Congestion pricing helps NYC families

As an advocate for parents and families across the city, I know how hard it is to raise kids in New York. When I became a parent myself nearly 10 years ago there were so many obstacles, new challenges, and so much stuff to lug around.

I’m certainly not the first person to point out that raising kids in New York isn’t easy. But it’s why I understand why parents might be worried about the beginning of the new congestion pricing program. Another new challenge, another thing to figure out and balance with many competing priorities, not a lot of time, and in a physically demanding and expensive environment.

But the recent focus on the cost of the new toll has been missing the benefits and opportunities this program will provide. The vast majority of families, commuters, students, and tourists use transit to travel to lower Manhattan. Two million people take transit into Manhattan below 60th St. every weekday. While some people may occasionally drive or hire a private car to get into lower Manhattan, they will still enjoy the benefits from congestion pricing every day.

Congestion pricing could remove 100,000 vehicles from our roads each day, reducing traffic by 20%. That’s fewer vehicles on the street that could hit you, me, or our children crossing the street. Cars are a leading killer of children in New York City, and I know how much this concerns parents.

And with more room on streets, we have the chance to move e-bikes, scooters, and mopeds out of bike lanes and off of sidewalks, too. It means fewer vehicles producing harmful, asthma-causing pollutants. Fewer vehicles slowing down buses and Access-A-Ride vehicles carrying folks who need to use the road to get around the city. Fewer vehicles getting in the way of ambulances or firetrucks when seconds can make all the difference.

These reasons alone would cause me to support congestion pricing. I’ll even get a faster trip when I do decide to take a car. But this does not even fully capture the benefits of congestion pricing — the money generated from congestion pricing will be used to even further improve the lives of New Yorkers.

The MTA will be using this funding to purchase more than 250 new electric buses and retrofit 11 bus depots across all five boroughs. These new buses will replace the diesel buses the MTA currently uses, and further improve our air quality. These new buses will have wider entrances, flexible seating, and designated stroller spaces, designs that make them more accessible than older MTA buses and have been wildly popular.

In 2022, the MTA started its Open Stroller Pilot Program, designating a space on the bus for a stroller without folding it up and freeing up space on the bus for all customers. This program has been an overwhelming success and has expanded access to the bus network for families with young children over the last two years.

I’ve experienced the benefits firsthand — a physically easier and safer experience for my children and me, without impacting other passengers. These new buses, reliant on congestion pricing funding, will include this designated space as well as more seats that can be folded up throughout the bus for riders who might have groceries or other bulky items. When paired with a reduction in traffic that will speed up our buses, families with young children will have an easier and quicker trip.

While there are tremendous benefits that will also come to the subways from congestion pricing (more than 20 newly accessible stations!), the improvements to our buses are going to help the people that most need it. Our buses carry hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers every day, and bus riders are disproportionately low-income, people of color, or people with disabilities.

On average, Black and Brown New Yorkers have longer commutes, including students going to school, and are more likely to bear the brunt of air-borne pollutants from vehicles. It’s also why it was important to see the MTA commit that environmental justice communities will be the first to get these new electric buses and depots.

This program can increase the capacity and safety of our streets, make New York a greener and cleaner city, and update the speed and accessibility of our transit system in ways that will increase our opportunities and change our habits for the better in the long run. Let’s do it.

Serdjenian Yearwood is the founder and CEO of UP-STAND, a movement to improve accessibility and make life easier for pregnant women and families by building a more inclusive culture that translates to stronger communities.

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