NYC Bridge Tolls: The Solution That Won’t Go Away

Is 2010 the year of bridge tolls? Or will it be 2011 or 2012? If the editorial boards and political insiders are even half right, New York State appears to be back on the brink of an epic fiscal crisis. Lieutenant Governor Richard Ravitch said today that the state faces a deficit of $9 billion to $18 billion next year. 

"In my personal view, we have been eating our seed corn and we face terrible terribly difficult choices," Ravitch said. "Not moral choices. Political choices, social choices of
unprecedented variety… You’re talking about cutting, not just fat,
talking about cutting to the bone."

If he’s right, and he probably is, the MTA budget will take yet another whack next year. This is a big problem since the agency is already likely to cut service in 2010 to pay for the shortfalls it had to absorb in 2009. The under-performing MTA payroll tax, which is hugely unpopular in the suburbs, only aggravates an already bad situation.

The really big underlying problem is that regardless of how much the MTA cuts service, it faces rapid increases in "uncontrollable costs" like pensions, health care and Access-A-Ride. These unfunded legislative mandates exert a huge drag on the agency, which is partly what Mayor Bloomberg alluded to yesterday when he called the MTA a "piggy bank."

The net result is that without a new source of funding, the MTA will soon run out of money and options. Let’s take it for granted the MTA will be forced by Albany to engage in desperate new financial sleight-of-hand and "seed corn eating" (capital money going to operating expenses, borrowing against future fare hikes). Let’s further assume the MTA will have to accelerate the fare hikes planned for 2011. If this comes to pass, in about a year the MTA will be out of options and have to cut service so harshly that even Albany will be forced to care.

It will be a political slug fest worth watching. How deep will service have to be cut before the East and Harlem River bridges are tolled? Are tolls dead, or are they actually inevitable?

  • The problem is that the State Legislators doesn’t even consider any of the other benefits of Bridge Tolls than revenue. They see no value in curbing automobile usage, reducing pollution/smog, or even reducing the estimated economic loss due to traffic congestion. And the NY State legislature is fine with many other ways of raising revenue.

    And mass transit commuters don’t really understand the benefits of bridge tolls either in terms of faster bus times, more mass transit service – they just assume that less people in cars means more overcrowding in trains. And frankly given the way the State continues to underfund the MTA, they might be right about that.

    So in the end, I think Bloomberg should do everything he can from the streetspace reclaimation, parking fees, placard, BRT/SBS to reduce the amount of cars coming into the city. As much as he can do without the state’s approval.

  • Bridge tolls undermine our constitutional right to drive cars wherever we want without paying for it.

  • I’m afraid I’m starting to agree with Larry Littlefield that our best hope for sustainable and affordable transit is riding our bicycles because precious few of our political representatives either here in New York or up in Albany have any interest or willpower to stand up for mass transit. Indeed, they are starving the system to the point of collapse.

  • James

    The city functions because of its mass transit. A New York City without a healthy and functional mass transit network is a city in the throes of massive heart attack. The city only works at its current size and density because of transit. Hell, the entire metro area of 19 million only works because of transit, and it’s sick and sad that the suburban legislators fail to recognize this. Without Metro North, the Saw Mill and Sprain parkways would be literal parking lots. Without LIRR, a commute from Long Island into Manhattan doesn’t happen, for anyone. Will it really take collapse to get them to see this?

  • Bridge tolls, at least the year-ago Ravitch variety, are too pro-Manhattan and anti-Brooklyn and anti-Queens to have a prayer of succeeding in the legislature.

    Congestion pricing paired with a comprehensive taxi surcharge is a different story, however.

    I estimate, using the BTA:
    * Ravitch-type tolls on the East and Harlem River bridges ($4.50 in each direction, and $2.00 in each direction, respectively) would hit up residents of Brooklyn and Queens for $472 million a year more in tolls than Manhattanites.
    * With Kheel-Komanoff cordon pricing — a $2 to $9 entry fee (one way only), combined with a 33% surcharge on medallion taxi fares — the differential shrinks to just $53 million a year. Yup, Manhattan residents pay almost as much as the two big outer boroughs combined.
    * With the K-K cordon toll but without the taxi surcharge, the differential balloons back to $405 million.

    Moral: You gotta have a taxi surcharge. Without it, bridge tolls and cordon tolls are a gift-wrapped present from the boroughs to Manhattan, making them DOA.

    I suppose you could pair bridge tolls with a taxi surcharge. But there are tons of reasons that this, while better than the status quo, would be vastly inferior to a Kheel-Komanoff type plan.

    I’ve been flogging this horse for a year or more. I’m sorry if it’s tiresome, but we’re shooting ourselves in the foot if we keep talking about tolls without a taxi surcharge or other measure that makes Manhattanites pay our fair share — and also stabilizes taxi use rather than having it expand and fill up the gaps in traffic.

  • John Kaehny

    Glenn, it’s true the legislature does not care about the traffic and environmental benefits of bridge tolls. It’s also true that public sector unions, schools, the hospital industry, local government employees, seniors and a long list of other special interests have shown more political muscle than the MTA or the people who ride it. It’s also true that the MTA has a year or two worth of seed corn to consume before truly massive service cuts happen. But then the question is how far down does the political system let transit service deteriorate? New York City is a bigger, wealthier city then when things went to hell in the 1970’s. As Ravitch says, stark decisions are going to be made. The political backlash from tolling the bridges could look pretty mild compared to shutting down half the bus system.

  • John Kaehny

    Charlie, I still don’t follow the politics of your fair share argument. You bring in a major league anti-pricing force by levying such a high fee on taxi owners and drivers. The political axiom is that specific costs outweigh diffuse benefits. By hitting cabs so hard you add in a highly organized, very political, constituency with lots of money and an organized driver base with deep roots in many outer borough immigrant neighborhoods. That’s the core political opposition, not wealthy Manhattanites mad about paying more in cab fares. The real political nexus of opposition to congestion pricing and bridge tolls was the Manhattan parking garage industry. That’s who paid the Queens politicians and lobbyists and framed the anti-pricing agenda. Why would you want to add the taxi industry’s political power to theirs? In any event, politicians are rarely compelled by fare share arguments. Manhattan tax payers subsidize Upstate New York and Staten Island. You’d never know it.

  • John — Thanks for your comment directly above. Under my proposal, the taxi industry is kept whole: the number of fare trips stays the same (a predicted 0.6% rise, effectively zero), as the increased time-efficiency of cabs (due to lesser traffic in the CBD) attracts enough trips to offset the dampening impact of higher fares. The number of fares a driver can service per shift goes from 28-29 to 31-32 because traffic moves faster. My proposal also assigns 10% of the taxi surcharge revenue to the drivers and owners — precisely to forestall the opposition you’re concerned about.

    I’ve said all this before on this blog. I don’t mean to insinuate that there’s no grounds for argument, but I’d like it if the discussion could acknowledge that, at least on paper, there could be a congestion pricing design that duns Manhattanites without running afoul of special interests.

    As for Manhattanites already subsidizing other boroughs or regions: of course “we” do. But that’s irrelevant. As you well know, 99% of politics is battling over changes to the status quo, rather than over whether the status quo is fair.

  • Galls

    Only way to deal with the MTA is to privatize its operations, and the burden of organized labor as well.

    We would receive better service and according to hour own history. Long-ago the subway and recently the buses.

    But I probably also sound like a raving lunatic, privatize a essential service he says, only politicians can be trusted to run that!

  • Shemp

    I disagree that the Taxi industry is some kind of political collossus. They opposed credit cards in cabs and lost. They opposed GPS units in cabs and lost. They opposed the city’s Broadway plan and lost. They oppose every fare hike and lose. Bring ’em on!

  • John Kaehny

    Charlie, I’d be happy to see a congestion pricing zone, and I’m sure your numbers are right, but not so sure that an “equitable burden” pitch would be politically compelling to the state legislature. The full Ravitch plan, including East and Harlem River Bridges is reported to have had Shelly Silver’s support (and had very broad business and labor backing) and seemed likely to pass the assembly had the senate not imploded. It’s implied that bridge tolls were more politically appealing because congestion pricing (of any kind) is now too closely identified with Bloomberg — who is disliked by Albany Democrats. It’s interesting that while bridge tolls failed, they were replaced by an inequitable pay roll tax which benefits Manhattan businesses more than suburban ones.
    Shemp, good point and you can add they also lost a big fight against the mayor’s mileage requirements. But the taxi industry is a formidable opponent when drivers and owners actually fight on the same side, and get to team with the free motoring forces harnessed by the Manhattan garages.

  • glenn

    John – I agree that East River tolls would be less politically devastating that massive service cuts – absolutely agree. If it comes to that, the revenue will be essential.

  • Hilary Kitasei

    Charles — Did you also crunch numbers for tolling all of the bridges but discounting cars registered in the city (or maybe just the adjacent non-Manhattan borough), in the model of Staten Island and the Verazzano? I think it’s important that taxis be kept significantly lower than private cars, as I agree with Khruschev’s observation that it must be what keeps car ownership here so low. It is also the mode of necessity for many poor and elderly, and god help us if they all switch to access a ride. Also, is your assumption that taxi trips will rise due to lack of congestion based on an increase across the board? Of course congestion is restricted to specific time slots and locations. Lastly, you’re not talking about the Kheel plan for free transit, are you? Not that I oppose it, but I have a feeling a few MTA employees would.

  • Boris

    Galls,

    Even in super-dense Tokyo, where some rail lines make money, the biggest service provider is a government company, Japan Railways. The private lines are conglomerates with other business on the side; their lines often exist to bring shoppers to their own malls. The equivalent scenario in New York, for example, is whoever builds on the Hudson Yards also pays for the 7 train extension. Hard to imagine, right?

  • Clarence Eckerson Jr.

    I always appreciate the wonderful discourse and discussion on Streetsblog between sane folks with – albeit – different viewpoints. It’s something the rest of America could take a valuable lesson from.

  • Privatising the MTA isn’t going to fix the problem of not having enough funds. Do you think a private company is going to pour the investment capital required to bring services up to scratch when it can just maintain the more profitable lines and close down the lines with lower patronage.

    The privatisation of public transport infrastructure doesn’t usher in some golden age of cheaper transit with better quality. Public transport needs to be treated by governments as a way of reducing excessive car usage (and all the environmental and social problems associated with it).

    The solution lies not in a change of ownership but a change of government priorities.

  • Hilary —

    If you’re wanting numbers on toll discounts for NYC residents, I’d like us to take that off the table … permanently. Under Ravitch-type bridge tolls, 2/3 of toll revenues would be from NYC residents; hence, discounting that would cut deeply into both revenues and traffic improvements. At least as important is to maintain the principle: tolls are a means of offsetting the enormous time costs that driving a vehicle into the Manhattan CBD imposes on other road users, and those costs do not decrease just because the vehicle is registered in NYC.

    Re medallion taxis: I question your assertion that taxis are “the mode of necessity for many poor and elderly.” Do you have data to back that up? Even if that were true, though, it would not justify subsidizing all taxi rides — particularly since most poor and elderly do not use medallion taxis and would, therefore, be harmed by such a subsidy.

    Is this the Kheel-Komanoff Plan? Let’s not concern ourselves right now with where the revenues would go. Some can be allocated to fare reductions (particularly free buses), and some to supporting the MTA Capital Plan. Defining the mix isn’t critical at this point. Download the BTA and run the numbers yourself.

  • Peter

    Hillary’s post reminded me of something – Is there any way to tie in the problem of (illegal) out-of-state car registration into this?

    It’s the dirty little secret that drives everyone nuts. I’ve never seen any real statistics on out-of-state ownership, but anecdotally, it seems like a significant percentage of the cars I see stuck in rush-hour traffic every morning & evening are sporting out-of-state plates. Hell, 20-30% of the cars *on my block* are registered in PA, MA, NC, FL, etc.

    I would love to see estimates on what would happen to those cars if owners were forced to actually obey the law.

  • Doug

    Galls,

    Chicago privatized parking meters, with fairly terrible results economically. The city got a big, upfront payout, but it would have made more sense in the long run for Chicago to retain control of meters.

    Municipalities should be wary of talk of privatization. There may be a short-term financial gain, but it can come at the expense of long-term benefits. Additionally, private companies are concerned with one thing: profits. The government, despite the inefficiencies and problems debated here, is concerned with service.

  • J:Lai

    Doug – totally disagree with you on chicago meter privatization. There is no reason to believe the city could have realized the “lost” revenue if they had mantained municipal control. Imagine if NYC could sell the right to toll currently free bridge crossings to a private entity. You would actually get non-zero bridge tolls by removing the political influence, a good outcome even though the upfront payment to the city would be significantly lower than the value of the toll revenue stream.

    Charles K – can you explain how taxi use does not go down in the face of a 33% increase in the surcharge? Seems strange to me that this fairly large increase in marginal cost will not reduce demand.
    Overall I agree with you on need for this taxi surcharge, but I don’t see how it can avoid hurting drivers and medallion owners.

  • Hilary Kitasei

    There are rational reasons for tolling non-city drivers more to enter Manhattan. They have polluted their way through the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island to get there. They don’t contribute their share to the upkeep of the city’s infrastructure that supports the region. The goal should be to reduce VMT in the whole city, not just the CBD. The fact that most non-city drivers are destined for the CBD makes the bridges the convenient place to capture the tolls. (And if they’re not destined for it, they’re probably passing through the city, which is another reason why the bridge tolls are better than congestion pricing with its waterfront bypass scheme.)
    I was for congestion pricing. I am for tolling the bridges more, because I put a higher priority on reducing pollution and bottlenecks everywhere in the city than on reducing congestion in the CBD in expectation that the vacuum will be filled with high-priced taxis.
    Re the suggestion for free buses: yes, every line where most riders use transfers should be free. Rather than holding down fares across the board, with no savings in time or cost of collecting them, far better to surgically eliminate them. The benefit to the public is just as high (and, like the Staten Island Ferry, there will be a few tourists who get thrown a bone.)

  • Galls

    Boris,
    Japan Railway is %100 percent privatized both capital expenditures and operations, which is far beyond what I would advocate. Instead I support going back to the pre 1940’s model where operations where leased out to private entities and capital projects where the responsibility of the government. It would be beautiful it the capital budget was %100 funded by a service dictated property tax and operations could easily be funded by fare, especially at today’s fare, if operations where privatized that is.

    Doug,
    Chicago’s privatizing the meters was a great success for that city. They never would have raised the rates to on their own, and the lump sum they received is higher than the present value of future income if Chicago had raised rates at the current trend. Additionally it is not to heavily discounted ~9% from future revenues had they been able to peruse similar rate increases. The problem with Chicago is they violated a cardinal rule, by using lease proceeds from a capital asset to fund city operations, generational theft, rather than fund further capital costs.

    No one has yet provided a reasonable argument against privatizing operations, other than the cliche, and wrong, the goal of profits would mean the reduction of service. NYC Transits own history proves you wrong.

  • J. Mork

    Hopefully these kinds of toll discounts will soon be found to be unconstitutional.

    http://blog.tstc.org/2009/10/23/are-residency-based-toll-discounts-unconstitutional/

  • To get congestion pricing:

    -The MTA could threaten to raise fares to $3.00, let Albany get hysterical, then negotiate it down to congestion pricing/bridge tolls.

    -Set the Outerborough politicians against each other with “Gridlock” Sam Schwartz congestion pricing plan.

  • J:Lai (“Can you explain how taxi use does not go down in the face of a 33% increase in the surcharge?”) — Sure. I assume a 0.22 price-elasticity and a 0.80 time-elasticity for medallion taxi service. (See the BTA’s Taxis worksheet.) With my $3-$6-$9 congestion charge to drive into the CBD — and only with that or a similar charge — the time-savings from the reduced traffic density engender just enough demand increase to compensate for the demand decrease from the higher taxi fare.

    Hilary — The idea of a VMT charge to discourage driving throughout NYC (and environs) is appealing. I advocated for it throughout the 1990s, and may do so again. But your suggestion sounds to me like a hybrid concoction that has no moral basis (see below), will be subject to gaming, and will fall prey to special pleading.

    Hilary, further — You write, “The goal should be to reduce VMT [vehicle miles traveled] in the whole city, not just the CBD.” Why, exactly? And how many other New Yorkers do you think share your goal? I think most people’s goal for traffic pricing is to raise funds to maintain and improve public transportation and to recover time that is now wasted in chronic traffic congestion. The Kheel-Komanoff Plan appears to do both rather well. If you think you can do better, I invite you to put your plan on the table. (I also repeat my invitation to back up your assertion that many poor and elderly people are heavy users of taxicabs.)

  • Doug

    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/20/us/20cncmeters.html

    The privatization allowed the rates to be raised, free from political constraints, which is a good thing, of course. Going from 25-cent to triple that overnight is almost unthinkable in all but a corporate boardroom. So, market-rate parking came faster as a result of the sale (or, really, 75-year lease) of these meters. If the goal was simply to get market-rate prices for on-street parking, then it can be judged a success.

    What is less clear is that if the city had mustered the political will to gradually phase in higher meter rates, it might have reaped more money in the long-term than the quick shot in the arm it got from the deal. Any and all future profits go to the company, and not back into the city’s streets, schools, parks, and other programs. The city is using the money from the sale for immediate budget concerns, but will not benefit one bit when Chicagoans come around to even higher parking rates. That money will go to Morgan Stanley and investors in Germany and Abu Dhabi.

    Remember that it is not government that fails the people. It’s politics.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/06/us/06cncmeters.html

  • Galls

    Doug:

    Those links you have provided, which I had already read, have not provided any counter point to my argument, nor is nationality of investors relevant.

    And as I have already said, if you assume the city, through some miracle, would have managed to establish parking rates similar to Morgan Stanley the present value of the future income is not tragically different.

  • Doug

    I think the nationality, or rather the locality of the investors, is relevant, not in a jingoistic or racist way, but in a “buy local” way. The money a driver pays to use an on-street service such as parking is a chance for the local government to put that money back on the street in the form of better infrastructure, cosmetic improvements, safety enhancements and more. Perhaps money can be used indirectly for schools, parks, fire and police, or public hospitals. But if the money is wired off to another country, or even just another state or town, then it’s a lost opportunity to funnel money back into the community in which it is collected.

    If we see the opportunity to take money from drivers as simply a fee for a service, fine; the company is providing a service and has the right to charge what it wants. But if we see it as a chance to pay for some of the externalities of driving, then this is a bum deal. As anyone familiar with Shoop or Gridlock Sam knows, the pricing of parking can be used not just to influence the number and turnover of parking spaces, but the amount of people who choose to drive in the first place. A private company has little to no interest in making the connection between traffic on a bridge or highway with parking spaces in a downtown area. Or asthma in a poor neighborhood and a shopping area in an upscale one. The city also has its hands tied a bit as well, since things such as street closures or the pedestrianization of blocks may be harder with a private company with a vast financial stake on the line.

    Some economists and city officials felt the city was selling the meters for less than they were worth:

    …the economist Roger Skurski calculated the current value of the deal. Mr. Skurski said his conservative estimate was that “the city could have earned about $670 million more by keeping the asset.”

    “They left some serious money on the table,” said Mr. Skurski, an emeritus professor of economics at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind. “Sure, they got the money up front and plugged their budget hole, but on every other score, the city did not get a good deal.”

    Even without the benefit of revenue data from the private company, the city’s inspector general had issued a report in June asserting that the true value of the parking system to the taxpayers could have been more than $2 billion.

    …In any case, the vast majority of the money that the company paid his administration will be spent within a couple of years of the deal’s approval.

    The Daley administration will use up more than $400 million from the deal by the end of this year.

    The city will spend the payout they got while the private company will continue to take in profits for decades to come. All without a need to pour the money back into local communities.

    I do agree, however, that the Daley administration would have been less successful if it had tried to quadruple — or even just double — parking rates. