Tons of questions about congestion plan

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BY ALEJANDRA O’CONNELL-DOMENECH | Attendees at Tuesday night’s congestion-pricing town hall at John Jay College were mostly skeptical that the plan to cut down traffic, save the subway and also the environment was the way to go.

Among the officials and advocates at the town hall were Councilmembers Mark Levine and Helen Rosenthal; Nick Sifuentes, executive director of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign; Ed Pincar, the Department of Transportation’s Manhattan borough commissioner; and Julie Tighe, executive director of the New York League of Conservation Voters.

The congestion-pricing plan would apply a surcharge to vehicles — which could vary depending on the type of vehicle, time of day and week — traveling below 60th St. in Manhattan.

Trucks and cars streaming off the Manhattan Bridge at Canal St. would face a surcharge if congestion pricing becomes law. (Photo by Alejandra O’Connell-Domenech)

According to reporting from The New York Times, drivers using the Brooklyn Bridge and headed north of the F.D.R Drive past 60th St. would not have to pay the surcharge. At peak travel times cars could be charged $11.52 to enter the zone and trucks $25.43.

The anticipated $1 billion in annual revenue generated from the plan would then be used to finance improvements to the city’s public transportation system.

“How can the M.T.A. cry poor when I get on the darn M104 yesterday, and what do I see?” Marcell Rosenblatt asked during the town hall. “A moving screen has been added to the ceiling to tell me I have to give a seat to the elderly.”

A woman angrily blasted the whole congestion-pricing scheme as Councilmember Mark Levine listened. (Photo by Alejandra O’Connell-Domenech)

Rosenblatt added that she and another rider agreed that the sign was a waste of money and wondered why the Metropolitan Transportaion Authority would invest in something so useless.

“And all we could think of was that somebody’s crony friend got a great deal,” she said.

Councilmember Levine said he understood the community’s concern.

“Indeed, the M.T.A. has in the past diverted revenue that should have belonged to transit to unrelated projects, most egregiously in one case to a ski resort Upstate,” he told this paper.

“I know everybody in Albany who cares about this issue is working to secure mechanisms to keep the money we raise in the mass-transit system,” he said.

Ed Pincar, D.O.T. Manhattan borough commissioner, assured that city and state officials are trying to address constituents’ many concerns relating to congestion pricing. (Photo by Alejandra O’Connell-Domenech)

People at the town hall also were worried that the revenue generated would not be used in a smart way to improve the city’s subway. Some were also concerned that surcharges would cause car owners to avoid driving into the zone or cease using their vehicles altoghter, thus worsening the city’s parking shortage. Several who spoke were warned that the city’s disbaled community could continue to be marginalized.

“The disability community is all for getting money for mass transit — mass transit is very important,” said Phil Beder, a member of Disabled in Action of Metropolitan New York. “If congestion pricing is the solution that you come up with, then I would ask that accommodations be made for those of us who depend on our vehicles.”

Nick Sifuentes, executive director of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, is among the advocates pushing the plan. (Photo by Alejandra O’Connell-Domenech)

Beder added that only 25 percent of the city’s subway stations are handicap accessible, meaning many disabled people rely heavily on vehicles to move around the city. In short, the surcharge would be an unfair burden on an already burdened community, he stressed.

D.O.T. Manhattan Commissioner Pincar said regarding the concerns expressed at Tuesday night’s town hall that he had already been aware of them beforehand.

“We in the city and in the state are trying to work through the details of many of the questions we have heard, and to present them to our citizens and residents,” he said.