Fact Remains: No Congestion Pricing = No Federal Funds

Last week, the parking garage industry-funded group Keep NYC Congestion Tax Free issued its latest salvo against congestion pricing. The report begins:

Keep NYC Congestion Tax Free proposes a cost-effective, efficient, fair and practical alternative plan that will address the problems posed by congestion in New York City and exceed the guidelines imposed by the Urban Partnership Agreement between the USDOT and New York City, New York State and the MTA.

The report then details ten traffic reducing measures as alternatives to congestion pricing.

Unfortunately, "Keep NYC’s" language here is misleading. Regardless of whatever potential traffic reducing benefits these alternatives might provide, the U.S. Department of Transportation has made it very clear that New York City’s congestion reduction plan must include congestion pricing or New York City will not get $354.5 million in federal Urban Partnership start-up funds, of which $342 million is for new buses, bus depots and Bus Rapid Transit.

The Urban Partnership agreement between the USDOT and NYC, NY State and the MTA, which can be downloaded here, says:

In the event the New York State legislature enacts and the New York City Council approves the Mayor’s Plan, the Urban Partner agrees to undertake the following actions: (i) institute a broad area pricing system in Manhattan south of 86th Street…

(The "Mayor’s Plan" is the congestion pricing plan and is what the feds considered as New York City’s submission for Urban Partnership funding.)

Later in the document the USDOT explains what it would fund as an alternative to the mayor’s congestion pricing plan:

5. Grant Agreements for Alternative Plan.

In the event that the New York State legislature enacts and the New York City Council approves an alternative congestion mitigation plan, the Department and the Urban Partner agree to negotiate the funding of such plan if it:

(a) Is reasonably expected to reduce average vehicle miles traveled by at least 6.3 percent across a geographic area of similar size and travel characteristics to the area proposed for pricing under the Mayor’s Plan;

(b) Uses pricing as the principal mechanism for achieving this congestion reduction;

(c) Includes at least an eighteen month operation of congestion pricing;

In other words, if the legislatures moved the border of the pricing zone from 86th Street to 60th Street that would probably be OK. But both here, and in the agreement summary, the feds clearly state that the $354.5 million in Urban Partnership funding is contingent on congestion pricing. The feds use the words "area pricing system" and "congestion pricing" to make it clear they seek to support a fee for pricing street use, and that a value parking scheme and the other traffic reducing measures ­within the Keep NYC Congestion Tax Free report — however effective — are not what they are considering. Thus, any alternative congestion relief plan adopted by the legislatures which does not include congestion pricing will forfeit $354.5 million in federal Urban Partnership
start-up fund, including $342 million for better bus service.

  • query

    Could congestion pricing be applied at the bridge and tunnels instead of a million places throughout the zone and still be eligible?

  • JK

    East River Bridge tolls and a toll cordon across 86th/60th seem consistent with the feds requirement.

    ————————————
    In the event that the New York State legislature enacts and the New York City Council approves an alternative congestion mitigation plan, the Department and the Urban Partner agree to negotiate the funding of such plan if it:

    (a) Is reasonably expected to reduce average vehicle miles traveled by at least 6.3 percent across a geographic area of similar size and travel characteristics to the area proposed for pricing under the Mayor’s Plan;

    (b) Uses pricing as the principal mechanism for achieving this congestion reduction;
    (c) Includes at least an eighteen month operation of congestion pricing;

  • Note that value pricing for parking is generally considered a form of congestion pricing. San Francisco will be implementing it as part of their Urban Partnership Agreement.

    http://www.upa.dot.gov/agreements/sanfrancisco.htm

    I think it’s worth pursuing the idea with USDOT before going ahead with cordon pricing. Having subsidized parking in Manhattan is only going to work in the reverse direction of the congestion pricing. It would make sense to deal with the parking issue first.

  • This post is dead wrong. The Alternative Approaches report recommendations qualify for the federal money. Carfree Chicago gets it. Value Pricing measures are the key here.
    As to MOUs and MOAs, they are different than contracts. Throughout my government career, I have never been a fan of either device.
    -Corey Bearak

  • Dave H.

    Corey,

    Since there is uncertainty about whether your proposal would qualify for federal funding, could you (or one of its other backers) ask USDOT? I do not see why they wouldn’t tell us, or at least tell us what process they would have for deciding.

  • JK

    Congestion pricing is a term of art referring to roadway or street pricing. That is how Mayor Bloomberg proposed it and the FHWA defines it.
    FHWA’s “What is Congestion Pricing”
    *Variably priced lanes, involving variable tolls on separated lanes within a highway, such as Express Toll Lanes or HOT Lanes, i.e. High Occupancy Toll lanes
    * Variable tolls on entire roadways – both on toll roads and bridges, as well as on existing toll-free facilities during rush hours
    * Cordon charges – either variable or fixed charges to drive within or into a congested area within a city
    * Area-wide charges – per-mile charges on all roads within an area that may vary by level of congestion.

    http://ops.fhwa.dot.gov/publications/congestionpricing/sec2.htm

  • drose

    Carfree Chicago,

    San Francisco is using their UPA funds to set up a toll charge on Doyle Drive, i.e. the road leading to the Golden Gate Bridge. If this had not been part of their proposal, they would not have received UPA funds from the DOT.

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