
Further, the PCAC has identified four important conditions that the members believe
must be part of any congestion pricing proposal if it is to be successful:

The expenditure of funds generated through congestion pricing must be restricted to public transportation uses only. In popular terms, the net
revenue from congestion pricing must be placed in a “lock box,” where it
can be made available only for maintenance and enhancement of public
transportation operations, facilities and equipment.
The authority to select and prioritize projects to be funded must reside with the agencies responsible for providing public transportation service. As
the primary provider of public transportation to those traveling to, from, and within the core of New York City, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) must have a substantial role in the selection and prioritization of projects upon which these funds are spent, in accordance with its normal capital programming processes and existing governmental oversight and approval procedures. The MTA’s influence in the allocation of funds from the “lock box” should be proportional to its importance as a provider of public transportation to, from, and within any zone where congestion charges are applied.
The funds generated through congestion pricing must not be used to replace or offset City and State contributions to the capital programs of public transportation operators that benefit from these funds. In order for it to be successful, congestion pricing must generate a substantial net increase in capital funding for public transportation providers directly and indirectly serving the congestion pricing zone. Congestion pricing revenues must be available to meet new needs created by growing demand, as well as to correct declines or shortfalls in capital funding necessary to meet longstanding needs. In addition to new congestion pricing revenues, traditional patterns of public transportation funding by the City and State must be maintained, if not enhanced.
The additional capacity and infrastructure sufficient to serve new users attracted to public transportation as a result of congestion pricing must be in place prior to the implementation of any congestion charges. Moreover, this additional capacity must be in place far enough in advance of congestion pricing to enable new public transportation users to determine and establish their travel patterns before congestion charges begin.
I would also note that the PCAC members are aware of the work of the organization Keep NYC Congestion Tax Free in identifying other traffic congestion mitigation alternatives that may be implemented. In fact, many of the initiatives for combating congestion that this group has identified in its recent report are very promising tools. We believe that, while proposed as an alternative to congestion pricing, these actions could form an excellent complement to an overall pricing system.

The membership of the PCAC feels that this is a particularly opportune time to pursue congestion pricing in New York City. The increasing cost of operating private vehicles and worsening congestion on many roadways are causing many commuters to consider taking advantage of the benefits of public transportation. Unfortunately, this congestion is also taking a toll on the speed and reliability of our bus network. Awareness of and concern with the environmental impacts of private vehicle use is at an all time high. In addition, as you are aware, the City has a conditional commitment from the federal government to provide $354 million in funding to assist in implementing this system.

The PCAC believes that this is an opportunity that should not be lost. As the legislatively mandated representatives of public transportation users in the MTA region, the PCAC understands the impacts of traffic congestion upon the MTA system and the riders who use it. We call upon you to support efforts to increase the efficiency of movement in the City’s most congested areas and to work in partnership with local officials by recommending that our state legislators authorize the City to implement an equitable and effective program of public transportation improvements and congestion pricing.