Congestion Pricing: What’s the Deal?

Nobody knows whether the convoluted and difficult congestion pricing "deal" reached by political leaders yesterday will actually result in anything. The deal is complex even by Albany standards. A few things, however, are clear:

  1. Mayor Bloomberg does not have a "green light" to move forward with congestion pricing, nor has he been granted any new powers. The deal denies him the authority to impose a pricing charge until approved by the City Council and state legislature.
  2. The feds may still yet give New York City congestion pricing start-up funds despite the missed Monday deadline.
  3. The deal mandates a very specific timeline by which the process will move forward and a 17-member commission that may become an important forum for the congestion pricing and and broader transportation debate, good things could emerge.
  4. Transportation policy and livable streets issues have moved to the top of New York City’s civic agenda and will remain in the political spotlight for some time to come.
  5. There are a ton of things that could still derail congestion pricing.

Assuming the oft-stalled legislature approves yesterday’s deal in the next week or so, the next hurdle will be the demand that the feds give New York City at least $200 million in congestion pricing pilot program funds by October 1, before the newly created Traffic Congestion Mitigation Commission has even voted to approve pricing. If the feds don’t pay up by this deadline the legislation is voided and pricing is dead.

If the feds do come through with money and the Commission approves the pricing "Implementation Plan" by the Jan. 31, 2008 deadline, then three separate legislative bodies will still have to vote to approve the Plan: the City Council, State Assembly and State Senate.

Council Speaker Christine Quinn of Manhattan has issued strong statements in support of pricing, but it is hard to know whether she can actually deliver her members. Make your own judgments about the Senate and Assembly. Perhaps the biggest obstacle is the clock. A lot has to happen on schedule and as we see here, politics is messy. Time is short — 2009 is a mayoral election year, Quinn is a candidate and pricing is controversial. Bloomberg is gone in 2010.

If everything goes right, congestion pricing could be up and running by 2009, though many variables will influence that. It depends on how quickly the charging system is installed, how fast the mayor can get start-up funds from City Council or other sources that he controls and whether a lawsuit or has the potential to delay things. Even before yesterday’s deal, pricing opponents like Bronx State Senator Ruben Diaz, Sr. were saying, "I cannot understand how these plans can be made without an environmental impact study being conducted first."

Whether or not yesterday’s deal succeeds, the transportation reform movement has already won a huge victory. For decades, transportation has been a second-tier concern in New York City behind crime, education and housing. The congestion pricing debate has changed that, moving transportation policy to the top of the civic agenda, perhaps, for good.

In the past, transportation policy reformers have often found themselves pitted against the city’s power players and marginalized by City Hall. Since the mayor proposed congestion pricing, he has been shoulder to shoulder with the advocates. It is a remarkable turn-around. There is no more talk about traffic congestion being a sign of a prosperous and healthy city. Traffic has been re-branded by the Mayor, big business and editorial boards across the political spectrum as a costly, harmful problem that needs solving. Finally, livable streets are being understood as one of the foundations of a prosperous, healthy, sustainable city.

  • James

    Congestion Pricing means less traffic and therefore less pollution which means LIVES WILL BE SAVED!!!

  • r

    Regarding Diaz’s quote: “I cannot understand how these plans can be made without an environmental impact study being conducted first.”

    Is that irony or just plain chutzpah? The environmental impact of doing nothing is quite clear and has already been studied.

  • free state

    Enjoy your police state, NYC. Camera eyes tracking your license plate everywhere to charge you.

    Just wait till the first time it’s used in a divorce settlement, or marketers start contacting you based on where you drive.

    What, you think that won’t happen? Are you that naiive?

    You’re making your own police state. Enjoy!

  • “Camera eyes tracking your license plate everywhere”

    What is this “license plate,” and how do we make sure we don’t have one?

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    The police state is here for the Metrocard-holding majority. The government has a list of everywhere you swipe that card. Gee, where was Brodsky when that was put in place?

  • Or you can pay in cash. There are plenty government encroachments that aren’t optional to worry about. (And they’re all off topic.)

  • huh?

    Doc, I love you.

    As for the “Free state” poster, marketers are going to contact you anyway.

  • da

    Easy solution to this “police state” problem:

    Destroy your car.

  • enema of the state

    Free State- Hope you never use a credit card or debit card or metro card or cell phone or view websites on your home computer or have a home phone or use ezpass or drive near gas stations, atms, or banks or walk within the orbit of a satellite or in the vicinity of a security camera or under a helicopter or in front a police car or the lobby of a government office.

  • Commissions are what the government does when it really doesn’t want to do anything. But if this one lets congestion pricing goes forward, I’d be more than glad to eat my words.

