Congestion Pricing Foes Will Go into Attack Mode

Crain’s New York Business reports that the group leading the campaign against congestion pricing will begin a lobbying blitz aimed at derailing Mayor Bloomberg’s pricing proposal next week, just as the mayor goes to Albany to try to win state legislators over to his PlaNYC initiative. The arguments to be mounted by the "Keep NYC Congestion Tax Free Coalition" range from the speculative to the alarmist:

The Keep NYC Congestion Tax Free Coalition will argue that the proposal is unfair to Queens residents, says group spokesman Walter McCaffrey, the former city councilman. Two-thirds of the borough’s inhabitants who need medical treatment travel to Manhattan, he says, especially for high-quality cancer and heart care.

"Especially for seniors, this becomes difficult to bear," Mr. McCaffrey says.

In subsequent weeks, opponents will argue that stores like Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s in Manhattan will probably pass higher delivery costs on to their customers. As a result, New Jersey residents will shop locally instead of traveling to the city, Mr. McCaffrey claims.

The coalition is also expected to argue that the initial cost — $8 for cars and $21 for trucks driving within Manhattan below 86th Street during business hours — will rise sharply. They note that London, the model for the New York plan, began congestion pricing with a fee of roughly $8, which was quickly increased to about $16. Now, the city is considering a hike to roughly $20.

  • d

    The people who decide not to come into the city because of an $8 charge will more than be made up for by the faster trips people will be able to make around the city. So Macy’s might see a drop off in customers from one area but an increase in customers from another.

    As for seniors, $8 may be too much to bear for trips to a doctor, but having to sit in traffic and inhale exhaust fumes is already too much to bear and brings with it quite a cost to their health and well-being. Perhaps, if we can clean up the air, fewer people will develop problems that necessitate trips to city hospitals and medical centers.

  • Daniel Millstone

    Kicking back some of the tariff to lower income NYers, either in the form of a tax credit or (as the NYT columnist suggested) vouchers, would blunt much of the criticism. There’s clearly room for both congestion pricing and some attempts at income fairness.

  • Does anyone believe all these sick seniors are solo-driving into Manhattan, as opposed to using car services etc.? There’s no info from these people – it’s campaign by anecdote.

  • $21 divided by the number of retail items in one truck equals almost no increase in cost passed on to consumers whatsoever.

  • The New Jersey point is also completely wrong since obviously people who drive from NJ already pay a toll. The Port Authority has said publicly that it needs an increase so the difference between the Hudson River base toll and the $8 fee will be small to nil as early as late this year.

    Consider also that if you have 2 people in the car from from, say, Queens using the 59th St. Bridge that $8 is the same as a standard fare subway round trip for those same two people. Is that a terrible deal?

  • Daniel,

    Raising $500M/year for better bus and subway service and an array of environmental and quality of life benefits is kicking back revenues to low income New Yorkers in my book. Low income New Yorkers aren’t driving into Manhattan every day.

  • Um…when I lived in Queens there were plenty of doctors around and good hospitals.

    Again, I’m guessing those that are driving all the way to Manhattan are either relatively well off to begin with or really sick, such that $8 is of fairly little concern compared to weighty issues such as chemo or radiation or surgery.

    Furthermore, I’m pretty sure that access-a-ride, TLC cars and Ambulettes would be excluded.

    And hey, if the $8 is a deterrent for chronic care of more affluent folks, then wouldn’t that create more of a market for physician practices in Queens?

  • Mitch

    If I were an ailing senior, I probably wouldn’t drive myself into Manhattan to see a doctor, but I might ask my young, healthy daughter or son-in-law to give me a ride. And it wouldn’t be unreasonable to travel to Manhattan to see a doctor, if I’d been seeing him for years, or if she was the best choice allowed by my HMO — it wouldn’t have to be for something dramatic, like chemotherapy.

    Compared to all the other suffering in the world, I don’t think an $8 fee to drive to see the doctor is that big a deal, but it does add to the burdens of people who already have lots of problems. So I wouldn’t object to finding a way to ease the congestion fee for people who drive (or are driven) downtown for medical appointments.

    It shouldn’t be too hard to find a way to do this. In some areas, stores and restaurants can validate parking tickets, so customers and park free in the municipal lot. You could do the same for the congestion fee; the receptionist could give the patient a voucher that could be mailed in as payment for that day’s fee; or maybe she could log into a website and type in the license plate of the car that brought the patient downtown.

    Some people might misuse this exemption (e.g. driving to Macy’s after visiting the dermatologist) but probably not enough to invalidate the idea.

  • JF

    Where’s the lobbying blitz in favor of congestion pricing by Queens doctors?

  • …and if you’re driving (or being driven) from Queens to Manhattan to see a doctor, how much are you paying to park? I bet, all things considered, that if you’re choosing to drive, then the $8 ain’t much in the big picture. And how much does it cost when you can’t get to your appointment when you’re stuck in traffic? Or the person in the ambulance that dies because of the traffic jam of people driving from Queens to Manhattan to see their doctors…

    And before people get discouraged hearing about all the anti-congestion-charge activity, let it be known that there are organized efforts in favor of congestion pricing, too…

  • Pat

    If anyone cares to remember, the five cent bottle bill translated into an overnight doubling of the price of a six pack of Bud from around $2.60 to well over $5.00. Don’t think you aren’t going to get smacked hard in the wallet as retailers jump at the excuse to raise prices across the baord.

