Bush Administration Advocates for Congestion Pricing

Here’s some more fodder for the debate that was prompted by today’s earlier post about charging more for parking on city streets. This story, too, comes from the Wall Street Journal, and is available online to subscribers only. But you might want to run out and buy today’s paper to read the whole thing, because the news is that in a budget blueprint to be released today, the Bush Administration is coming out in favor of congestion pricing:

[T]he centerpiece of the traffic plan involves an initiative that some

critics say amounts to a tax, a plan depicted by administration

officials as "congestion pricing." The administration will award $130

million in grants starting this spring to help cities and states build

electronic toll systems that would charge drivers fees for traveling in

and out of big cities during peak traffic times. The money also could go

to other congestion strategies such as expanded telecommuting, but

administration officials make it clear they think congestion pricing is

the most powerful tool they have. The White House will seek an

additional $175 million for congestion initiatives in next year’s

budget.

Beyond automobile traffic, the administration will also introduce

legislation soon that could seek to impose a form of "congestion

pricing" on airline travel, likely through user fees on airlines. The

idea is to spread flights more evenly.

Bush’s Transportation Secretary Mary Peters said in an interview with the WSJ’s John D. McKinnon that congestion is "a cost to business and probably affects our ability to be competitive on the global market. But it’s also something that just drives people crazy."

In a press release, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer said that he applauded the administration’s  traffic initiative and that New York should be aggressive in pursuing a share of the grant money. "I can’t believe I’m saying these words," said Stringer in the release, "but I applaud the Bush Administration for their forward thinking on the issue of congestion and thank them for their willingness to work with local governments to address their unique problems."

  • Spud Spudly

    Yeah, just like the Bushies to propose something that makes it harder for poor people to get around. W will be happy when poor people are driving and flying in the middle of the night and his rich buddies are zipping through any time they please.

  • The four-fifths of the world’s people who cannot afford cars are far poorer than the “poor” Americans who will have to cut back a bit on driving because of congestion pricing.

    Those genuinely poor people are the ones who will be hurt the most by the energy shortages and global warming caused by Americans’ excessive driving.

  • Wow – what a scoop! That would be fantastic news, though as with everything from this White House, the devil is in the details.

    Still, let’s see where this goes…

  • Ok Spud we get it, you really care about poor people who can’t afford $4-8 a day to enter the city. I’m assuming that you are in favor of deep discount metrocards, LIRR or Metrocard passes for the poor too, right? You would probably also agree that they should have placards for people under a certain income threshold for them to have free parking? And perhaps they should receive a refund from the government for the extra costs that traffic congestion put on the costs of staple goods they need to buy in stores? Or the cost to poor people in income as they get fired from their second jobs because they keep getting stuck in traffic?

    Please tell us how deep your commitment is to the poor’s transportation needs?

  • ruby

    I don’t know what city you all live in (mostly NYC, no?), but in the cities I’ve lived in (Boston, San Francisco, New York, Chicago), most poor people don’t own cars, they take the bus, or the subway. If congestion pricing drives more folks to public transit they will have reason to invest more in public transit, run buses more often etc. Less traffic will also mean faster buses. Plus, if it drives more folks onto bikes the streets will be safer for bikes.

  • This is another example of politics is like a horse shoe in this country. The far right is aften closer to the far left than to the center.

  • Steve

    Call me a cynic, but I don’t take Bush’s recent burst of interest in domestic issues very seriously.

  • AD

    In this article, at any rate, the far right is represented by Amtrak-hating Ronald Utt of the Heritage Foundation. He denigrates congestion pricing by calling it a “tax,” and — somehow — believes that it will cause fewer people to travel “downtown”: “Make it any more difficult or unattractive to get to downtown, and you’d reduce congestion — but you’d do so largely by reducing jobs.”

    So Ronald, the only way people can go downtown is by car, right? He’s obviously not familiar with the history of the 20th century, in which the greater the proportion of transportation accomplished by automobile, the greater proportion of human activity — housing, jobs, etc. — went to the suburbs.

  • AD

    Following up on my Utt comment above: Even if congestion pricing actually made it harder for any significant number of people to get to Midtown and Downtown Manhattan (which it won’t), it would still make it more pleasant to be downtown. This would actually create incentives for employers to locate there. His comments are totally clueless about this issue.

  • Spud Spudly

    Um, yes, no, no and no. My commitment to poor people’s transportation needs isn’t any greater than anyone else’s. I just don’t want use of the streets to be decided by how much money someone has. I’d rather see the streets closed to traffic altogether.