  • For real irony, I’ll bet cash money that “free state” voted for Bush-Cheney, who have worked tirelessly to dismantle every civil liberty we enjoy.

    Look, Manhattan is full of cameras anyway. And then there is EZ Pass. It is nonsense to argue against this plan on privacy grounds . . . Just something for armchair libertarians to wail about.

    Personally, as someone who rides the subways every single day, I welcome cameras in the subway cars and on the platforms. The practical effect is deterrence to crime, and evidence when one is committed.

    I welcome Bloomberg’s 180 on traffic, and I am very hopeful we can get a good plan passed. Now about restoring express service on the F line . . .

  • David

    You should watch this guy on youtube called jimmy justice. He follows around the traffic cops and shows their complete disregard for the law.

    http://www.youtube.com/profile?user=JimmyJustice4753

  • rex

    This CP thing is doomed.

    Pseudo liberals like Brodsky and his supporters will never open their wallets. They will hide behind regressive tax BS that is clearly not applicable here.

    Old school cretins like Bruno will sink it just to piss off Spitzer.

    Silver will sink it because he can and because he is a civic sadist that enjoys manipulating the process as long as he wins.

    Maybe Quinn can deliver? I have my doubts, there is a big difference between being a control freak, and being in freaking control.

    Bloomberg would be well served to put 3 thoughtful memebers on the commission, but he will likley look for yesssmen with some measure of popularity.

  • Quinn’s been agitating for extension of term limits. If she persisted, then Bloomberg may also be able to run again.

  • Abba

    Is anything said by the ever-addled Ruben Diaz Sr. relevant?

  • Niccolo Machiavelli

    Take it easy Rex willya? There is a lot that is damaging to the debate here in your deep cynicism. It looks pretty destructive and methinks you doth protesteth too much. I think the worst was the reference to Bruno as a “cretin”. It seems to reek of agism, and it is entirely blind to the significant progressive role Mr. Bruno has played in the last half of the Pataki administration.

    Glenn on the other hand has his receiver tuned in.

  • Ivan

    Ruben Diaz Sr. Is the same state senator that made a little Chinese restaurant lady break down in tears for not taking pennies by holding a press conference outside her hole-in-the-wall restaurant. He called for the introduction of legislation to make restaurants take all denominations of currency, calling the Chinese lady’s refusal to take pennies “discrimination” against “our community.”

    Now he’s an environmental engineer?

  • mork

    License plates were created because driving is a huge responsibility — they make it easier to hold drivers accountable for their actions. Photographing plates to facilitate congestion pricing is consistent with this aim.

    In driver’s ed, they told me that driving was a privilege, not a right. Likewise, it is also choice. Choose wisely.

  • Michael

    All of you bozos that use the line that the air will be cleaner and more healthy to breath if congestion pricing is implemented are really a bunch of clowns. Because the assume this will result in less cars on the road, yet it excludes Taxi Cabs!!!!! There a lot more Taxi Cabs congesting the streets of NYC than autos from Nassau, Suffolk and Westchester that make the trip into the city. There will never be any real relief until the Taxi Cabs are banned from the city, if Bloomie and the other lovers of the congestion plan are correct in the praise of the greatest mass transit system in the world why does anyone that lives in the city need to take a cab take the subway and the buses! Then we can talk about charging cars and trucks a fee to drive in NYC!

  • P

    Michael-

    Banning taxis does nothing to raise millions of dollars for the “greatest mass transportation system in the world”.

    If you had bothered to read the agreement you’d see that the plan (whether or not it includes congestion pricing) must reduce the number of vehicles entering the ‘zone’ by 100,000. Unless you are suggesting that Bloomberg will simultaneously be adding 100,000 taxi cab medallions to the streets it looks like we ‘assume’ correctly that there will be fewer cars on the road.

    In any case, taxis as a regulated component of the city’s transportation system, are being required to meet higher emmissions standards than private cars.

  • MrManhattan

    Michael raises an interesting point,

    Under congestion pricing, private automobiles only have to pay $ 8.00 a day.

    Maybe instead of congestion pricing, NYC should issue Private automobile medallions at the current market price to allow driving in Manhattan.

    Only $ 350,000 – $ 400,000 per car.

    That would be a much fairer system which doesn’t discriminate between Taxis and private cars.

  • Michael

    mr. manhattan how many taxi cabs are in the city, do you have any idea? The first goal of this tax on the middle class is to reduce the number of cars on the city roads. Interestingly last week the NY DAILY which ripped Sheldon Silver to shreds to get him to agree to the plan had an interesting line in their rant about the plan. Saying that for the “small number of cars that would have to pay the 8.00 and the few it would impact Silver was ignoring the needs of the many” or to that effect. So right there they admit it would not cut down on a huge amount of traffic but it is about the money.

