Slowly going nowhere

A moment’s silence, please, for the New York congestion charge. The ambitious plan, beloved by greens, was killed off last night by Albany’s Democratic leaders, who shamefully scuttled the proposals without even allowing them to be put to a formal vote.

That’s an enormous blow to New Yorkers, who in exchange for paying $8 to drive into Manhattan, would have seen traffic levels fall sharply and received billions of dollars in new public transit investment. It’s also a blow to greens across the country: The charge was one of America’s most promising and innovative green projects, and if successful would have paved the way for a wider rollout of congestion-charging programs.

Introducing the proposals a year ago, Mayor Michael Bloomberg presented the charge as an essential step towards sustainable urban growth. But despite the promise of $354 million in federal seed money, lawmakers from New York’s outer boroughs refused to climb on board Mayor Mike’s big green bus, claiming that the project was “elitist” and would overwhelmingly benefit wealthy Manhattanites at the expense of the other four boroughs.

For the past year, the mayor and his opponents have been slowly - excruciatingly slowly - negotiating compromises. The revised congestion plan would have seen the charge applied to a smaller area of Manhattan than originally proposed, and tax credits would have been included to soften the blow for poor New Yorkers. But despite giving ground, Bloomberg struggled to navigate New York’s labyrinthine political arena; ultimately, he resorted to heavy-handed tactics that left him with few friends in Albany.

Worst of all, Bloomberg failed to win the support of the Assembly’s speaker, Sheldon Silver. In the end, Silver was content to put his longstanding disdain for the mayor before the well being of the people of New York City; he dragged his feet in the run-up to yesterday’s deadline, then blithely blocked a vote on the congestion plan, saying there likely wasn’t enough support for the Mayor’s proposals to pass.

That may have been the case, but without a floor vote in the Assembly we’ve no way of knowing how much support the congestion charge really had - or who to blame for its failure. “It takes a special type of cowardice for elected officials to refuse to stand up and vote their conscience,” spat Bloomberg yesterday. He’s right, of course; but sadly for New Yorkers, his vitriol won’t be enough to bring the congestion charge back to life.