  • Zam

    News for you Pat: Retailers are also going to raise their prices when gas jumps permanently past $3/gallon this summer and keeps going up, up and up from there.

    We either impose these kinds of fees on ourselves now and use the revenues to help reduce our automobile and oil dependence or we allow geology, the free market and places like Iran, Venezuela and Saudi Arabia to dictate the terms for us.

    It seems like a pretty simple choice to me. I’d rather my the money I put into using my car goes towards paying for better mass transit in Queens than Saudi-funded fundamentalist madrassah’s in Indonesia.

  • Pat

    Well Ken, what you are calling fees is actually a tax. That is fine wirh me provided it is called a tax and provided it is spread equitably. For example, why should taxi rides be exempt from the congestion fee? Cabs are not mass transportation afterall. They are actually the very gas guzzling terrorist enablers you decry. And why should developers be getting tax breaks and liberty bonds to create concentrated work locations in Manhattan? Shouldn’t they be footing the bill to transport their employees from the outer boroughs since they benefit from the available labor pool? And since Manhattan residents are going to be the main benificiaries of a congestion fee, maybe they should pay a special in boro fee when they hop on the subway. We could go on and on.

  • P

    Wow Pat-
    You’re sort of weilding a rhetorical sawed-off shotgun.

    As to your points:
    There’s an argument that taxis should pay the congestion charge but it’s an awfully thin reed to hang your opposition on. For my part, I believe that taxis shouldn’t be included because the city wants to encourage people to take taxis rather than having cars that need to be parked for 95% of the day. As a component of New York’s transportation system the City has much more control of the emissions production of taxis compared to private cars and also knows there is a finite number of taxis in the city. Furthermore, taxi efficiency will increase at peak times while private cars will spend more and more time circling the block looking for parking.

    About the complaint about tax breaks to Manhattan employers: The value of tax breaks to corporations can be argued but there is no question that Manhattan is the the most transit accessible location in the country. Putting those employers in New Jersey only opens a new set of congestion, pollution, and environmental problems.

    About the benefits of congestion pricing: The millions of dollars raised from the congestion pricing will be pumped into outer borough transit. Approaches to the East River bridges like Flatbush Avenue, Grand Street, and Queens Plaza will be enormously improved by the reduction of automobile traffic. This will help business as well as the thousands of people who will be breathing cleaner air and walking safer streets.

    I think the burden of proof is on people who argue that a trip into Manhattan by subway should cost money but a trip by car should be free.

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    Pat, please stop the disingenuous and misleading “tax” rhetoric, or else call the subway fare a “tax” too, and put at least as much effort into its removal or reduction as you do into opposing the congestion fee. After all, there’s no question that the poor (even the homeless) pay that tax much more than they would the congestion charge.

    I had a problem at first with the idea of exempting taxis and car services, but I realized that (a) they hardly use any parking in Manhattan and (b) as someone else pointed out here, taxi drivers and riders all pay, indirectly, a per-trip fee to the city that can be adjusted if necessary to reduce congestion.

  • Pat

    I just love the lame excuses people have for exempting taxis from the fee. The bottom line is that if you are getting into a cab in Manhattan to get from point a to b, you are leasing a private vehicle and you should pay the congestion fee same as if you are driving your own car. What does parking have to do with anything…it is moving vehicles that cause congestion and taxis are undoubtedly the largest class of moving vehicles in Manhattan. Other borough’s residents don’t even have that option of standing on the street corner and hailing a cab, all the more reason the fee should be added to the fare. And if you think cabs don’t park, you haven’t been to my neighborhood.

    But this taxi exemption just underscores how the congestion fee as proposed is basically a transfer of wealth and recourses from one group of citizens to another within the same jurisdiction, i.e. a tax. If the goal is a common civic good and not just the furthering one set of citizens narrow financial or social interests, then you would have to agree that everyone should pay equally. Presumably if the congestion fee is so successful at relieving congestion, there isn’t going to be enough in that mass transit fund to pay for much of anything. And unless Manhattanites are willing to pay the fee when they hop in a cab, the congestion is not going to go away either.

  • Steve

    Pat has a point. Your average taxi probably creates more congestion than private autos, because it will cruise at low speeds for fares, and then stop unpredictably upon finding one. On the other hand, cabs are more like the trucks which under the plan pay just one fee per day no matter no matter how many times they enter or leave the zone. Cabs should probably have to pay a similar charge, they can pass it along to their customers to create further incentive to use mass transit/bikes/feet.

    It seems to me that if you don’t regulate taxis in some way with respect to the congestion zone, you will get problems. All the taxis will concentrate within the zone because there will be non-stop fares available there due to the higher cost of private cars. Drivers will refuse fares to outside the zone (as they already not infrequently do). When you price the road and then grant special exemptions, you will throw things out of whack. I think most of the commenters understand this, and that’s why they mention the City’s ability to regulate cabs–they expect there will be some form of regulation to avoid the potential problem of categorically exempting taxisw.

