Congestion Commission Recommendation: First Look

Streetsblog has gotten hold of the Traffic Congestion Mitigation Commission recommendation, which should be voted on this hour. According to the version we have (pdf), the commission’s alternative to Mayor Bloomberg’s plan is expected to exceed the 6.3% VMT reduction required by the federal government, and raise an estimated $491 million per year for mass transit. Other details include:

  • An $8 fee to drive into Manhattan south of 60th Street on weekdays between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m.
  • Trucks pay $21, except for low-emission trucks which pay $7
  • East and west side highways would NOT be free; the cordon would start at bridge exits in Manhattan
  • Increased on-street parking meter rates within the zone
  • "[T]he commission recommends that the city be required to offer communities a residential parking permit program (RPP) prior to the start of congestion pricing and to track park-and-ride activity as part of a comprehensive monitoring program."
  • Elimination of the resident parking tax exemption for off-street parking garages and lots within the zone
  • "All funds from increased on-street parking rates and the elimination of the resident parking tax exemption within the zone should be dedicated by the City of New York to additional transit, pedestrian, bicycle, and parking management improvements, including, but not limited to, expanded ferry service, bus signalization, BRT investments, bicycle facilities, and pedestrian enhancements."  
  • For EZ Pass users, the value of all tolls would be deducted from the fee up to $8
  • A $1 surcharge for motorists who don’t use EZ Pass
  • $1 surcharge on taxi and black car trips that start and end within the zone during pricing hours
  • A lockbox, or "dedicated transit account," will be created, aimed mainly at funding the MTA Capital Plan
  • Short-term strategic improvements to subway, bus, and express bus service should be put in place before pricing kicks in
  • Traffic and environmental monitoring program in place before the start of pricing along with a thorough review along the lines of SEQRA

Passages from the recommendation report:  

  • "Compared to the Mayor’s plan, the Commission’s plan has considerably lower operating and capital costs and a simpler fee structure.  By increasing both the cost of taxi trips and parking within the zone, the plan ensures that those who live inside the zone also pay for auto use. The plan will also reduce traffic in neighborhoods adjacent to the zone, decrease vehicle emissions, and benefit the City and regional economy."
  • "In terms of economic equity, the Commission’s plan will negatively impact a small proportion of New Yorkers of limited income: those who drive to work in the CBD and have no feasible transit alternative. This group represents less than one percent of all commuters to the CBD."
  • "[T]he Commission believes that the Commission’s plan is the first step towards a coordinated traffic management strategy for Manhattan and the region."
  • Jonathan

    Economic Impacts on drivers of limited income: The Commission recommends
    that the State Legislature consider changes to State tax policy so as to mitigate any
    disproportionate impacts of the plan on drivers of limited income.

    How would this work? A tax credit for congestion charges paid by low-income drivers? How would the state tax department discern that taxpayers had no transit alternative?

  • Larry Littlefield

    The environmental review will take at least six years, including the lawsuits.

  • Harlan

    Good enough. Go with it, get the MTA some desperately need cash, and fix problems later.

  • QBB

    How would this affect traffic from the Queensboro Bridge? Depending on whether they enter Manhattan via the upper or the lower deck, autos exit onto 2nd Avenue just below 60th street, or onto 62nd/63rd street. So would autos using one deck get charged but not those using the other?

  • Larry, I do not expect the environmental review to slow down implementation. It will be part of the pilot, confirm the assumptions, and ultimately be a non-issue.

    JMHO.

  • The big problem with this plan is that if you leave your car in the CBD, or you drive in before 6am, you can drive around all day for free. (As long as you don’t leave and come back.)

    Still, it’s a whole lot better than nothing. Sign me up!

  • Spud Spudly

    That’s a darned good question, QBB. I would assume that the upper deck people would have to pay the charge too, but I haven’t seen anything that discusses that.

    The environmental review will most certainly be an issue if someone decides to make it into one. A SEQRA lawsuit could conceivably stop everything even before a pilot program could be implemented.

