Borrowing money

The real “cash grab” isn’t the price of congestion — it’s car culture – Streetsblog New York City

Opponents of congestion pricing have been in force — testifying for hours at MTA hearings that the central business district toll amounts to a “cash grab” that would disproportionately affect middle and lower class drivers, including those on fixed incomes.

Nicole A.Murray
Nicole A.Murray

It is true that a small group would be affected: even if only 1% of the approximately 900,000 drivers who enter the CBD daily have low or average incomes, it is 9,000 real people who must cut their budgets while salaries and benefits stagnate behind inflation. . The congestion pricing hearings have reminded me that it is almost impossible to convince workers that it is good to pay more for their transport, even if the advantages of doing so – less traffic and better transport in common – would be felt by all.

But all complaints miss the real “cash grab”: the silent hands that the automotive industry and its subsidiaries have in our pockets – everything out of our pockets — every day. This “highway theft” is gobbling up far more hard-earned dollars than the MTA ever could – with almost nothing of it for the benefit of the public. Instead, that money is flowing through a handful of private corporations and into the pockets of their owners and shareholders, who would be happy to see public transport die if it meant more consumer spending on cars, oil and commodities. related.

However, there are no public hearings lasting several hours bringing leaders of the oil, automobile or insurance sectors to justice for squeeze the working class, cannibalize public transport, encouraging spreading or clogging the air. There is no public agency to write to, no mid-level bureaucrat to scold, no PowerPoint presentation to dissect or pricing system to publicly debate. When layers of intermediaries from a hundred different corporations make decisions for us in remote boardrooms, we become conditioned to accept fees, environmental degradation and hidden taxes as their cost of doing business. .

The gas companies have deliberately inflicted the “pain at the pump” that car owners have been experiencing lately. Chevron, ExxonMobil, ConocoPhillips and seven other American oil companies made $43 billion in pre-tax profits in 2021. These windfall profits have not trickled down to consumers: gasoline prices are the highest in decades, but the oil companies are not increasing supply. Instead, they blame Wall Street: in March 2022 Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas poll among oil executives, nearly 60% cited “investor pressure to maintain capital discipline” as the main reason they are not producing more gas; only 11% cited environmental, social and governance issues.

Nor are oil company profits taxed at a fair rate. The entire 2021 federal and state tax bill for the top 10 oil companies – about $3 billion — would barely cover two or three months of MTA’s operating expenses.

Meanwhile, however, due to political pressure from the motorists’ lobby, Governor Hochul suspended the gasoline tax for the past seven months, at a cost of 585 million dollars in the coffers of the State — the same amount that congestion pricing could generate for the MTA during the same period.

Even infrequent and electrical conductors are soaked by automakers. America’s collective car loan debt is seven times higher than its medical debt – about $1.4 trillion versus $195 billion. In New York, banks cannot charge more than 16% interest on a loan. But about 80% of car buyers get their loans, repackaged into “installment retail contracts,” directly through the dealership. RICs are conveniently exempt from state usury laws. In 2018, Jalopnik found that out of 3,000 RICs opened that year in New York, 57% had rates that would have violated usury laws if the banks had issued them. Efforts to legislate against this predatory practice have stalled.

Finally, the insurance companies must get their share. Drivers in the New York metropolitan area pay some of the highest auto insurance rates in the country, typically more than $3,000 per year. It’s not a particularly heavy expense compared to gas and debt repayment, but it’s another bucket of money that’s not going public. And good luck with the paltry payouts if you get hit by a motorist.

I have experienced first-hand the real costs and burdens of owning a car – and the freedom that public transport can bring.

I grew up in the suburbs sharing an old drummer with several family members. Few destinations were accessible on foot or by bike; my independence was linked to the car. Due to maintenance, gas and two minor accidents that cost thousands of dollars in repairs and higher insurance rates, the car drained our family financially and emotionally during my teenage years and early adulthood. After graduating from college, I needed more autonomy and better access to job opportunities than carpooling could provide. Instead of going into debt for my own vehicle, I moved to New York, where I knew I could rely on public transportation. I bought a monthly Metrocard on day one and found work in no time.

I took the 7 train from Queens to downtown five nights a week for a year for my first high-paying job: as a receptionist at a hotel in Manhattan. It was unionized, which meant great pay, but it also meant I was at the bottom of the ladder and had to work the night shift, from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. There were always dozens of people on the dock, the same faces going to and from work day after day. I felt safe as a 23 year old female using public transport at night.

More than a decade later, I work from home. Yet the ability to escape the crushing burden of car addiction and joining millions of others on this public service has changed the course of my life.

Public transit offers people not only freedom from the ravages of the for-profit auto industry, but also a voice in how it’s done.

It is priceless.

Nicole A. Murray (@nicoleamurraylisten)) is a member of the Ecosocialist Task Force of NYC-Democratic Socialists of America.