    All these creative minds and they can’t come up with something that’s more fair and yet effective? So all we should do is weed out people with less money? Shouldn’t everyone have to bite the bullet? Perhaps the use of the words “rich” and “poor” is causing trouble. Maybe it’s better to say those who can afford to pay and those who can’t.

  • The far right would be pure capitalism/market based solutions. The far left being socialism.
    Althoughm, some right-wingers in this country are hard to place within traditional definitions of Right vs. Left. I don’t understand why its conservative to hate on trains – is the Heritage Foundation funded by Detroit?

  • I am optimistic that Bush’s support for this can tip the scales to allow other politicians to stick their necks out for congestion pricing.

    His support though does further highlight the need for a plan of success before this “mission is accomplished.” Congestion pricing without a vision for better and more walkable and bikable streets and better transit will be incomplete and would probably contribute to the unequal access that already exists to this city.

  • crzwdjk

    The issue of trains is, IMO, somewhat orthogonal to the whole left-right business. After all, one can argue from a conservative viewpoint that roads are a massive government subsidy and social engineering, and one can also argue from a liberal viewpoint that public transportation is a social program for the poor and should be treated accordingly. The “Bus Riders’ Union” in Los Angeles did in fact make such an argument in advocating for more buses and fewer trains.

  • Nicolo Macchiavelli

    As much as I would love to engage the socialism/capitalism paradigm above I’d rather deal with the NYC street issue, which is after all, the subject of the blog. First, is congestion really driving business out of Manhattan? Maybe I’m wrong but I thought Manhattan real estate in particular, and the “outer boroughs” generally, are undergoing a sustained real estate boom regardless of the congestion present. That falls under the Yogi Berra rule “No one goes to Broadway anymore, its too crowded.” Therein lies the dilemma for congestion pricing and it is a political dilemma. More people live in the “outer boroughs” than Manhattan and congestion pricing has been thus cast as a Manhattan versus every where else issue. Congestion pricing, whether driven by Bush, Spitzer or Stringer will fail in NYC (five boroughs). Unless the suburbs were to force it on the city (entirely possible if the suburbs actually supported it).

    I support congestion pricing. But I want to see a viable political strategy that supports it as well. What we get instead is a lot of angry rhetoric concerning the evil of cars. No one hates cars more than I but I nonetheless own one.

    That said, it is nice to see the class struggle being so important in policy making circles. Would that it were so important in tax, health care and education policy as well.

  • crzwdjk

    Congestion charging does seem like a politically difficult issue, because the government systems have been set up in a way that tends to give suburbs more power than cities. What bothers me is that it has so suddenly gained such prominence as THE silver bullet solution for all our congestion problems. The thing is, there is no silver bullet. A complex set of circumstances got us into the situation we are in now, and an equally complex set of actions will be needed to get back out of it. Congestion charging may be part of it, sure, but so is land use reform, infrastructure investment in subways, streetcars, buses, and bikeways, and even government reform to give cities the power they need to control their own destiny.

  • Anne

    it seems strange that the idea of a HOV rule is not being discussed in conjunction with congestion pricing. how about if vehicles with three people are exempt from the charge? this would provide an incentive to carpool and an option for those who claim the charge discriminates against drivers who can’t afford it.

  • crzwdjk

    There’s already an implicit HOV discount built in, if you divide the congestion charge or toll or whatever by the number of people in the car. And if you give an explicit HOV discount, then people will have a strong incentive to cheat, or just bring more friends along on the trip to Manhattan just to take up space in the car and get the discount.

  • The spammers are getting clever! (Or at least, putting a little more effort into it.)

  • Aaron better have a good excuse for letting that sit there for so long 🙂

  • This link gets me the Journal article for free:

    http://online.wsj.com/public/article/SB117064116425197878-3gh193OAWWXI884HsKVhoV3M78U_20070307.html?mod=tff_main_tff_top
    (via google news)

    Also, Spud, what you’re leaving out of the equation is the value of the space that cars take up, which is heavily subsidized. (Drivers do also not bear the full cost of maintaining the roads, bridges, etc., as others have pointed out.)

  • Spud Spudly

    True, Steveo. And riders of public transportation don’t come close to paying for their costs either. Among the numerous sources of public transportation funding are people who pay tolls at bridges and tunnels.

    But I’m not pro-driver or pro-car (as I’ve been accused of being elsewhere on this site). I just want a democratic traffic control plan that affects everyone, and doesn’t exclude certain people from using the streets based on how much money they can pay to the government.

  • someguy

    *yawn*
    And a dozen eggs costs the same no matter what you earn.

