StreetFilms: Bay Ridge Bus Commuters Talk Congestion Pricing

StreetFilms joined up with Transportation Alternatives’ Executive Director, Paul Steely White to talk about congestion pricing with express bus commuters in Bay Ridge. Bus riders told White that they’d like to have more buses and a faster commute. One commuter pointed out that virtually every automobile on the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway carries just one person.

Another bus rider pretty well summed it up with this:

Congestion pricing would be $8 for cars. I pay $10 every day to get into and out of the city — on a bus. Sometimes that bus isn’t on time, sometimes it takes me three times as long as it should. I don’t see what the problem is with other people paying.

If congestion pricing is approved, New York City will receive a $354.5 million federal grant that will be used to put 367 new buses on 36 routes in 22 neighborhoods as well as additional funds for the ferry and ferry improvements.

  • JK

    Excellent job Street Films and Paul. The bus drivers and mechanics should be out there leafletting along with TA. Their union stands to benefit as much as anyone from congestion pricing.

  • glennQ

    Sounds like what the riders are for, is better mass-transit… No surprise there. We are all for that!
    What people are assuming is that more buses will equate to more available seats. But after all the alleged cars are off the road, all those drivers will be using up those seats! This is elementary stuff here.
    BTW… If $8 a car per day is good, isn’t $80 10x better? I bet that price-point would make a difference in congestion! But then again, it isn’t really about congestion… It’s all about the money (our money).

  • Niccolo Machiavelli

    Congestion is time Glenn and time is, well I think you know the rest. This is really getting to the heart of the matter for the MTA and for the other serious economies revolving around congestion pricing.

    Yeah, CP will raise money for transit, ideally dedicated to the MTA capital plan. However, it also has a hidden benefit for the NYCTA, the bus operator productivity benefits are enormous, enough to easily fund the 1.5% agency efficiencies that are part of the MTA plan (along with CP$ and more state money).

    If CP can take the weight of the capital plan off of the farebox and the cars get out of the fucking way increasing bus productivity the agency will benefit way more than the 10% fare increases will amount to.

    Same is true for the private sector efficiencies associated with congestion pricing. Time is money. Only people that actually hire labor and meet a payroll are hep to this. This is the real alchemy that congestion pricing offers.

    And, for many drivers there really won’t be any more total cost of driving either even ignoring the obvious time savings. All it will mean is that they will drive cheaper, more fuel efficient vehicles saving their increased marginal costs by decreasing fuel costs and fixed costs (vehicle price and depreciation). It is really an anti-SUV and plush pickup plan.

    With all of those benefits it has really been a masterpiece of political bungling for the Mayor. When do we get to see all the advertising that was supposed to drive public opinion on this thing?

  • “BTW… If $8 a car per day is good, isn’t $80 10x better? I bet that price-point would make a difference in congestion! But then again, it isn’t really about congestion… It’s all about the money (our money).”

    This reminds me of the joke about a man who heard that a new model of stove would cut his heating cost in half. He bought two stoves, thinking he would cut his heating cost to zero.

  • Actually, GlennQ, Rohit Aggarwala talks a bit about why they chose the $8 price point in the interview we did with him. You can do a search on Sblog and find it if you’re truly interested in why the policy people think an $80 congestion charge wouldn’t be a good idea.

  • glennQ

    Comment by Aaron Naparstek: “Actually, GlennQ, Rohit Aggarwala talks a bit about why they chose the $8 price point in the interview we did with him. You can do a search on Sblog and find it if you’re truly interested in why the policy people think an $80 congestion charge wouldn’t be a good idea.”

    I read the interview, but I saw little detail as to the methodology behind the pricing structure.
    The $80 proposal was an exaggeration of course… But the plan doesn’t seem logical with the alleged goal of reducing congestion. Why tax trucks more than personal vehicles? Trucks don’t have any other option. Why not have trucks pay $8.00 and cars $21.00? Wouldn’t a higher fee discourage even more drivers?
    Seems to me that the government wants enough people driving into the city to milk the cash cow instead of truly reducing congestion.

  • Having a “cash cow” for transit, and 6% (?) reduced congestion is a happy outcome. The alternative is for the public to better subsidize public transit through taxes, like other western cities. Given how eagerly anti-pricing forces are working to brand pricing as a “tax,” I doubt we’d have better luck with something that actually is a tax. Plan C, the status quo, is to sink into transportation misery with an under-financed system that competes with a free-to-use (yet expensive to maintain) road network which can not be physically expanded enough to accomodate the present, much less future, city population. Get a real plan.

  • SPer

    Glenn claims that congestion pricing as proposed (with revenues going to mass transit) will not result in more bus seats because those seats will be taken up by former drivers.

    My understanding is that the anticipated increase in mass transit users will be quite small and not difficult to accommodate, considering the fact that the vast majority of New Yorkers already use mass transit. The new riders will represent a pretty small increase relative to the current ridership.

    But because private automobiles occupied by a single driver take up so much space on the road, the results will be significant in regards to congestion.

    Compare 40 cars in terms of road space to a single bus carrying 40 passengers.

  • glennQ

    Comment by Doc Barnett : “Having a “cash cow” for transit, and 6% (?) reduced congestion is a happy outcome.”

    My argument is that there will be no noticeable reduction in congestion/pollution, and we will have an even higher cost of living. That is far from a “happy outcome” IMO.
    We give the government plenty of money for roads and transit (and everything else). The government needs to prioritize and reallocate their funds if they want to do something. Just like you and I do in our own lives. That is my “real plan.”

  • Chris H

    How do you come up with the claim that there is already enough money for transit? I find often people bring up this argument without justifying it. I would agree that there would be more money for transit if NYS canceled all highway expansion and diverted it to state of good repair on existing roadways and transit expansion, but that is pretty unlikely in the current political climate. Moreover, “the government needs to prioritize…” what are you talking about “the government?” You are speaking about it like it is a singular entity that can make conscious choices. No such thing exists. What makes up “the government” is a series of political institutions with legally prescribed relationships with one another. Each of these institutions represent a variety of interest groups, constituent groups and philosophies with different, often conflicting, public policy goals (take the Office of the Mayor and the State Legislature of New York for example). If you want to offer an alternative, be specific with data and involved institutions. Saying “the government” needs to do this or that is not a plan, it is nonsensical.

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    Thanks, Chris. Richard Lipsky has been taking a similar tack to GlennQ’s:

    http://momandpopnyc.blogspot.com/2007/11/farely-outrageous.html

    As I read it, he’s arguing that the MTA is undemocratic and non-transparent, and therefore they should not get any additional money. That kind of argument has been made against many public taxes and fees in the past, and some even argue that governments are inherently corrupt and undeserving of even the smallest tax revenue.

    I’m not one of those people, and I don’t think the majority of New Yorkers are. There is corruption at all levels of government, including the MTA, and I want to see it reduced, but blindly withholding money in an attempt to force the MTA to somehow eliminate waste and fraud is silly.

    It’s nice to think that if the MTA didn’t have enough revenue to pay for capital or operations its officers would revamp the budget and trim the fat, resulting in a lean, efficient organization. Or maybe that they would give up their secretive, corrupt ways and open themselves up to transparent good government. But those ideas assume that the MTA officers care about efficiency and transparency to begin with, and if they cared about those, they wouldn’t need an incentive.

    The fact of the matter is that the MTA has little motivation to provide high levels of service. Without that, or without some concrete plan to bring accountability, efficiency and transparency to the agency, any funding cuts (which is essentially what doing nothing amounts to at this phase of the bond act) will just lead to service cuts. Maybe that’s what Lipsky and GlennQ really want?

  • glennQ

    Comment by Chris H: “How do you come up with the claim that there is already enough money for transit? I find often people bring up this argument without justifying it.”

    Can anyone justify the MTA’s budget without them opening the books?

    Comment by Chris H: “…what are you talking about “the government?” You are speaking about it like it is a singular entity that can make conscious choices. No such thing exists. What makes up “the government” is a series of political institutions with legally prescribed relationships with one another. Each of these institutions represent a variety of interest groups, constituent groups and philosophies with different, often conflicting, public policy goals…”

    Comment by Chris H: “If you want to offer an alternative, be specific with data and involved institutions. Saying “the government” needs to do this or that is not a plan, it is nonsensical.”

    I’m oversimplifying; usually, intentionally.

  • glennQ

    Comment by Angus Grieve-Smith: “As I read it, [Richard Lipsky is] arguing that the MTA is undemocratic and non-transparent, and therefore they should not get any additional money.”

    Shouldn’t we demand proof that more money is needed? Why be a “rubber stamp” and just bow down and fork over more of OUR money?

    Comment by Angus Grieve-Smith: “…withholding [additional] money in an attempt to force the MTA to…”

    Sounds exactly like the Congressional Democrat plan for ending the war.

    Comment by Angus Grieve-Smith: “The fact of the matter is that the MTA has little motivation to provide high levels of service. Without that, or without some concrete plan to bring accountability, efficiency and transparency to the agency, any funding cuts will just lead to service cuts. Maybe that’s what Lipsky and GlennQ really want?”

    I don’t want service cuts at all Angus. I use mass transit to commute too! I have said repeatedly that I believe the most effective way to get people to choose mass transit is by offering a BETTER option… Not a less expensive one.
    I strongly disagree with fundamental approach many seem to have… The ‘we have to accept the MTA’s waste, corruption and lack of motivation.’ That argument is just weak.
    Imagine we put our efforts behind gaining efficiency instead of the unbelievably unrealistic concept of removing vehicles from the economic capital of the world.