    I am a writer and I have done research on NYC of the 1860 and 1870 timeframe and the biggest complaint was that there were so many omnibuses and horse and wagons that the city street could not be navigated by pedestrians. It was too congested!!! Well nearly 200 years later things are the same. So you show me where the problem was in 1870 with commuters from Westchester and Nassau etc. No the problem was and is that if there is a great mass transit system in place ban all taxi cabs let the people uses buses and subways, meke truckers enter the city after 6pm as they do in Chicago etc.

    And please do not use Stockholm as a model, every person driving there rides a bike to work etc. There are very few cars, so no wonder the people voted to keep cars out by congestion pricing. The price of gas there is high that eveyone needs a bike!

    So in reality the rich city dwellers do not want to be poor schlubs like everyone else and take the subway. Yet put a 2,000 year on middel class workers who might need to drive. Show me one city dweller willing to sacrifice their beloved cabs and then talk to me about congestion pricing.

    I stood at 34th street today waiting for a light to change and no less than 30 caabs passed me by! And that was on a Sunday, you want to make the air cleaner you eco bozos get rid of the cabs!!!

  • P

    Well nearly 200 years later things are the same. So you show me where the problem was in 1870 with commuters from Westchester and Nassau
    You’re fighting a strawman, Michael. The problem, as you note, isn’t the commuters from out of town necessarily but the fact that a limited resource can be used at no cost to an individual but at great cost to the city.

    Just as charging people for their water has resulted in a reduction in wasted water charging people a portion of the actual costs to the city of their driving (health care, infrastructure, traffic safety) will result in a reduction of ‘wasted’ traffic.

    I understand why you’d like to dismiss the success in cities around the world in implementing fair traffic pricing yet your claim that ‘everyone bikes in Stockholm’ is laughably weak. Nearly everybody who drives into Manhattan has a time-competitive option- they simply choose not to. The money raised from congestion pricing will further reduce any time advantage of driving.

    FYI- there are 13,000 taxis operating citywide. The goal is to remove 100,000 cars from the streets of Midtown and Lower Manhattan from 6am to 6pm each weekday.

  • Michael

    Thanks Paul for the number of cabs in NYC so let’s start there by banning taxi cabs and that will be 13,000 less cars congesting the streets and a great place to start. Then ban the limos and the livery cabs and I bet that will be close to 20,000 total right off the bat. Than like Chicago let’s restrict trucks to after 6pm and that will go a long way.

    I just had meeting with a high placed official in the retail business who said they have looked at all the studies on London, Singapore etc and the plans have not been that successful. The other part of the puzzle in London is the price of gas which is equal to something way over 5.00 per gallon in U.S. money.

    You also assume the money wll be spent on what they are saying, mass transit, well you know what happpens when politicians see the money coming in. They will all want a piece of the pie and pretty soon it will be used to add water drinking fountains in Central Park etc.

    In the long run the plan will not work when the rest of the state residents realize it is nothing more than a regressive tax on the people who can not afford 2,000 a year on top of their mounting bills. Do you see that foreslosures in NYC on houses have doubled, the car industry is dying, health costs are out of control and the middle class are like a bunch of mice trying to get a crunb of cheese left behind by the rich?

    Look to Washington D.C. as an example Congress has a approval rating of 23 percent , Bush 29 percent. Yet these bozos vote themselves a pay raise up to 170,000, Bruno is making 79,000 for his service in government I seem to remember the Colonies kicked out the English because of “taxation without representation” sounds like histoty repeating itslef!

  • Michael

    Thanks Paul for the number of cabs in NYC so let’s start there by banning taxi cabs and that will be 13,000 less cars congesting the streets and a great place to start. Then ban the limos and the livery cabs and I bet that will be close to 20,000 total right off the bat. Than like Chicago let’s restrict trucks to after 6pm and that will go a long way.

    I just had meeting with a high placed official in the retail business who said they have looked at all the studies on London, Singapore etc and the plans have not been that successful. The other part of the puzzle in London is the price of gas which is equal to something way over 5.00 per gallon in U.S. money.

    You also assume the money wll be spent on what they are saying, mass transit, well you know what happpens when politicians see the money coming in. They will all want a piece of the pie and pretty soon it will be used to add water drinking fountains in Central Park etc.

    In the long run the plan will not work when the rest of the state residents realize it is nothing more than a regressive tax on the people who can not afford 2,000 a year on top of their mounting bills. Do you see that foreslosures in NYC on houses have doubled, the car industry is dying, health costs are out of control and the middle class are like a bunch of mice trying to get a crunb of cheese left behind by the rich?

