Refresher: What is Congestion Pricing?

There seems to be some confusion by both friends and foes of congestion pricing as to what it actually is. "Congestion pricing" is a term of art that refers to congestion tolls, road pricing or road tolling or other road user fees. It is a concept distinct from charging for parking. The foremost expert on charging more for on-street parking, UCLA professor Donald Shoup, explains as much in the "Congestion Pricing" section of his book The Cost of Free Parking. But if Shoup is not enough, the USDOT’s Federal Highway Administration has provided a handy web site containing its definition of congestion pricing. Since the USDOT has promised NYC $354.5 million if it adopts a congestion pricing scheme covering the Central Business District of Manhattan, the agency’s definition of congestion pricing matters.

Here is what USDOT/FHWA says.

There are four main types of pricing strategies

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

The U.S. DOT’s Congestion Relief Initiative, of which the Urban Partnership agreement is part, is aimed at promoting congestion pricing and specifically refers to tolling rather than parking. It further focuses the above tolling programs toward the overall goal of relieving congestion.

All of the five cities selected for the congestion initiative are centered around road pricing, though New York’s is by far the most ambitious. Miami and Minneapolis propose building tolled HOT lanes on area highways and San Francisco proposes a new toll cordon on Doyle Drive or variable pricing on the Golden Gate Bridge. San Francisco also includes a value parking program in addition to new tolls.

  • StevenC_in_NYC

    We need regional transportation planning to develop better public transit, not congestion pricing. Plus, the Bloomberg plan is expensive and impractical.

    I live on the Upper West Side and can’t imagine what Bloomberg is thinking, drawing a line at 86th Street. We can’t take any more traffic up here, and there’s no parking to spare. Doesn’t he realize that he would simply be moving more congestion up here?

    Manhattan is an island. Why not just charge more money to come onto the island instead of creating problems for people who live here. It will be a lot cheaper to raise tolls than to install a complicated Congestion Pricing system, taking pictures of cars and charging back based on license plates. We already have EZ Pass. What gives?

    If he really wants to cut midtown congestion, connect the Number 7 line directly from Times Square to the PA Bus Terminal and then Penn Station (and from there run west and then north to cover the Far West Side). This would give commuters a 2-seat ride crosstown from LIRR, NJT trains and buses, and Metro North. This would cut cars on the road, eliminate the need to walk through a tunnel to go between Times Square and the bus terminal. This would get more cars off the road.

    Next, let buses terminate in the Meadowlands and have rapid trains between there and the City. Again, eliminate surface traffic.

    Finally, create train options that run from Northern and Western NJ straight into NYC (ideally a rail crossing on the GWB).

    What happened to regional planning?

    Steven

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