  • Josh

    So, am I right in reading this to mean that there’s no charge for trips entirely within the congestion zone, but a $1 taxi surcharge for taxi trips also entirely within the zone?

    That’s bass-ackwards. If you live in the zone and have a car, you can drive to your heart’s content, and not pay the charge as long as you stay within the zone, or if you leave you come back at night.

    I understand enforcement of such trips are a lot more difficult, but that’s one aspect of the plan that strikes me as excessively beneficial to Manhattanites (and let’s face it, if you live in Manhattan below 60th Street and own a car, odds are pretty high that you’re well-off). I hope they’ll find some way to remedy this in the long run.

  • vnm

    Spud, so a person who drives over the bridge, exits at 63rd Street and travels north into the Upper East Side would pay? I doubt it. I suspect that you pay when you cross 60th St., period. If you get off at 62nd or 63rd St., you pay when you go south into the Zone.

  • Spud Spudly

    You’re probably right, vnm.

    Josh, one way that they’ve offset that issue about trips entirely within the zone is that they’ve proposed eliminating the tax waiver for parking by Manhattan residents within the zone. As a Manhattan resident who happens to have one of those parking tax waivers from the Department of Finance (a remnant of the days when I used to park monthly in a commercial garage), I know that can add up. Enforcement of intra-zone charges would really be a big cost and headache though.

  • east sider

    vnm: The 60th street boundary creates an anomaly for people driving from Queens to points above 60th street in Manhattan. Right now, to drive to the UWS, they can either take the upper deck, get off at 63rd, and head north and west; or take the lower deck (which deposits them onto 2nd Ave b/w 59 & 60), drive west along 60th, and then head north. Those two choices are a wash as far as generating congestion is concerned.

    But with the congestion boundary at 60th, they’d apparently get charged for entering Manhattan via the lower deck but not the upper deck. So they’d all take the upper deck, which might worsen congestion on the bridge and on access roads in Queens.

    It’s an anomaly created by drawing the line at 60th. If the line were just a few blocks farther north, there’d be no such problem.

  • Jonathan

    QBB, Spud, and vnm:The bigger question about the Queensboro Bridge is that present traffic patterns make it impossible to go from Upper Manhattan to Queens without crossing 60th Street (and entering the C-zone).

  • upstate manhattan

    Jonathan: “it impossible to go from Upper Manhattan to Queens without crossing 60th Street”? What about the Triborough Bridge?

  • Confused commuter

    How does this affect a commute from Queens/Bklyn to E. Rutherford, NJ? Since Lincoln and Holland Tunnels are in the congestion zone, does this mean the only free route is the 59th St Bridge and then all the way up to the GWBridge and then back down towards Route 3? Wow.

  • Jonathan

    Yes, you could take the Triborough, or the Cross-Bronx and Whitestone. But to get on the Queensboro (or the QMT, for that matter) you need to cross 60th Street. I should have made that clear in the last post.

  • Confused commuter

    So it sounds like they’re basically eliminating all free brudge crossings into Manhattan during Peak times or am I mistaken? Time to move to NJ I guess…

  • Confused Commuter, if you can hold out for a year, the Meadowlands train station will open in 2009. It’ll require two transfers from Queens, but each leg of the trip will be under fifteen minutes.

    http://secondavenuesagas.com/2007/09/05/new-meadowlands-renderings-show-rail-options/

  • Josh

    Spud, that’s a fair point regarding the taxation as an offset, but I’m concerned that increasing the cost to residents to keep a car in the zone (because that’s effectively what eliminating the tax waiver does) and then exempting them from any per-trip fee will have the effect of making residents say “well heck, I’m paying more up front to keep my car here, may as well drive it a lot to take advantage, after all I’m only paying for gas.”