  • Davis

    Glenn,

    I think this will be the last time I respond to your stuff as it doesn’t seem very well thought out.

    So, OK, you say that congestion pricing is “unbelievably unrealistic” and not an effective policy for “removing vehicles from the economic capital of the world.”

    Believe this:

    London saw an immediate reduction of something like 60,000 vehicles per day when the 5 pound congestion charge was initially introduced. You can like or dislike the policy all you want. But you can’t reasonably say that it doesn’t do a good job of reducing car use in the big city.

    Believe this too: More and more businesses see London as “the the economic capital of the world” these days, not New York. One of the reasons why is because NYC is increasingly experienced as an unlivable, undesirable, traffic-choked shithole compared to cities that are actually grappling with this problem in a sensible way. Tax law is another reason. And the rise of Russian and Asian economic power. It all adds up to a lot of big corporations moving their business to London.

    As for the MTA reform mission: Go forth into the world and make it happen. The MTA should be more transparent, accountable and efficient. I’m sure that everyone here agrees with you and wishes you luck. But that doesn’t have much of anything to do with congestion pricing. It’s a separate campaign. Like Lew Fidler’s Staten Island Tunnel. If MTA accounting is a problem for policy makers, they have other options for assigning and managing congestion pricing revenue or compelling the MTA to account for the funds in a specific way. The Mayor’s plan was to create a new authority to do just that.

    Regardless of where the revenue goes, what you and other critics of pricing willfully seem to forget is that even if the City took every driver’s $8 and just flushed it down the toilet, New York City, on the whole, would benefit from fewer cars and trucks using the city’s streets.

    Perhaps the biggest beneficiaries of all will be the motorists themselves. I’m a car owner and I’ll pay $20 not to sit in traffic when I need to get somewhere. And if my $20 goes towards building bus rapid transit, I’m even happier.

  • Chris H

    GlennQ,

    http://www.mta.info/mta/budget/

    For anything that is not listed, there’s always FOIL.

    You are making the claim “The government already gets enough money for roads and transit.” Since you are making the claim, the onus is on you to prove it. If you can’t prove it, you can speculate but don’t claim it.

    Moreover, what do you mean by “enough?” I would argue that the transit investments that C.P. is supposed to fund are the bare minimum. The majority of subway stations are not ADA compliant and won’t be for many many years (The 2005-2009 capital plan renovates 17). The Second Avenue Subway should be completed much earlier than its projected 2020s but it is held up by a relatively small funding stream (just because the numbers seem big doesn’t mean anything when you are dealing with NYC construction). Construction costs are rising much faster than inflation and the declining dollar means imported materials and equipment go up in price. Finally, one of the MTA’s most important funding streams is the real estate transfer tax which is projected to go down with crashing housing market.

    I need to stop feeding trolls.

  • Chris H

    And personally I think C.P. should not be held to $8 but rather adjusted so that it meets a specific congestion reducing goal. I hope the mitigation committee proposes something like that.

  • glennQ

    Comment by Davis: “…you say that congestion pricing is “unbelievably unrealistic”

    No. I called removing vehicles from the streets of NYC unbelievably unrealistic.

    Comment by Davis: “London saw an immediate reduction of something like 60,000 vehicles per day when the 5 pound congestion charge was initially introduced. You can like or dislike the policy all you want. But you can’t reasonably say that it doesn’t do a good job of reducing car use in the big city.

    Again, Europe is not America. I don’t think it is fair (or wise) to conclude that success in Europe equates to success in America. Ask Renault.

    Comment by Davis: “Believe this too: More and more businesses see London as “the the economic capital of the world” these days, not New York. One of the reasons why is because NYC is increasingly experienced as an unlivable, undesirable, traffic-choked shithole compared to cities that are actually grappling with this problem in a sensible way. Tax law is another reason.”

    You have to be kidding.

    Comment by Davis: “Regardless of where the revenue goes, what you and other critics of pricing willfully seem to forget is that even if the City took every driver’s $8 and just flushed it down the toilet, New York City, on the whole, would benefit from fewer cars and trucks using the city’s streets.”

    Fact is, the congestion tax reducing cars and trucks in Manhattan is only a theory. A greedy, naive theory IMHO.
    I think we might be better served by debating the reduction in congestion, and a congestion tax as a source of revenue, as two separate issues.

  • Chris H

    The principle has been shown to work in practice in a number of cities around the world. What’s different about Europe and America that makes C.P. work in London but not here? Again, you are making the claim.

    And in fact congestion pricing exist right now into Manhattan and despite the rather limited differential between peak and off-peak it has been shown to have an impact.

    As I said before, the principle has been shown to work in repeat experiments. So I guess you are right, it is a theory, in the scientific sense, like evolution.

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