    But Pat seems to be missing the point by calling congestion pricing a transfer of wealth and resources. That description may be acurate, but ignores the current subsidy of wealth and resources, paid for by Manhattan residents, which is bestowed on those who enter the city in private cars. The roadways are open space for public use but they are also a scarce resource that costs money to maintain and police. A user fee, especially one dedicated to improving mass transit to and from outer-borough locations, makes perfect sense.

  • MD

    When are the “pro” groups going to mount a campaign?

  • Carolyn Konheim

    When are we going to address the pitfalls and wastefulness of the proposed fee collection system? Why aren’t transit advocates screaming about the hugely complex system robbbing transit of over $300 million a year so the Mayor can tiptoe around “bridge tolls”? He’s not fooling any of the opponents, and enough people are being won over that he should just bite the bullet and sdo the right thing–stick a few E-ZPass monitors on the bridge spans and across 60th St. Congestion pricing is needed even more on the FDR Drive and West Street–exempting those drivers (who will increase as a result of CBD charges) also deprives us of hundreds millions more thst should go to fixing up our Third World roads, as well as transit. The rationale for the 86th Street cordon won’t hold up–drivers will more likely try to dump their cars aroung 86th Street than around 60th. There MUST be an alternative analysis and an honest debate about the most effective system.

  • harvey

    The PUBLIC roads, bridges and tunnels are paid for in large part by GENERAL taxes which are borne by the entire population – state property tax, sales tax, etc. furthermore, private motoring has other huge externalities in the form of pollution (air & noise), police enforcement & emergency response to accidents, obesity health costs (fueled by car-dependence), etc. So, as much as a congestion fee/tax/whatever is a transfer of wealth, it is a socially desirable one – not unlike the tax on cigarettes. And, contrary to one of Pat’s earlier posts, in order for a tax to be desirable, it does not have to affect everybody equally.

    Yayaya, at any rate, we can argue this all we want on this blog, but the decision is ultimately going to be made in the sphere of public opinion, where it’s easier to have an impact than one might think. That’s why everybody who supports this needs to call their city councilperson and, more importantly, their state representatives.

  • Pat

    There is no doubt that congestion needs to be addressed but the devil is always in the details and while this plan is an improvement over that proposed by Partnership for NYC, it still contains many hidden devils. Steve mentions the “current subsidy of wealth and resources, paid for by Manhattan residents, which is bestowed on those who enter the city in private cars”. But the fact that much of the best real estate in Manhattan below 86th Street is occupied by public housing bears witness to a borough that had a much different demographic makeup just twenty years ago when those who were entering by car then are the ones living here now and visa versa. New York’s extensive network of car friendly parkways and highways to reach areas intentionally rendered inaccessible by mass transit is a legacy of that those times. Needless to say, the ‘subsidy of wealth and recourses’ used to build all those parkways and highways were borne by a much wider segment of the population than those who currently make claim to ownership of Manhattan’s streets and bridges. That they would now wish to impose a user fee on outer borough commuters to pay for the improvements to a deficient mass transit system they benefited from in the past is almost sublime in its irony.

    Maybe starting from vantage point of an efficient mass transit with a cost shared by all affected before putting a congestion fee on the table would be a lot more palatable. To expect outer borough residents to buy into something, dressed up in ‘save the planet’ rhetoric, but which is only designed to makes some businessman’s midtown cab ride a little quicker while not addressing the underlying problems is just not going to fly and rightly so. I think an appropriate user fee on cab rides in a borough where there are extensive mass transit alternatives might be a good start toward funding those remedial improvements elsewhere.

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    Pat, I’m sick of hearing this “improve transit first” line from the same people who have stalled or blocked the extensions of the N, 7 and E trains, train service to Co-Op City and the restoration of the Rockaway Cutoff and the SIRR North Shore line. Where were you when the Montauk Branch LIRR stations were being closed? You want to improve transit in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island, then put a plan on the table, and tell us how you want to pay for it. Otherwise it’s just an obstructionist tactic.

    Your demographic arguments are also suspect. You expect me to believe that the Puerto Ricans who got priced out of the Upper West Side are all living in Bayside and Flatlands now? My guess is that most of them are living in the Bronx, along the subway lines. And the new Manhattanites are more likely from Kansas and Ohio than from Glendale and Throgs Neck. But since you’re not providing figures, it’s my guess against yours.

    Finally, I said that cabs use hardly any parking in Manhattan. I know very well that they park, because they park in my neighborhood … in Queens.

  • Pat

    Angus, I have absolutely no idea what you are blabbering about, nor do I care. But let me tell you that I do appreciate your comments, and would love to throw back a shot or two of Taliskers with you at Sidetracks one day in the future.

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    Why would I want to drink with someone who tells me I’m blabbering and says he/she doesn’t care what I’m talking about? WTF?

  • nyctuber

    ‘Attack mode’ is trying to charge people for merely driving in NYC. Exactly how expensive do you want to make a cab ride?

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