  • Villager

    Why are they taking away the Manhattan resident parking tax exemption? (It’s only a partial “exemption”, by the way, since I still have to pay 10.375% (instead of 18.375%.) I own a car (and I have worked damn hard to afford such things), and only use it to LEAVE the city, and almost always only on weekends. I think that this is true of mst Manhattan residents who benefit from the exemption. The terrible congestion is caused by vehicles that enter the congested area from outside, usually with Jersey plates, not by people who live here (and is also caused by cops who refuse to enforce the laws against double parking, blocking the box, etc. Increasing the tax may well prompt me to go back to parking on the street, like I used to, and add to the traffic by driving around looking for a space every time the alternate side changes. The net effect of much of this plan will be to further make this city a place only for the ultra-rich (who will now be able to ride in their limos without as much traffic – they won’t mind paying), which seems to be the goal of the Bloombergs, Doctoroffs, Trumps, etc., who think they own us.

  • Mark

    “The terrible congestion is caused by vehicles that enter the congested area from outside, usually with Jersey plates, not by people who live here…” Actually, congestion is caused by a combination of Manhattan residents who drive, outer borough residents who drive into Manhattan, and suburban residents — not just NJ but LI, Westchester, etc. Therefore a valid assessment of CP would take into consideration the effect on all of these groups.

  • Manhattan car owner

    Villager — Just STORING a car that you never use in Manhattan is making use of a precious resource. Just look at the battle going on over Pier 40. Your neighbors (and maybe you) are fighting to preserve cheap parking in a waterfront park, and to keep it from being made into a attraction that the larger public might enjoy. We Manhattanites (and I am one) have chosen to live in the center of the universe – but that doesn’t give us the right to make it our own sandbox.

  • Villager

    Manhattan car owner – good points, in theory. But I am a monthly parking tenant in a garage in my building (which is far from cheap), and the garage is rarely ever full, due to the hourly prices, so I don’t know that I’m really using up anyone’s resource. As for Pier 40, I don’t agree with everything the protestors say, but putting Cirque de Soleil there really seems moronic, and would itself cause more congestion. What’s wrong with Queens or the Bronx? (My wife and I are both natives of the outer boroughs, by the way, so don’t accuse me of Manhattan bias.)

    Too bad they did away with the commuter income tax – maybe they could have given a credit to those who avoid driving in.

  • Manhattan car owner

    Putting Cirque du Soleil in Manhattan should cause less traffic than putting it in Queens or the Bronx thanks to the greater transit/water/greenway options there are here. BTW if your garage is half empty now, I don’t think you need to worry. The owner will undoubtedly adjust the rate to keep you as a customer after CP and parking reform kicks in.

  • Josh

    Here’s my view on Cirque du Soleil:

    Cirque du Soleil sucks. It belongs in Vegas or Atlantic City, not in New York.

  • i see a few questions of how the different decks on the QBB will be treated since one deposits you above 60th st… am i wrong or oversimplifying it, but don;t you think they’ll probably just put the ez pass readers on the queens side of the bridge (on both ramp entries) so that anyone using the bridge is paying the toll, not just the ones heading downtown?

  • Jeffrey Hyman

    Who introduced the idea of tolling the east and west side highways? I totally missed that during the weeks of counter-proposals. One of the few trips I use my car for is to visit family in north Jersey. If I go over the Brooklyn Bridge, south on the FDR, under the battery and then north to one of the tunnels, am I contributing to “congestion?” If not, why am I being tolled? I was prepared to drive a longer, less direct route as part of my civic duty; tolls changes the whole equation.

  • I made a big point of the QBB issue to elected officials on the East Side. If they allow that free loophole to continue to generate truck / car traffic from Brookyln/Queens up First Ave and through the densely populated areas of Upper Manhattan to the GW bridge instead of the Triboro and V-N bridges then they will have failed their community.

  • Manhattan car owner

    No circuses in New York City? No Tribeca Film Festival? How about concerts? Museums? Theater? Operas? Sports events? Rallies? Political conventions? If you would ban everything except neighborhood soccer and parking, I think you might be happier in the suburbs.

  • Elbe

    Villager, if you use your car to leave, you are using it to come back in also – sorry.

