Congestion Panel to Recommend Abbreviated Pricing Plan

Today’s the day.

The Traffic Congestion Mitigation Commission is expected to sign off on a condensed version of the Bloomberg administration’s original pricing proposal today, one with a northern boundary of 60th Street (rather than 86th) and no charges for trips that begin within Manhattan’s Central Business District. Higher parking rates and a taxi surcharge could also be included, but other details — such as New Jersey drivers avoiding congestion fees through toll credits — are likely to be left unresolved.

TCMC Chairman Marc Shaw met privately yesterday with Assembly Democrats, who reportedly expressed their opinion of the plan no uncertain terms.

Here are some choice bits from today’s papers.

From the Times

"I would say that the idea of congestion pricing and the commission’s proposals got hammered, and it was in a comprehensive way," said Rory I. Lancman, a Queens assemblyman who attended the meeting. "Every aspect of the proposals were hashed out, were analyzed and were found to be wanting."

Mr. Shaw has been making the rounds in Albany as he tries to drum up support for a traffic-busting plan in advance of the commission’s vote.

"Marc stood there for three hours and took his beating like a man," Mr. Lancman said.

From the Sun

"I do not believe it will become the law of the state," Mr. Brodsky, who represents Westchester County, said during a telephone interview yesterday. "They’ve taken a bad plan and made it worse."

The mayor’s office declined to comment, but during his weekly radio show last week, Mr. Bloomberg said that a lower boundary "would bring in less money and would leave us with another traffic problem." 

From the Post

"Were we not to get congestion pricing, it would have a dramatic effect on our ability to expand and modernize our system," MTA Executive Director Elliot Sander said yesterday. 

"It makes a lot more sense to put the [border] where the business district really ends," said Councilman John Liu (D-Queens), chairman of the City Council’s Transportation Committee.

The administration of the plan will be less expensive "and we won’t have thousands of cameras peering at us every single place," Liu added.

The final version also will probably not include tolls on now-free East and Harlem River bridges, sources said.

"Hopefully, this will finally put to bed the wild and crazy idea of bridge tolls," Liu said.

From the News:

"I wouldn’t say it’s dead. I would say it has major obstacles," said Assemblyman Richard Gottfried (D-Manhattan), a congestion pricing supporter.

Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) told the Daily News Wednesday the idea still has life – in part because the MTA is counting on $500 million a year in congestion pricing funds to pay for its $25 billion-plus capital spending plan.

"They can be dealt with, is what I’m saying," Silver said. 

  • Heffron

    “Marc stood there for three hours and took his beating like a man,” Mr. Lancman said.

    That’s just funny.

  • So what happens if the Council approves this version of the plan – is the Assembly/Senate limited to an up or down vote on that same plan? Or can they change it?

    What did Silver mean by “They”? The problems can be dealt with OR the rest of the Assembly Dems can be dealt with?

  • Larry Littlefield

    (What did Silver mean by “They”? The problems can be dealt with OR the rest of the Assembly Dems can be dealt with?)

    Perhaps give each state legislator 500 “permits” to avoid the fee, to hand out to their contributors?

    If they don’t want congestion pricing, fine. Fund the ongoing replacement portion of the MTA Capital plan with ongoing revenues, over and above the revenues needed to pay interest due to the failure to do so in the past. Same with the roads. I want $3 billion in year one, adjusting upward from there.

  • Spud Spudly

    Sounds like it’s still DOA in Albany, but I’ve thought before that CP was DOA and it’s still kicking. So who knows.

    But it definitely is not going forward if it gives a free ride to NJ drivers. No way Albany passes a plan that allows NJ drivers to enter the City for no extra charge but jacks up the cost for City residents from zero to $8.

    And don’t tell me that it’s OK because this would “equalize” the cost for people throughout the area. That argument will not fly politically (nor should it). If the goal here (besides revenue collection) is to change people’s behavior then it has to change everyone’s behavior — not just the people who actually live here but those who live out of state as well. And the only way to do that is to raise the cost for everyone.

  • fdr

    It still has to pass the City Council before it even gets to Albany.

  • Larry Littlefield

    (Sounds like it’s still DOA in Albany, but I’ve thought before that CP was DOA and it’s still kicking. So who knows.)

    Spud, everything is DOA in Albany except lower taxes, more spending, and richer pensions after shorter careers. But the future they have destroyed has arrived. So lots of things that were DOA are going to come to life. Silver understands this. The rest either don’t, or don’t care.

  • Josh

    Spud Spudly –

    I agree completely. Clearly plenty of commuters from NJ ARE driving into the city as it stands, so calling the money they pay a “congestion charge” instead of a “tunnel toll” is just semantics. Unless they’re paying $8 on top of the bridge/tunnel tolls (rather than $8 minus the existing tolls) there isn’t going to be any behavioral change.

    I really am infuriated by the opposition to tolling the free bridges. The incentive for drivers from all over the place to flock to those spots is a HUGE source of traffic and congestion.

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    And don’t tell me that it’s OK because this would “equalize” the cost for people throughout the area. That argument will not fly politically (nor should it). If the goal here (besides revenue collection) is to change people’s behavior then it has to change everyone’s behavior — not just the people who actually live here but those who live out of state as well. And the only way to do that is to raise the cost for everyone.

    Sorry, Spud, you’re just wrong here. In my neighborhood there is severe congestion on all the streets leading to the “free” bridge, to the point where buses are impractical at certain hours. Much of this congestion is on Van Dam Street, the main way for drivers to get from the “tolled” Queens Midtown tunnel to the “free” Queensborough bridge. In an effort to minimize this congestion, the roads have been designed to speed cars through residential neighborhoods, resulting in numerous injuries and fatalities.

    Congestion pricing or tolls would decrease the demand for the bridge, resulting in less congestion and allowing us to reconfigure the streets for greater safety. But the plans that would equalize the charges on the bridges and tunnels would have the greatest effect. If people going to the Queensborough Bridge pay $6 and people going to the Tunnel pay $10, we’d still see people driving on Skillman Avenue and Van Dam Street instead of staying on the BQE and LIE to the tunnel.

    We may want to “change everybody’s behavior,” but we want to concentrate on those whose behavior causes the most damage.

  • Harlan

    Whatever, good enough. Just get something passed, start collecting revenue for the MTA, and tweak the details later!

  • Ian D

    Clearly plenty of commuters from NJ ARE driving into the city as it stands, so calling the money they pay a “congestion charge” instead of a “tunnel toll” is just semantics. Unless they’re paying $8 on top of the bridge/tunnel tolls (rather than $8 minus the existing tolls) there isn’t going to be any behavioral change.

    Spud, Josh, look at it this way: there *already* is a congestion fee to drive into Manhattan from NJ. It is the toll you pay to cross the river. You’re right: plenty of people in fact do drive through the tunnel and pay the toll, just as after the congestion-pricing plan is put into effect, plenty of people are going to drive across the East River bridges into Manhattan.

    The idea isn’t that ALL the traffic goes away (though that would be nice!), but that some percentage (5% 10%?) finds another way. If you live in Newark and it’s going to cost you $5 or $8 to drive through the tunnel, you might be more likely to hop on the PATH. If you live in Brooklyn and it’s going to cost you $8 to cross the bridge, taking the subway makes more sense.

    It’s not the *name* of the charge that discourages the driving (or more correctly, shifts the mode of the trip), it’s the existence of the charge. Would I prefer that more of the revenue from the Hudson toll/congestion-charge ended up benefiting public transit? Yes! (Of course, maybe it will be applied to PATH services… I don’t know.) But as far as congestion mitigation – it’s the same effect.

  • fdr

    Ian gives a strong logical argument, but of course this is politics, not logic. So the CP opponents see the current situation as New Jersey pays and New Yorkers don’t, and that will change to create a new charge for New Yorkers but no new charge for New Jersey. This is like two people doing the same job for different pay, the lower paid person gets a raise to equalize their pay, and the higher paid person complains that he deserves a raise too.

  • Josh

    Ian D., I see your point, but I just don’t think charging $8 for people who have demonstrated that they’re willing to pay $5 at present (I think that’s what the tunnel tolls are) is going to make all that much difference.

  • Jonathan

    Angus and Josh, according to Charlie Komanoff, the price elasticity of driving to the Manhattan CBD is less than one, so any increase in the cost will have an negative effect on the number of vehicles entering the CBD.

  • Josh

    OK, I’m not disputing that either, I just don’t believe a marginal increase from $5 to $8 is going to have ENOUGH of an impact.

    Harlan makes a fair point above about getting SOMETHING in place and tweaking the numbers later, which certainly could be done.

  • Spud Spudly

    No, there is definitely NOT a congestion fee to drive into the city from NJ. There is a TOLL for using the Port Authority’s bridges and tunnels. That’s it — at toll that’s in effect 24/7/365 (even if it does fluctuate slightly during the day) and has been for decades. A toll that funds Port Authority operations, including airports, PATH trains and Ground Zero boondoggles.

    And the agency planning to charge NJ residents $8 to get into NY is the Port Authority, which is raising the toll. CP is a totally different issue. There is nothing I can recall to indicate that the PA is raising tolls in order to help alleviate mass transit or environmental concerns in NYC. Or that it’s planning to give some of that increased toll money to the MTA. (If I’m wrong someone will surely let me know.)

    The discrepancy here in the treatment of the two different sets of commuters is caused by differences in the administration of the NJ crossings vs. the administration of the East River and other in-City crossings. If NJ residents have a problem with that they should take it up with the PA. But nothing the PA has done is in any way congestion pricing related.

    And even if you believe that NJ residents should have the inherent right to drive into another state as easily as NY residents drive into another county, why on earth would any CP supporter want to basically exempt NJ drivers from congestion pricing? Are their cars not also dangerous and causing pollution and congestion here in NYC? Don’t you want to get rid of NJ cars just as much as you want to get rid of NY cars? Well, giving them a total CP free pass isn’t going to do that.

    Besides, it’s a political third rail. There aren’t any NJ politicians voting on the CP plan, and NY politicians aren’t going to approve a plan that gives NJ residents a free ride. Which is exactly what they would be getting if they pay $8 to the Port Authority and nothing else.

  • There is nothing I can recall to indicate that the PA is raising tolls in order to help alleviate mass transit or environmental concerns in NYC. Or that it’s planning to give some of that increased toll money to the MTA. (If I’m wrong someone will surely let me know.)

    Okay, here you go:

    http://www.panynj.gov/abouttheportauthority/presscenter/PressReleases/PressRelease/index.php?id=831
    http://www.panynj.gov/abouttheportauthority/presscenter/PressReleases/PressRelease/index.php?id=988
    http://www.panynj.gov/abouttheportauthority/presscenter/PressReleases/PressRelease/index.php?id=1002

    With the increased tolls, the Port Authority will contribute $3 billion to the Hudson River rail tunnel and $3.3 billion to increase capacity on PATH trains by 20%. Even if they don’t say they’re raising tolls in order to help alleviate mass transit and environmental concerns in NYC, that’s what they’re doing.

    The PA took the initiative to raise tolls because they want to use the money for trans-Hudson transit projects. I have no problem with this.

  • Josh

    Conceptually, $8 collected from NJ car commuters is the same $8 whether you call it a toll or a congestion charge. The money may wind up a different place, but the induced incentive to not drive is the same.

  • Spud Spudly

    Faster than a speeding tunnel boring machine, it’s Captain Traaaaaaansiiiiiiiiit!!!!!

    That’s interesting Captain. Funny how not one word of any of that or anything about the Port Authority was mentioned in today’s news stories about the CP proposal, some of which specifically focused on the NJ issue. I still think it’s a political third rail though that could likely be resolved by Corzone stepping in and vowing more support for Port Authority investments on this side of the river.

  • Jonathan

    Spud, don’t forget that commuters from New York’s Rockland and Orange counties use the Palisades Parkway and the GWB. They vote in NY and will agitate for toll parity with Nassau and Suffolk commuters.

    I think that in this case the third rail is on the other foot.

  • Oh, Spud. You can’t just put the politics and the policy in a blender and say that we’re the ones being inconsistent in charging for driving. It’s precisely because I am disinterested that I value equivalence (a concept that needs no quotation marks) in the overall charge. Since I don’t care who’s driving the cars, there’s no reason to grandfather in favors for the home team OR deliver extra punishment to Jersey. Long Islanders have played that card for about all it’s worth, and I suspect the interest of New Yorkers in supporting anyone‘s driving has just about run out. Oops here comes local politics. zzzz

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