Mayor Pushes Pedal On Traffic Plan

More significantly, the Mayor is seeing that many of his arguments are getting through to the people that matter most: the bridge-and-tunnel crowd. On May 18, two officials who one would think would be natural opponents of congestion pricing took the stage at a Drum Major Institute breakfast and offered warm words for the Mayor’s plan: Eric Gioia and John Liu, two City Council members from Queens.

Mr. Gioia said his father, a florist, no longer makes deliveries into Manhattan because of the “time tax” that he had to pay when his trucks got stuck in traffic. Mr. Liu said he supported congestion pricing because of the economic costs of not doing anything.

Ed Ott, the executive director of the New York City Central Labor Council, a coalition of A.F.L.-C.I.O. labor unions, also appeared at the panel and was largely sympathetic to congestion pricing. Mr. Ott’s words demonstrated, if not a change of opinion, then at least a change of heart from last December, when he sat on another panel and defended working people who drove in from the Poconos because they might not be able to find affordable housing closer to the city.

“The need for mass transit among the working class is real; the working class of this city is on the subways at 6 a.m.,” Mr. Ott said, garnering applause from the liberal audience. “I believe if there are real transportation alternatives, I think the massive number of people in this city will support a real mass-transit system paid for in part by a congesting-pricing fee.”

Still, Mr. Gioia and Mr. Liu are exceptions rather than the rule for outer-borough officials. They have spoken of the need to make sure that neighborhoods right outside the fee zone do not become parking lots for people who dump their cars there and that improvements in mass transit go into effect before congestion pricing, particularly for areas of the city that are now virtually inaccessible except by car. Mr. Liu, for instance, said that New Yorkers should not have to spend more than 45 minutes commuting.

“John Liu—he did surprise me, but that’s one whale of a condition,” City Council member Lew Fidler, a Democrat from the far southern reaches of Brooklyn, said about the 45-minute rule. “I don’t have a single subway stop in my district. The express bus service is pitiful. I don’t see how they are going to do that. I don’t see how they are going to build mass transit to such an extent to meet that goal.”

In Albany, where Mayor Bloomberg gave briefings on his broader PlaNYC program on May 14, Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno has given out welcoming signals—but then again, his caucus is the beneficiary of the Mayor’s campaign contributions. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Manhattan Democrat, has showed a cautious openness toward the plan, but has made no commitment to address it by the end of this session.

“The Speaker has said that he plans to hold at least one public hearing on it and he has not announced when that will be,” his spokesman, Charles (Skip) Carrier, told The Observer. “I think you can look forward to us taking an appropriate amount of time to do this.”

Lee Sander, the chief executive and executive director of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, said that he has had several discussions with Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff about congestion pricing, but they have been on a very introductory level.

“We have not taken a formal position on whether we support it or oppose it,” Mr. Sander told The Observer. “Our course at this point has been to analyze the proposal from a technical standpoint. If the Legislature were to respond to it to a greater degree than they have already, then we would have to take a closer look.”

The Mayor has a powerful economic argument to getting the endorsements he needs soon: the deadline for a federal grant program that could potentially cover the estimated $224 million cost of setting up the system and even some preliminary transit improvements was on April 30, and winners will likely be announced by the end of the summer at the latest.