City Room reports that yesterday’s public hearing on congestion pricing at Hunter College placed two more groups on the supporting side: the Transit Workers’ Union, and a coalition called Communities United for Transportation Equity (aka CommUTe). Representatives of the latter group presented strong arguments for charging private motor vehicles to enter Manhattan’s Central Business District and allocating the revenue toward public transit improvements:
“The mass-transit system is failing those of us who need it the most, while truck and car-related infrastructure running through our neighborhoods wreaks havoc on our health. Having a long commute takes away time from families and communities, and poor transit access means poor job access because you can’t take a job that you can’t get to,” said Silvett Garcia, an official at Youth Ministries for Peace and Justice, a nonprofit group in the Soundview section of the Bronx.
The group called not only for congestion pricing as a way to finance mass transit and reduce traffic, but also for the city to hasten its plans to start a bus rapid transit program. Bus rapid transit, or B.R.T., is a catch-all term for innovations like bus designated lanes, special traffic signals that are programmed to prioritize buses, and bus stops that are few in number and spread out across high-volume stations where passengers pay their fares before getting on board.
“A congestion pricing plan increases investment while reducing pollution, and B.R.T. is the fair, fast and necessary way to reach the transit dependent – those who live or work in the gaps of the subway system and who cannot afford a car, cab or premium commuting fare, the elderly, and the handicapped,” said Cynthia Doty, organizer for the West Harlem/Morningside Heights Sanitation Coalition, another community organization. “As the congestion pricing debate moves from the commission to the city and state legislatures, we should focus on the half million working-class New Yorkers with treacherous commutes.”
It’s been said here before: 97.3% of Brooklyn’s workers (those who do not commute alone to the Central Business District in Manhattan by private car) would be positively affected by the transit improvements that revenue from congestion pricing is targeted to fund; and B.R.T. is a quickly-implementable transit innovation — already hugely successful in Curitiba (Brazil), Singapore, and Bogota, amongst other cities — that would be life-altering for many New Yorkers. Hopefully this re-framing of the debate will reveal politicians’ disingenuous “pro-working class” rhetoric for the smokescreen that it is, and shed some light on the reality of who stands to benefit most from congestion pricing.