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New York mayor proposes traffic fee

Daily charge plan targets congestion

NEW YORK -- Traffic congestion and devastating pollution are among the "inconvenient truths" of our age and could be eased by imposing pay-to-drive fees on Manhattan motorists, Mayor Michael Bloomberg told a legislative panel yesterday.

Bloomberg, who normally takes the subway to work, told the lawmakers that he got stuck in traffic three times on his way to the special hearing. His remarks were greeted by a roaring ovation from supporters who included environmentalists in bright green T-shirts handing out fresh green apples before the hearing.

"The threats to our city, and our planet, are inconvenient truths that we can no longer avoid facing, and that we can no longer wait for Washington to confront," Bloomberg said, referring to the title of Al Gore's Oscar-winning global warming documentary, "An Inconvenient Truth."

Under Bloomberg's proposal, cars entering Manhattan south of 86th Street would be charged $8 per day, and trucks $21. Under a three-year pilot program, the fees would be collected only during the worst traffic hours, from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Two major roadways flanking the east and west sides of Manhattan, FDR Drive and the West Side Highway, would be exempt.

Some lawmakers in the city's outer boroughs and bedroom communities do not support the so-called "congestion pricing," saying it would punish many drivers.

"This is a tax on middle-class people," said state Assemblyman Richard Brodsky, a Westchester Democrat who chairs one of the committees that held the joint hearing. "This will stop the Chevrolets from coming in, not the BMWs."

The mayor's plan got a boost Thursday from Governor Eliot Spitzer and US Transportation Secretary Mary Peters, who announced that New York is one of nine semifinalists to receive federal funds to fight traffic jams.