  • Mr. Spudly — under congestion pricing you’ll be allowed to use any street you wish for free. For the privelege of using the least efficient mode, you’ll have to pay. Very democratic.

  • Spud Spudly

    The government doesn’t sell eggs, private enterprise does. Eggs are not a public resource for everyone to use.

    Steveo, that’s one way to look at it. Another way to look at is that government will be taking a public resource that’s been available to everyone and start charging a fee designed to exclude people who have less money from using that public resource. The effect will only be felt by lower income people — upper income people will not have to change their lifestyles one bit. (In fact, more upper-income people might choose to drive once the lower-income people are forced off the streets.)

    That’s the best we can do? There’s no other effective plan that forces everyone to sacrifice, and not just people with less money?

    Sad if that’s true.

  • ABG

    But Spud, what about all those people who can’t afford to buy a car? That’s unfair, whether it’s done by private enterprise or public agencies. Do you support legislation providing free cars (and maintenance, and gasoline, and parts, etc.) to everyone?

    Or is it specifically public resources that should be free? And do you therefore support the elimination of all user fees, whether for passports, parks (most national and state parks charge for parking), transit, toll roads, library fines, driver’s licenses, etc.?

    Finally, to show that this isn’t a one-sided conversation on your part, we’ve demonstrated (there’s a post here somewhere, and someone will provide a link if you can’t find it) that there are hardly any “lower-income” people driving into Manhattan. They’re all middle-class and richer. Please acknowledge that and stop repeating the misinformation that this is out of concern for working-class people.

  • Hey Spud,

    As Steve so eloquently pointed out elsewhere, there’s no right to drive wherever and whenever you want. Ultimately, we citizens own the streets and if we decide, through our electeds and their appointees, to charge for driving, well we can do it. And once we can reach the inevitable consensus that everyone, rich and poor, will be better off as a result, then we will do it.

  • Spud Spudly

    Sure we can do it. And sure I may be in the minority. But realize I’m not supporting a right to drive anywhere you want any time you want. I just think that any program to reduce traffic should affect all motorists equally, and not only those with less money.

    There’s a difference between essential public resources and non-essential. Passport fees should definitely be eliminated, especially now that you need one just to fly to Canada. Fees to park at Yellowstone? Not as bad, you can go elsewhere for recreation.

    Can’t our goals be accomplished with a combination of other programs, like HOV requirements or smaller taxis (I saw a Honda Civic taxi the other day)? How about odd/even driving days? Or just banning cars altogether? I have no problem sacrificing if everyone is doing the same.

    Hey, remember: All of us, whether we now own cars or not, are potential motorists someday.

    “Hi, I’m Spud and I’m a motorist”

    “Hi, Spud!”

  • P

    How about odd/even driving days? Or just banning cars altogether? I have no problem sacrificing if everyone is doing the same.

    So you’d rather use a cleaver than a scalpel because it is ‘democratic’? Not that I drive but I would prefer to make the decision whether or not it is appropriate to drive and weigh that need with any additional costs. Odd and even driving days takes that control from you- so if you have to move your anvils today from your office to your home in Brooklyn you have to take the subway. Unlucky you.

    More seriously, as you mentioned earlier that there is latent demand that will absorb any reduction in traffic. Those Westchester commuters just got off of Metro North (at least every other day)

  • There’s a difference between essential public resources and non-essential. Passport fees should definitely be eliminated, especially now that you need one just to fly to Canada. Fees to park at Yellowstone? Not as bad, you can go elsewhere for recreation.

    Congestion charging? No problem. You can walk, ride a bike, or take transit.

  • US and the rest of the world should learn a lot from Singapore. They do not have any congestion in roads because of strict licensing of cars and a very good and effeicient public transport system.But they are a small country and it can easily implemented.

  • JF

    In Singapore do they cane people who park on the sidewalk? Sometimes I’m tempted to take the law into my own hands.

  • Restriction of Freedoms in a country that prides itself of it. This is not being done for the sake of the population of for clean air. Bush’s platfrom was no new tax’s, he must need cash bad for his pet project.
    Don’t delude youselves this is not being done for the Democrats. He is not a dumb as he looks. It is the old bate and switch.

    This opens the door for Federal tax’s for getting around by all kinds of transportation use.
    Actually I wouldn’t mind a tax on cycling if he would give us a lane on the interstates. I asked Clinton and got nowhere. Over the years local US roads like US22 a main road out of the city West connecting with Southern roads have been eliminated leaving cyclists no way to go in those directions unless you travel North over the GW going 50 miles out of the way.

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