  • Hilary

    Jeffrey – Yes of course you will be contributing to congestion AND pollution. Consider $8 (less the Hudson R. tolls, which means zero) a pittance for the pleasure of this scenic drive through the great metropolis. As you drive up West Street, you can take comfort that you will be suffering less congestion than those on the greenway just a few feet away.

  • Josh

    Manhattan car owner – If that was a response to my post about Cirque du Soleil, that’s not my point at all. I think most of those things you mentioned are great. I just happen to think Cirque du Soleil is lame and gimmicky and touristy and we can come up with better uses of that space.

  • Jonathan

    Jeffrey, are you visiting your family in North Jersey Monday through Friday, six a.m. to six p.m.? If you are like me and prefer spending those hours sleeping, eating breakfast or working, then you shouldn’t have a problem with the CP charges at all.

  • Josh, what do you think of Broadway?

  • Mandy Harris

    Residential Permit Parking is a horrible idea. Congestion Pricing and RPP are two entirely separate matters. Linking them together is false and is only for political purposes. Think about it: if you regularly commute to Manhattan, then you are already committed to garage parking in Manhattan. If the $8 fee makes you change your mind about that, then are you going to make your commute even more miserable by driving from your house to Park Slope or Brooklyn Heights, then searching for street parking, then taking the subway?! NO. You will follow the path of least resistance. You will either use public transportation if that is an option, or you will suck it up and pay the $8 if you don’t have an option. The point is that neighborhoods that have good subway access and plenty of amenities are the LEAST in need of help. True, these neighborhoods are being used to some extent by people in other neighborhoods with poor public transportation as a weigh station to Manhattan, but these same people are already NOT driving to Manhattan, so congestion pricing will have no effect on them. The answer is BETTER public transportation to poorly serviced neighborhoods. RPP is a sham!! Congestion pricing ALONE will alleviate BOTH problems if the funds are used for better outer borough public transportation. There is also a lot of commuting between outer boroughs and very poor public transportation between them.

    RPP should not PRECEDE congestion pricing; if it is determined to be useful at all (and this should be through study, not emotion or NIMBY-ism) then it should only FOLLOW congestion pricing.

    RPP will balkanize NYC and make neighborhoods who already have it all have even more of it all. The rest will be left out. And do you think another level of bureaucracy is good for NYC? It’s an EASY sell to people who live in an RPP zone, but it is very bad policy for New York City.

  • Doug

    As a once manhattan resident, now residing in Queens, who still visits his parents in Manhattan, I don’t understand why ANYONE who is sane would want to force car owners BACK onto the streets with the removal of the garage tax break. The point was to get people INTO garages off the streets. There are already plenty of Manhattan residents vying for street parking alongside commuters from all over. Now we want to add even more people to the mix, idling, going slow, etc?

    No one can park in the Financial District save what seem like 3 specific streets anyway, unless you are one of the blessed NYC employees with a placard (how many people who work for the City drive, for crying out loud?). So really this is more for 60th street south to about City Hall.

    But I digress. For you see, the City has this rule saying that apartment buildings can not have enough garage spaces for residents. They force people into the street. Don’t believe me? read:http://www.nytimes.com/2007/07/12/us/12parking.html

    You may have to log in. But this is what I want to show you
    “”The New York Department of City Planning says the areas of Manhattan where spaces in new buildings are limited to 20 percent of the number of apartments applies to new buildings below 60th Street. Between 60th Street and 96th Street on the East Side and between 60th Street and 110th Street on the West Side, the number of parking spaces cannot exceed 35 percent of the units. In some areas outside the core of Manhattan, developers may be required to provide parking spaces to accommodate higher levels of car ownership.””

    Come ON!

    And lastly, NO ONE has said one way to reduce congestion is to get deliveries to arrive later at night, and to do so in SMALL vans NOT large trucks. How often do these vans and rigs double park, block the box, etc?

  • Josh

    Gary, I like Broadway, despite the fact that it is also touristy. 🙂

    Doug, I think the fact that the proposed charge runs 6am to 6pm (though I think 9pm would be a better threshold) at least partially goes to the idea that more deliveries should occur at night.

