DC Statehood Green Party opposes Metro fare increases, urges other sources of revenue and reduction of car traffic
THE DC STATEHOOD GREEN PARTY
For immediate release:
Testimony before WMATA urges lower Metro fares and reduction of asthma-causing air pollution through a congestion charge in downtown DC
WASHINGTON, DC -- David Schwartzman, speaking on behalf of the DC Statehood Green Party, announced the party's strong opposition to proposed Metro fare increases in testimony at a November 14 hearing of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority.
The text of Mr. Schwartzman's testimony is appended below.
Mr. Schwartzman, who serves as the Statehood Green Party's Legislative Agenda and Tax & Budget Coordinator, urged District government not to place a new financial burden on working DC residents, and instead recommended that DC "close the '$109 million' budget shortfall with a surtax on regional corporate profits and on millionaire incomes."
Mr. Schwartzman cited the need to reduce car traffic and the damage to public health, especially asthma in children, resulting from air pollution. He argued that the District should replace the fare increase with a fare reduction and a congestion charge for motorists driving in DC's core business center, citing London as a successful model.
The DC Statehood Green Party and the Green Party of the United States <http://www.gp.org> have called for dramatic local, national, and global measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, including conservation, reduced car traffic, and expanded public transportation.
Testimony, Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, November 14, 2007
Re: Proposed fare increases
The DC Statehood Green Party strongly opposes the Metro fare increases proposed by WMATA. We oppose the proposed fare hike for two main reasons. First, this increase in fares would be a regressive tax on low and middle income users of Metro, in particular Metrorail, with particular hardship on DC students and their families. Balancing the Metro budget on the backs of low income and working people would be an unwelcome continuation of the approach of the Control Board era for District residents, when budgets were balanced by hurtful cuts in programs that served low income and working class residents. We don't need another dose of austerity for those who can least afford it, especially when the income and wealth gap is widening between the very rich and the rest of us. The income gap in the District is now among the biggest in the nation, compared to cities and states (DC Fiscal Policy Institute studies).
Second, raising fares will discourage Metrorail ridership, opposite to what is needed to reduce regional air pollution and its negative health impacts as well as carbon emissions which contribute to global warming. Raising parking fees in the suburbs will likewise discourage use of Metrorail.
We urge the Transit Authority consider the following alternative approach:
1) Close the "$109 million" budget shortfall with a surtax on regional corporate profits and on millionaire incomes. Millionaires in the Metro DC area now pay about half the rate in their local tax burden that working class residents pay (Citizens for Tax Justice, ITEP studies) when the advantage afforded by the federal deduction offset is included.
2) Progressively reduce not increase fares on Metro, expand clean bus service linked to Metrorail by creating a sustainable funding source for mass transit by: a) congestion charging and increased parking fees for the central DC business district, b) progressive restructuring of regional taxes for individuals, and c) an adjustable surtax on regional corporate profits.
If London can reduce air pollution and traffic, with full-time students riding free with its congestion charge, why can't the District do the same with a congestion charge approach?
Reducing air pollution would have immediate health benefits, particularly for DC's children. "Pollution from mobile sources (cars, trucks, vans, etc) is the leading cause of ozone and smog in the District of Columbia, dangerous compounds that cause respiratory illness and childhood asthma. According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation, one in ten adults and children suffer from asthma in DC. The American Lung Association has rated Washington, DC as one of the top five most challenging places for people with asthma to live, particularly in the summer months. A typical summer in DC sends 2,400 people with respiratory related diseases to the hospital and causes 130,000 asthma attacks. The American Lung Association has rated DC's air quality as an "F." Pollution related to transportation (including cars and SUVs) can account for up to 70 percent of pollution during poor air quality days in the summer. While some pollution is obvious, ozone and other dangerous pollutants float unseen. The DC metro area is in violation of Clean Air Act standards for ozone and other pollutants, putting residents at higher risk for asthma, respiratory illness, and code-red smog days in the summer." (1)
Urban air pollution is now linked to a wide variety of negative health impacts affecting both the unborn, children and adults. Besides increasing asthma attacks, these impacts include damage to children's lungs, birth defects affecting heart, harm to the fetus linked to low birthweights and cancer later in life and damage to the cardiovascular system increasing the risk of heart attacks (2a). Driving to work in the Metro DC area's heavy congestion is especially hazardous to one's health because of exposure to ultrafine particulates (2b).
The DC Statehood Green Party proposes that planning now start for a DC congestion charge, which would reduce air pollution and congestion in our city's core while providing revenue to subsidize and expand mass transit (Legislative Agenda for 2007-8). We call for legislation for a Task Force (with government and community representation) to plan for such a charge to commuters driving to a designated core area of the District. Air pollution and carbon emissions from transportation (and power plants) using fossil fuels go hand in hand. Hence, by taking timely steps to reduce carbon emissions that contribute to global warming we likewise reduce air pollution, with immediate benefits to the well being of our residents. The London experience with its congestion charge shows its significant benefits. Traffic congestion has been reduced 30%, while carbon dioxide emissions declined by more than 15%, along with reductions in nitrogen oxide (8%) and particulates (7%) (3). Revenues accrued went to subsidizing the London Underground and bus use, so students now ride free, and expanding the bus system, as the quickest and cheapest way to increase mass transit capacity The next stage will include emission-based charging, targeting SUVs and other vehicles with the highest carbon emissions (4). Just as London, the District should use congestion charge revenues to expand bus service and progressively lower their cost to riders. Further, buses should be converted to the lower polluting compressed natural gas technology and optimally to hybrid or purely electric. This approach would be a Win Win outcome for both residents and commuters. Free mass transit should be seriously considered for its social and environmental benefits, with operating costs paid by charges on car use and progressive taxation of corporations and individuals, as well as federal subsidies.
The Metro DC area has seen a spike in carbon emissions from 2001 to 2005, increasing at more than two times the national rate. A significant fraction of this increase has come from commuting from the suburbs. The DC Metro area now ranks 2nd in the nation for traffic congestion. (5a). The tipping point for a new and very dangerous climate regime may be as soon as a decade away if radical action to decrease carbon emissions is not taken in the immediate future (5b).
Last spring a proposal to establish a commission to study possible tolls on commuters entering the District was introduced in the City Council by Councilmember Marion Barry (6). While some revenue is captured from commuters in the form of sales taxes, the District is explicitly forbidden by the Home Rule Act to impose any tax on the personal income of non-residents (7). Hence, until DC achieves statehood, reciprocal taxation of income with surrounding jurisdictions is not likely to be possible. Unlike sales taxes, a toll on commuters would be paid by non-residents only. Therefore, most informed observers believe such a commuter tax would be rejected by Congress as contrary to the Home Rule Act. However, a congestion charge for the core business center of the District could be designed to affect both residents and non-residents, analogous to the District's sales taxes. Such a congestion charge could be implemented without toll booths, using street cameras, the same approach as London's program.
I submit a DC congestion charge is worth fighting for, demanding Congress not turn it down if our city government passes it. An integral part of our struggle for full citizenship rights from DC Statehood is pushing the limits of what is achievable under the Home Rule Act, our neo-colonial regime imposed by Congress. Gains in environmental, economic and social justice empower our struggle for DC Statehood.
For references cited, visit
The DC Statehood Green Party http://www.dcstatehoodgreen.org
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