Congestion Pricing is a Tax

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Posted by Doug Kellogg, Hans Schundler on Monday, October 8th, 2018, 10:09 AM PERMALINK

Left-of-center think tanks and advocacy groups, along with city politicians are often pushing new taxes and fees as ways to mitigate traffic congestion.

In New York City, the topic has been hot, as public transit falters.

The City Council majority supports a plan that will implement fees to enter certain zones within the city. A recent New York Times op-ed from a former San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency bureaucrat outlines a plan to hike parking fees and enhance the regulation of parking lot operators.

These officials, and so-called transit experts, say new fees and mandates are needed because traffic congestion is a problem. They believe that if they tax driving enough, it will force some onto the public transit system, clearing up roads, while the new tax revenue will assist in improving the quality of a beleaguered subway system.

The reality is these congestion pricing schemes are a tax on going to work. They would punish commuters for government’s failures, making an already unaffordable city worse and then shoving more people into a mass transit system that can’t handle its current ridership.

The city’s mass transit is a disaster that has become so unreliable that ridership declined despite a rising population. Ridesharing companies like Uber and Lyft are often blamed for traffic, but it is government’s failure to run a decent transit system that is a self-inflicted wound.

Taxing people, when it is the MTA (New York’s transit authority) that has allowed the system to fall into ruin is cynical blame shifting. The MTA operating budget is $17 billion, and the agency has a capital budget over $35 billion. It taxes businesses downstate for direct revenue. It has resources, and has shifted them to political priorities rather than maintaining the system.

The congestion tax mentality is similar to what we also see in Washington, DC. In the nation’s capital, the Mayor has hit ridesharing with a massive tax hike, blaming it for declines in WMATA (the Washington metro authority) ridership.

Again, this is an authority rife with cronyism, waste, and a culture of cashing in rather than providing good service.

The reality is commuters and taxpayers have already been hit up for billions of dollars to support infrastructure and public transit in order to ease traffic. Now government wants to pass the buck, and attack transportation alternatives, because transit authorities have spectacularly failed to do their jobs.

If government wants to make it easier to get to work by running an effective mass transit system, fine. They shouldn’t be making it harder to get to work through other means because it shines a light on their failures.

Accountability and transparency and competition are the answer, not tax hikes. 

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