Monday, June 11, 2007

Congestion Tax

The topic you hear about most on the local news these days concerns "congestion tax." This is a means by which a big city has you pay a toll to drive around the city limits. In Manhattan, it would take place below 86th St. and cost $8 or more. It's been done in other cities, like London (and, of course, we've gotten a great deal of the pros and cons from London drivers).

For the past few weeks, I've heard the multiple-sided argument. On the "for" side, we have the reduction of traffic, pollution, and that the fees will help prevent a hike in public transportation. On the "against" side, we have drivers who work for small companies saying they won't be able to cover the fee every day as they drive around the city, and some people make it sound like Manhattan will only be for the super rich, and the city's economy will take a hit.

I really have no doubt that both sides are correct in this argument. And when both sides are correct, it becomes a matter of how do you compute the overall value of the pros and cons? It doesn't affect me much at all. Even when I had a car, I didn't like driving it into Manhattan. For one thing, there was already a $4.50 fee to get through the Queens Tunnel, and even if you decided to take one of the free bridges, you were going to have to park that car somewhere for another fee (parking garages are terribly expensive). So, I used public transit every time I went into Manhattan. Personally, the congestion tax wouldn't affect me much. But if this argument fell to "How do I make everyone happy?" I would probably do something for the delivery guys, maybe give them a permit to drive around without exhorbitant fees or at least make it so that they get a tax break out of it.

But in the end...I tend to think that nothing much changes with these kinds of ideas except somebody is getting richer and someone is getting much poorer. With the congestion tax, I guarantee drivers will still have to fight for driving space with the million cab drivers and the congestion won't be reduced as much as projected. I tend to think that if you're driving around Manhattan in the first place, you have the money to do it. And when I hear stuff like "well, we need this money so that we don't have to raise the public transportation fees" I instantly get suspicious. Guys, seriously, the number of people who ride around on buses and trains is unfathomable to the human brain. It's in the millions per day, I'm sure. If that money isn't enough to keep up with the cost of running mass transit, then nothing is.

So...again, I find myself folding my arms in the act of ambivalence. Nothing ever sounds like a great idea anymore, because someone is going to end up getting screwed. Most people won't know the difference, and the people who gain or lose from such an arrangement will be unknown to me. It will probably benefit very few and harm very few. And I think that bothers me the most: the people who are affected negatively will be a vocal minority and won't even show up on the radar. The people who benefit will be secretly counting cash next to a fireplace in the secret room of their mansion.


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