    Look to Washington D.C. as an example Congress has a approval rating of 23 percent , Bush 29 percent. Yet these bozos vote themselves a pay raise up to 170,000, Bruno is making 79,000 for his service in government I seem to remember the Colonies kicked out the English because of “taxation without representation” sounds like histoty repeating itself!

  • H

    It seems to me that extending the fee to cabs and limos would be fairly painless to them (what’s $8 over the course of a day’s worth of fares?) but go a long way in mitigating a major objection of opponents of congestion pricing. So why not just do it?

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    In the long run the plan will not work when the rest of the state residents realize it is nothing more than a regressive tax on the people who can not afford 2,000 a year on top of their mounting bills.

    Great, now we’ve got “regressive tax” added to the talking points. No, Michael, it’s not a regressive tax, it’s a LUXURY tax. Cars cause much more wear and tear on the city’s infrastructure per passenger-mile than buses or trains. I don’t want to keep paying for that out of my income and sales taxes so that someone from Westchester can feel all important driving down Second Avenue in their Lexus SUV.

    If people can’t afford to pay for that wear and tear, they can take the train like the rest of us.

  • MrManhattan

    H has a good point, at 3 rides an hour, times two eight hour shift (I’m being conservative here), the congestion fee per taxi ride would be just under 17 cents. You can usually find that much on the floor or between seat cushions.

    The point Michael misses is during the time a cab is on the street it services, at minimum (assuming all single passenger rides) 48 people, but the average is probably 50-60 The average private vehicle probably services an average of 1 1/2 – 2 people.

    Michael, again raises an interesting point in that the colonies kicked out the English for merely taxing them. Here we put up with not only having to fund Albany but also having to ask “mother may I?” to manage our own transportation and land-use policies. Don’t even get me started on the way they’ve botched the Ground Zero site.

    I say we kick out Albany.

  • Ridiculous

    Michael,

    There is a lot that is silly and un-serious about your assertions, particularly the “high placed retail official” in London. What the heck is a high placed retail official?

    However, it’s the everyone’s-going-to-have-to-pay-$2,000-per-year talking point that I’m finding most remarkable.

    The fact is that the only people who will pay $2,000/year in congestion charges will be people who drive in and out of Lower Manhattan 250 times/year — in other words — people who commute to work by car just about every day. We know that this amounts to 4.6% of NYC residents who work in the Manhattan charging zone. The other 95.6% of Manhattan weekday commuters? They use transit.

    As for this 4.6% who will be so regressively taxed, they earn something like $20,000/year more on average than those who get to work by bus and train (and pay a fee to do so, by the way). As for the social and environmental costs of the 4.6%’s driving, it goes almost completely unaccounted for. So, cry me a river for the 4.6%, Michael.

    Congestion pricing can’t possibly be called a regressive tax by any serious person. Congestion pricing takes from a very small number of relatively well-off car commuters and helps fund transit for the great mass of New Yorkers.

    But please keep spreading the $2,000/year thing. 95% of New Yorkers know that they aren’t going to have to pay that.

  • P

    Mr. Man-
    I think Bloomberg made the wise decision of not alienating the TLC when attempting to implement congestion pricing. Though they taxi industry will be benefiting from the smoother traffic and increased demand so he probably should have tried to collect the extra $500K from them each week.

    Michael-
    Let’s think through your plan: 13,000 taxis are suddenly off the street and suddenly traffic is moving, let’s say, 50% faster. Do you believe that this equilibrium will last? Or will folks (apparently like yourself) from Westchester who currently take the train see that they can get to Manhattan all the more quickly if they each jump in their car? So, what have we gained? Just more mobility for folks (apparently like yourself) from out of town and less mobility for folks who live in town and don’t own automobiles.

  • mork

    In the long run the plan will not work when the rest of the state residents realize it is nothing more than a regressive tax on the people who can not afford 2,000 a year on top of their mounting bills.

    How much is the average LIRR or Metro North commute per year? Is it upsetting to Michael that these poor folks from the rest of the state have to pay for the resources they consume?

  • Michael

    The poster who said anyone that calls this tax regressive is silly well call the Brodsky up in Westchester silly, call Johnson in Nassau silly. Because these reps are getting flooded with calls from their districts saying the same thing. You bozos use the line “it will cut down on traffic and make the air easier to breath” What proof do you have? Just like the line Bloomie was using that it will help to keep fares down. Well the day after the deal was announced to set up a commission the NEWS reported talks of rate hikes! Helllooooo can we say suckers! it is just like the joje that America has bought the line about Iraq “we are fighting them there so we don’t fight them here” And no the Iraqi Parliment is taking a month off while our soldiers die!

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