I'm beginning to think Ald. Edward Burke is a New Yawker at heart. At the very least, he sure seems to like New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's recent ideas--so much that Burke keeps recommending his hometown take them under advisement.
Burke's latest plan is exploring the possibility of slapping a "congestion fee" on motorists who enter Chicago's business district during rush hours. Mayor Bloomberg wants to charge drivers entering Manhattan's central business district during peak weekday times. Those motorists would pay an $8 entry fee, which by modest estimates, could result in annual windfall of $380 million.
This idea follows Burke's recent suggestion that the city should examine ways to integrate hybrid cars into Chicago taxi fleets--something Bloomberg is doing in New York City.
I like that last idea (to see why click here here) but think a congestion tax is absurd. Here's a few reasons why:
--It will hurt economic development. The more money the government takes for basic functions like driving onto LaSalle Street or something like that, the less money taxpayers are likely to spend at city-based restaurants, retail stores and other venues. Such a goofy tax simply siphons money away from private enterprises into the public coffers--which is like flushing them down a very big drain.
--Business will not like it. You start charging workers to enter the business district and someone is going to start asking for a raise to cover their increased costs. CEOs won't go for that, especially if they're already paying for Class A office space and other city fees.
--Daley won't like it. Yeah, I said it. Mayor Richard Daley is no stranger to boosting fees and other hidden taxes. But he's also spent most of his tenure pumping life into downtown Chicago, using city financial incentives to attract a mix of service business, including stores, theatres and other attractions. Lots of these venues are frequented by suburbanites, who are going to be mighty ticked at the prospect of paying an entry fee and will go elsewhere.
--It's unenforceable. How in the world would you set up the collection points? Manhattan has a set number of major entry points but Chicago does not. What do you do, man a toll booth in Greek Town with an I-PASS and cash-only lane? And say that happened, wouldn't such collection points cause back-ups at the very times you don't want them? And even if the city goes super high-tech and finds some electronic wizardry to make this a totally cashless transaction, how much would it cost to put that collection system in place? And just who is going to manage it? The folks at Streets and Sanitation?
--How do you define the city's business district? Where is it exactly? LaSalle Street? South of the Chicago River? West and South Loop?
--Does ANYONE think the proceeds will be used to save public transportation? C'mon. Everyone knows that once the cash starts rolling in, the politicians will find new and creative ways to use it. The area's public transit system would be lucky to see a dime. We need a comprehensive public transit plan and politicians who have the spine to provide funding instead.
--Chicago ain't New York or London. Forget our cultural differences, I'm talking traffic patterns. New York City doesn't have very many alleys so a lot of everyday business,like trash collection and deliveries, is done in the middle of the streets (adding to the Big Apple's fragrance and a richness of language among the locals). London's business district is much smaller and also has unique congestion problems.
I like that Ald. Burke is not restricting himself to only homegrown ideas. But let's save everybody some time and money by taking his congestion tax idea off the table.