  • barcar

    Doug, don’t be silly. Manhattan is the most transit-rich area in the United States, not to mention other options (taxis, livery cabs). The parking limitations make perfect sense to everyone but those few Manhattanites who think they deserve to live in the densest area of the country and yet have the benefit of easy motoring.

  • CrazyHarry

    It will never happen, and if by chance it does traffic backed up to the boro’s will be a nightmare

  • I was wondering about the Queensboro Bridge too. If the congestion plan goes through, the only free way into the City would be the Lower Roadway towards 1st Avenue or the Upper Roadway. But I was thinking about the HOV reversal, that leaves you at E 58th Street. They may have to pay which is kind of a bummer for the carpoolers. I’m concerned about this because this affects me, I take the Bridge for the FDR to go uptown (to CCNY) not down. I don’t think the bridge should be charged and I don’t think it’s a loophole because the border is 60th Street, and if I drive on the border and decide to go up, I shouldn’t be charged for that. Now if the bridge was tolled, then that is a contradiction to the border; I’m being charged to go up, if I so desire. Besides, I dont think people on 2nd Avenue will be charged to take the Bridge, it’s just a matter of lane separation and placement of the EZ-Pass cameras. So yeah, I think there’ll be a little meandering of the 60th Street boundary at the ramps of the Queensboro Bridge.

  • Ray

    Is the 60th Street boundary that hard? Surely the QBB exit ramps will be taken into consideration as they design and build the system.

    And a quick comment about NJ drivers. Seems to me they are all ready paying $8 to drive in. Those Port Authority bridge and tunnel dollars currently do not sustain NJ Transit’s operating budget. A significant % of what NJ drivers pay is currently spent supporting Port Authority projects in New York state. I see a lot of NJ drivers on Manhattan roads, but like others who drive, the service levels are not what they should be (north west of the Hudson). If we are serious about congestion, we should try to get the PA fund distribution model changed. Surplus revenues from Hudson River crossings should be spent to expand rail services in Bergen, Passaic, Rockland and other western counties.

    While dollars from the outer boros, LI and upstate should principally be spent expanding rail there. These dollars will be great for the MTA as they will get the lion’s share.

    Let’s go!

  • BRR

    Come on people, this will not reduce congestion at all and it’s not intended to. This is simply a tax on driving a car into Manhattan. Do you really think anyone who is commuting by car is going to start riding a bicycle in? or taking the train? Sure maybe a few, and as someone mentioned just leaving the streets more open for the rich. You really want to reduce congestion? then ban the use of private cars in Manhattan. Live here and own a car? Keep it in NJ or Queens. Commute from CT? Park in the Bronx and hop on the subway. Simple.

  • Ian Turner

    BRR,

    I guess what you are saying is that all existing drivers will simply continue their current habits and pay the fee. And the problem with this is… what? At this point, you are at least collecting some funds from these people’s destructive use of public space. Indeed, standard economic theory of taxation suggests that the best things to tax are both inelastic and with negative externialities. You are arguing that driving is both, which makes it a superb target for taxation.

    But consider also: Even if $8 is not enough to change people’s driving habits, surely there must be some other price that is. As a thought experiment, if we set the congestion charge to $100,000 per car per day, do you think there would be a substantial impact on congestion? I think there would be nary a car in sight at that price. So if $8 is too little and $100,000 is too much, there must be a price somewhere in between that is adequate to reduce congestion to a managable level.

  • Davis

    BRR,

    I’m perfectly OK with a tax on driving into congested, transit-rich parts of the city but, aside from that, you’re wrong: Congestion pricing will work in NYC. In fact, it works today.

    As traffic counts have steadily increased the last few years over the free East River bridges counts have remained relatively stable through the tolled Battery Tunnel. New York City area drivers do change their behavior based on price.

  • take a train

    i have a plan for congestionP. take the MTA trains and buses.

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