Detractors Find Congestion Pricing Facts in Short Supply

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Add the Queens Chamber of Commerce to the list of pre-emptive congestion pricing foes.

The chamber’s Legislative Advocacy Committee has prepped a report on the "harmful effects" of congestion pricing on businesses, and chamber members are also reportedly spreading the word.

Writing in the chamber newsletter, Queensborough, QCC President Raymond J. Irrera espouses the usual rhetoric regarding "punishing" motorists with a "tax." Irrera fans the flames by citing the "dire negative impact" congestion charging supposedly had on downtown London.

Also in Queensborough, City Council Member Tony Avella refers to vague "serious financial consequences" of New York’s non-existent congestion pricing plan, and takes the opportunity to plug his legislative proposal to ban the city from "imposing tolls or other charges on any and all bridges controlled by the New York City Department of Transportation." Avella finds himself in good company on the council, which appears on the verge of enacting its own anti-business initiative.

Thing is, the London experience shows that overall business does not suffer from congestion charging. According to Malcolm Murray-Clark, who runs the London program and who visited New York a few weeks ago, a very small number of auto-dependent businesses were negatively affected there. This could be because, among other reasons, while the number of car trips into London’s central business district was reduced by 31 percent, the number of people entering the CBD dropped by just two percent.

Murray-Clark was careful to point out that congestion pricing is no "panacea," and that implementing the plan successfully required a lot of give-and-take between government and the private sector. Seeing as how other New York business leaders have pegged the cost of gridlock at $13 billion a year — not to mention all those inconvenient side effects — maybe honest dialogue would be a better course than unsubstantiated hysteria.

Photo: latca/Flickr

  • brent

    Am I missing something here? How exactly does congestion charging in Manhattan negatively impact the Queens business community? Wouldn’t the more likely effect be more motorists from the borough staying in Queens to do their shopping?

  • I just learned that Rome also has congestion pricing (in addition to London and Stockholm).

    Andrea Broaddus writes:
    Rome has a cordon scheme restricting access to the city center during peak hours, with revenues invested in transit. A CIVITAS-funded project, it is described on their website, http://www.civitas-initiative.org/measure_sheet.phtml?lan=en&id=38. Or you can find a nice comparative study by our very own FHWA on European demand management strategies, including a case study on Rome which describes their road and parking pricing schemes, http://international.fhwa.dot.gov/traveldemand/t1_p08.htm.”

  • Congestion pricing does not hurt Queens business. The Queens politicians are talking about Manhattan businesses, because they’re raising every point they can think of.

    If they were really so concerned about us in Manhattan they would stop bringing their f’ing cars here every day.

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    The Queens Chamber does actually suggest that congestion pricing would be a “tax” on Queens business owners who drive to Manhattan to do their business. That seems to be one of the main thrusts of their argument.

    They’re not representative of all Queens businesses; I visit my Manhattan customers just fine without driving. However, I understand that there are plenty of businesses who do need to cart equipment or deliveries around.

    Of course, in the business world time is money, and a reduction in traffic delays could easily produce an increase in efficiency that would more than make up for the congestion charge. They don’t seem to consider that, though.

    Their argument that any transit fee is a “tax” (and all taxes are bad) is disingenuous, of course. I haven’t heard them fighting for the elimination of subway, bus and LIRR fares.

  • Tax tax tax. Poor poor poor.

    Oh look, a flying pig!

  • tim

    Why is everyone so consumed with the concept of congestion pricing. Couldn’t we achieve the same thing by simply increasing toll charges during peak hours. How hard could it be to re-calibrate EZ pass to simply increase charges at certain tolls during rush hour..?

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    It’s a good idea, Tim, but the problem is that there are no tolls on the four DOT-controlled East River bridges (Brooklyn, Manhattan, Williamsburg and Queensboro). If you increase tolls on the MTA-controlled Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel, the Queens-Midtown Tunnel and Triboro Bridge, you might see some congestion reduction, but a lot of motorists will just shift to the “free” bridges.

    A good example of this is Van Dam Street in Long Island City. Every morning it’s backed up with people going from the LIE to the Queensboro Bridge. A lot of those drivers are probably going to parts of Midtown, and drive back south on Second, Park or Fifth Avenues. Putting a toll on the bridge would decrease congestion on both Van Dam Street and Second Avenue.

  • tim

    agreed. In my view – they should have a toll on those crossings as well….

  • pete

    If you look at the pic at top of the thread – you’ll see that most traffic is cabs.
    How about a surcharge on all cab and limo rides instead during peak hours?
    I’m absolutely opposed to bridge tolls – but congestion pricing in certain limited zones is less objectionable.

  • crzwdjk

    What exactly is wrong with bridge tolls? They should at least be put in place to raise money for bridge maintenance, so the bridges don’t start falling apart again like they recently were, before the long, expensive programs to fix them back up. Plus, the rivers form a natural boundary for a congestion charging zone.

  • Anne

    re: #9
    cabs are much more like public transportation than private vehicles (which often have only the driver in them), and therefore not the best target for a surcharge.

    it’s also not true that most traffic is cabs. the photo appears to be in front of a museum, and is hardly representative of manhattan traffic as a whole. we’d be better off with more cabs (especially if they’re hybrids) and fewer single-occupant Escalades.

  • pete

    disagree, and it is exactly the attitude that you find cabs are much more like public transportation that is outrageous.
    Cabs drive around looking for fares adding polution and congestion. Limos idle often illegally and casue more problems.
    And as I look out my midtown office, it is cabs and limos that are a mojority of traffic.
    Very little is people driving in own cars.
    Most other is delivery vehicles and trucks.
    Perhaps at rush hour you’ll see more people driving to and from work…. but cutting down on that does nothing for traffic rest of day.
    Cutting # of cab and limo rides would do that.
    Bridges are there to unite this city… putting tolls on them creates barrier and separation and makes 2nd class of vast majority of city residents not living in Manhattan.

  • glennQ

    I’d think the better method of promoting mass transit would be to actually make mass transit more appealing! Naa, taxing/tolling brings in money. Shame on you anti-car folk! What’s next… Congestion Pricing on just stepping foot in Manhattan? I thought we lived in a free country!

  • nobody

    Glenn, it’s called the carrot and stick approach. Gotta have both. Or where are you getting the magical money for mass transit (and biking) improvements from? Carbon taxes? Hey, that’s not such a bad idea….

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    Pete, you raise a good point, but one good thing about taxis and private car services is that they don’t require as much parking. IIRC, some taxis are used 24/7 when they’re not in the shop. Others are parked in a lot, or near the owner’s house if they’re individually owned. They also need parking/standing for meals, and TLC regulations require private cars to rent off-street parking and use it when they’re not on a call.

    That may seem like a lot of parking, but think about the amount of parking that the average car owner/commuter uses: parking at home, parking at work, parking at Whole Foods, parking at the mall, parking at the bank…

    GlennQ: I addressed the “tax” and “free” arguments in comments above. With regard to your other comments, there is no charge to set foot in Manhattan: the bridges are all free to walk across, and I don’t think anyone is suggesting putting a toll for pedestrians.

    I love how the Queens Chamber and other folks suddenly started to talk about improving transit when the congestion pricing issue came up. Where were you when the N train extension was defeated, when service on the Montauk Branch was cut back to one express run a day, when the trolley tracks were torn up?

    If you really support mass transit improvements, then put your money where your mouth is. Propose some transit improvements, and find funding for them.

    Shame on you for your dishonest arguments about “taxes,” “freedom” and transit.

  • tim

    why do people feel the need to trample on other people freedoms? why do people feel the need to tax the working class out of manhattan? traffic is part of life in a big city, people make that calculation when they decide to drive over mass transit… wtf is happening to america, we are becoming a perpetual nanny state… we like to speak of freedoms but now have less than many of our peers. we do not need additional taxes on the people of nyc, it is already the most highly taxed area in the country, enough already. how about taking simple steps like putting up signs that you see in other states that tell people to stay right unless passing… it seems everyone like to be in every lane going slow and blocking everyone else. lets start enforcing those laws before we suck peoples pockets dry who are just trying to make a living in the most efficient way for them. enough of this BS. unfortunately this crap idea will taint the good things bloomberg has done.

  • People Revolution!

    Peoples Revolution!

    Stop paying subway and bus fare! It is a tax! In America we believe in freedom from paying. Free cell phones. Free cable TV. Free Yankees tickets. Free airline tickets to Miami. Free beer. Free Spiderman 3 on Imax screen. Free gasoline. Free cars. Storm the autoshow and demand a free concept car for everyone in Queens. No more taxes on the working class!

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    What are you, some kind of Trotskyite?

  • Peoples Revolution!

    No, the Trotskyite’s are busy in the Bronx. Just your average New York City guy who has a free car, free gas, free parking and free insurance.

  • howie hedd

    I would think that, if successful, an $ 8.00 congestion pricing scheme would work to the benefit of most people (like exterminators or repair people)who need access to vehicles in Manhattan for their livelihood.

    If I employ a repairman, whose tools and supplies necessitate a van, I’m paying that person at least $25.00 an hour (almost certainly more, especially with any benefits) plus a $3 bucks an hour or so for gas, insurance and wear and tear on the van.

    If the decreased traffic saves that repairman one hour (of an 8 hour day) the benefit to the business owner is a $ 20 GAIN! ($25 salary + $3 van, less $8 fee)

    That was the conservative scenario.

    How about this scenario:

    That same repairman is critically injured while working. The decreased congestion allows the ambulance to arrive 2 minutes earlier on the scene and can deliver the patient to the emergency room 3 minutes sooner.

    Ask a doctor if 5 minutes of extra time in the emergency room is worth $ 8.00 to a critically injured patient?

    This would apply to everyone, the working guy from Queens, the bike messenger from the Bronx, the hedge fund trader from Greenwich.

    Everyone.

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