Fact Check: Congestion Pricing is Not a “Regressive Tax”

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One of the most oft-repeated slams against congestion pricing we heard at this week’s Congestion Mitigation Committee hearings is that congestion pricing would be a "regressive tax," an unfair burden to poorer New Yorkers.

Is congestion pricing regressive? The data suggests otherwise.

As the chart above shows, even in Brooklyn Council member Lew Fidler’s heavily auto-dependent district, households with a car earn more than twice the income than households without. Meanwhile, only 5.3% of workers living in Fidler’s distrit drive to work in Manhattan south of 86th Street (unfortunately, Fidler is probably one of them). Fact sheets for Richard Brodsky, Vivian Cook, Denny Farrell, Jeffrey Dinowitz and other congestion pricing opponents’ districts are equally revealing and very much worth a download. Cook, for example, represents a Queens district where only 3.5% of workers drive into the proposed charging zone for work.

In testimony before the Traffic Congestion Mitigation Commission, the Tri-State Transportation Campaign argued the point. From this week’s Mobilizing the Region:

Some anti-pricing politicians seem to
have dressed up for Halloween as populists defending “working stiffs”
from a “regressive tax” on driving. But an analysis of Census data by
TSTC and the Pratt Center for Community Development
shows that, in all but one State Assembly district in NYC, vehicle-owning households are 50% wealthier than households without a vehicle; in nearly half of districts, average income is twice as high.

Furthermore, only a small minority of commuters drive alone to the
proposed congestion pricing zone (CPZ); this is true not only in
Manhattan but in the outer boroughs and the surrounding suburban
counties. For example, only 5.1% of workers from Rockland County drive
alone to the proposed CPZ. In Westchester, 3.4% of workers drive alone
to the CPZ. In Nassau and Suffolk Counties, the percentages are even
lower.

Fact sheets containing a
breakdown of commuting patterns by mode and destination, vehicle
ownership statistics, and the average incomes of vehicle-owning
households and non-vehicle-owning households are available online. The fact sheets cover counties and City Council, state
Assembly, state Senate, and U.S. Congressional districts in the New
York metropolitan area.

  • ME

    Something I’ve been wondering lately is, how do the supposed masses of low-income drivers afford parking in Manhattan? Does anybody have figures on the average cost of parking in Manhattan?

  • Facts? You want politicians to consider facts?! Ha!

    Actually, these charts are great, and I hope they get through the populist charade that many opponents act out with their regressive tax argument.

    I’m also tired of the argument that mass transit isn’t good enough. It’s better than anywhere else in this country and it will improve with congestion pricing funds. If there’s anywhere in the US where people do not lack viable alternatives to driving, New York City is it.

  • we do have great public transit if you happen to live near the subway, but for the many outer borough residents who don’t and have to rely on the bus, there is much room for improvement.

    of course, bus improvements will require funding (which congestion pricing would be a major source of) and ultimately real, enforced, dedicated bus lanes, which will no doubt make drivers scream as well.

  • Larry Littlefield

    (Something I’ve been wondering lately is, how do the supposed masses of low-income drivers afford parking in Manhattan?)

    Brodsky, Weiner Fidler et al don’t talk about low income drivers, they talk about the suffering middle class. They drive to Manhattan because they have free on-street parking permits or other free parking arrangements.

    (we do have great public transit if you happen to live near the subway, but for the many outer borough residents who don’t and have to rely on the bus, there is much room for improvement.)

    I made sure to live within a quick walk to the subway, but riding a bicycle to work some of the time for exercise over the past two months has opened my eyes to other possibilities.

    If it were 20 years ago and secure bicycle parking facilities were available at the Kings Highway stop on the Brighton Line, perhaps I would have considered living in Fidler’s district to reduce my housing costs and improve my health.

    Since bicycles move a three times the speed, even when I’m riding them, the provide as much accessiblity at three times the distance, and the quality of life I seek at one-third the density. Automobiles? I suppose if you live in a truly rural area you need them.

  • TOMSAIL

    NO!….TO REGRESSIVE TAXES AND TOLLS!

    AMERICANS: GUILTY OF EXTRAVAGANT OVER-INDULGENCE–TOO MANY CARS, TOO MANY HOMES

    It is time for local governments to start increasing the taxes on multiple-car ownership and multiple-home ownership–a progressive tax. If a household owns more than one car or more than one home there should be an increasingly higher annual tax percentage on every car and home after the first one.

    This would be a fair way to encourage a reduction of cars on the road, to increase revenues for bridge, road, and transit system improvements, and to fight Global Warming.

    This progressive tax would also provide the revenue needed to lower or eliminate the cost of transit passes.

    Additional help in establishing an effective, voluntary, plan can be found in the new book:

    “HOW TO LIVE WELL WITHOUT OWNING A CAR” by Chris Balish

    “With all the media hype about Climate Change, Traffic Congestion, and Oil Addiction, there aren’t many out there talking about doing something really worth while about the major culprit–the UBIQUITOUS CAR. This book has a great, completely voluntary, plan that not only helps to achieve National Energy Independence, but also helps all people to achieve Personal Financial Freedom.”

    EXAMPLE: We are all familiar with Car Rentals, but how many know anything about the rapidly growing Car Sharing Companies and Neighborhood Car Sharing Groups?

  • Dude. Car ownership is not ubiquitous in New York. Far from it, thank goodness. If everyone here had a car it would be quite impossible to go outside, as the autos would be stacked several deep. Your plan to impose disincentives starting only with the second or third car would have little effect on our situation. What needs to be strongly discouraged is the first car, and doing that through a use fee is not only fair but also “voluntary,” as it allows people to continue to drive so long as they pay for their imposition on the public (the majority of which does not own a car, and the vast majority of which does not drive daily).

  • glennQ

    Assuming the numbers are accurate… Of the 5.3%, how many drivers will adjust their habits because of the congestion tax? I suspect very, very few.
    I think the graphs actually support the arguement that there will be no noticable reduction in congestion or air pollution… Only more money leaving the already highly taxed NY-Metro residents.

  • george

    glennq i think that’s a good point. you can’t have no effect on anyone and yet still make a positive impact. it needs to be admitted that some (a tiny minority of city residents) will be inconvenienced for the greater good of the vast majority. that seems like a better framing anyway.

  • glennQ

    Even car-less residents in the taxed zone will pay.
    As the cost to do business increases, the tax will be forwarded to the consumer. I recomend my clients list the congestion tax by name on their invoices servicing the proposed zone. As a matter of fact, several already said they will do just that if this horrendous plan goes forward.

  • mork

    GlennQ —

    Looking at just a limited set of costs and industry sectors and using very conservative assumptions, economists […] were able to identify more than $13 billion in annual costs to businesses and consumers, billions in lost economic output and tens of thousands of lost jobs that result from severely overcrowded conditions on the region’s streets and highways. Every year, these losses will grow if something is not done to reduce the number of vehicles moving through the region during the peak periods.

    http://www.streetsblog.org/2006/12/04/growth-or-gridlock/

  • JF

    GlennQ seems to have missed where I responded to his almost-identical post yesterday:

    I think Councilmember Eric Gioia said it best:

    My dad owns a flower shop in Queens. My dad used to deliver in a truck to Manhattan–it’s no longer profitable thanks to the “time tax”– it takes too long, the gas is too expensive. There are business owners in the outer ring who are making the decision every day about getting into Manhattan, and the congestion fee is just putting a number on that.

    I can’t imagine a business owner that wouldn’t pay $8 per day (for a van) or $21 per day (for a truck) so that their vehicles aren’t stuck in traffic for hours. The gas plus the driver’s wages (or the cost of opportunities lost sitting in traffic) are easily more than that. Even more so for refrigerated trucks. Businesses will save money, and consumers will probably come out ahead.

  • glennQ

    I argue that there won’t be a perceivable reduction in congestion… At least at the proposed rate.
    Your still going to have as many (maybe more if we are to use Mr. Gioia’s flower shop as an example) vehicles doing business in the zone; and if it is easier to navigate in the zone, there will be more people willing/able to do it.
    We need more carrot and less stick!
    Lets improve the mass transit system, to ensure it’s the most attractive option.

  • Joe R.

    None of this data comes as a surprise to me. Anyone with half a brain can figure out that the true working poor can’t even afford to own a car, let alone drive it into Manhattan each day. Of course, politicians pandering to the auto commuter minority in their districts don’t let these facts stand in their way.

    A better way to reduce congestion is to charge drivers who come into the city. By far the majority of rush hour auto traffic is suburban commuters, not city residents. A congestion tax to get into midtown will simply cause these commuters to park their cars in the outer boroughs. A tax to come into the city will keep them out altogether.

  • StepUpAndSaySomething

    We could fund better mass transit with congestion pricing.

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