Foreign Policy Blogs

Congestion Pricing in New York

"The best-laid schemes o’ mice an ‘men
Gang aft agley,
An’lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
For promis’d joy!"

Congestion pricing, a rollicking success story in London, Stockholm and Singapore, may have taken a massive hit yesterday when the NY State Legislature declined to advance the legislation necessary for New York City to proceed, and to meet a federal deadline for funding.  However, as of this morning, there are differing reports.  The most hopeful is from the A.P. via Newsday:  Spitzer's office: New traffic proposal possible.  It appears, contrary to the reports this morning from the "NY Times," that the powers that be (Mayor Bloomberg, Governor Spitzer, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno) may have found some solutions.  Silver and Bruno appear to have been up to the wee hours working out a modus vivendi.  Spitzer's office said:  " there's no firm agreement on a plan, but there is hope for a deal." 

Mike Bloomberg's excellent, ambitious plan, universally and enthusiastically endorsed by environmental groups, including NRDC and Environmental Defense (see their extensive "road pricing" web pages here), may yet not be dead in the water, and upwards of $500 million in federal money that might have gone to underwrite some of the costs may not go elsewhere.

(I should note that I am delighted that $500 million exists at all for congestion pricing initiatives in the federal budget.  If New York City doesn't get a share, other worthy cities will.  I just think that you'd get an awful lot of bang for the buck here in The Big Apple.  In any event, we need the state legislature and governor to agree to make the thing go forward.)

Update – As of late this morning, AP reports Mayor says traffic plan dead, blames Assembly.  Here's where I start my rant:  I have commented here recently on some of the lamentable results of special interest politics in Congress.  In New York State, it's worse.  There is a unique brand of suburban and Outer Borough "know-nothingism" to which this state has been shackled for years.

Here's one pithy quote from the "NY Times" City Room blog that says a lot:   "Well, the folks with the cars have won and NYC has just lost 30 express bus lines.  Robert Moses is sooo happy."

Got a take on this?  Let us know.

AftermathA story in today's "NY Times" (it's now Wednesday) attributes a fair bit of blame for this nearly tragic failure to Bloomberg and his people being politically inept.  Longtime Assemblyman Dick Brodsky, who spent many years as chair of the Environmental Conservation committee, said about Bloomberg: "When it came time to deal with people he didn't control, he didn't know how to do it."   Another oldtimer, Dick Gottfried, said:  "The constant drumbeat of the deadline may have done more harm than good ‚ people got their backs up."

Here's a little inside baseball on the local politics of all this from the "NY Post." 

But wait, are there Flickers of life in congestion-pricing issue?  Maybe, according to veteran Albany correspondent Jay Gallagher.

"Stop The Presses" (Update on July 19)  – Jay Gallagher was right.  Here's an afternoon headline from "Crain's NY Business" – NY officials in congestion pricing pact.  The deal calls for a 17-member commission to develop and implement a three-year pilot program beginning in 2009.  Here's a press release from the Governor's office and one from the Mayor's office.  Go to the Crain's article to see the gothic interdependence of this critical environmental initiative with campaign finance reform and salary increases for legislators.

Okay, folks, let's get on it.



Bill Hewitt

Bill Hewitt has been an environmental activist and professional for nearly 25 years. He was deeply involved in the battle to curtail acid rain, and was also a Sierra Club leader in New York City. He spent 11 years in public affairs for the NY State Department of Environmental Conservation, and worked on environmental issues for two NYC mayoral campaigns and a presidential campaign. He is a writer and editor and is the principal of Hewitt Communications. He has an M.S. in international affairs, has taught political science at Pace University, and has graduate and continuing education classes on climate change, sustainability, and energy and the environment at The Center for Global Affairs at NYU. His book, "A Newer World - Politics, Money, Technology, and What’s Really Being Done to Solve the Climate Crisis," will be out from the University Press of New England in December.

Areas of Focus:
the policy, politics, science and economics of environmental protection, sustainability, energy and climate change