Advocates talk racial, economic impact of fixing transit
by Benjamin Fang
Feb 27, 2019 | 2596 views | 0 0 comments | 144 144 recommendations | email to a friend | print
As transit advocates ramp up their push for congestion pricing, they’re reminding riders who would directly benefit from the policy: low-income New Yorkers and communities of color.

On Monday, Brooklyn-based community organizations gathered at the Broadway Junction stop near the border of Bushwick, Cypress Hills and East New York to express support for congestion pricing.

They are calling for the measure to be included in the state budget, which needs to be approved by April 1.

According to Renae Reynolds, transportation planner for the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance, African-American and Latino New Yorkers make up more than 53 percent of all transit riders.

Reynolds said many of those same people are earning the lowest wages in the city, but still depend on public transportation to get to work, school, medical appointments or visits with loved ones.

“These hardworking New Yorkers are also the commuters who face some of the longest commutes,” she said, “and are most vulnerable to insufficient service.”

Advocates say congestion pricing is an important first step to not only reduce traffic and get cars off the road, but also fund the necessary improvements to subways and buses.

Mark Winston Griffith, executive director of the Brooklyn Movement Center in Bed-Stuy, said there has been a “false narrative” about congestion pricing as a tax or an “assault on drivers.”

As both a subway rider and car driver himself, Griffith said those descriptions are not true.

“This is a way of equalizing our transportation system,” he said, “of redistributing wealth from the roads to the trains and buses, and the means of transportation that black and brown people use every single day.”

He urged other elected officials of color to support congestion pricing as a means of “economic and transportation justice.”

“In the context of climate change, in the context of a crumbling transit system,” Griffith said, “we have to say yes to people being able to get to work on time.”

Leslie Velasquez, the environmental justice program manager for the South Williamsburg-based organization El Puente, said when there are subway shutdowns or heavy delays, low-income commuters can’t afford to drive or order an Uber.

She said delays have tripled in the last six years, while the fare has increased to $2.75 per ride. Particularly for low-income people, two swipes of a MetroCard is a lot of money.

“Both ways, $5.50 total, is the difference between having a meal and not having a meal,” Velasquez said. “To pay that much for something that gets you to work or school late is absurd.”

She added that for many low-wage jobs, being late just a few times could mean getting fired, which only compounds the issue.

Congestion pricing would have a particularly important effect on the southside of Williamsburg, often called Los Sures. With the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway (BQE), a bus depot and the Williamsburg Bridge all in one neighborhood, Los Sures residents have long suffered from high asthma rates.

“If we passed congestion pricing, that would reduce the amount of traffic and pollution in our neighborhood,” she said. “That’s a huge crisis in our community.”

Public Advocate candidates Michael Blake and Dawn Smalls also joined the rally in Brooklyn on Monday, one day before the special election. Both expressed the need for congestion pricing to fund the MTA.

Smalls, whose party line for the nonpartisan election was “No More Delays,” said the funding mechanism is needed to get closer to a functioning subway system.

“Congestion pricing is not enough, but it is necessary,” she said, “and it is overdue.”
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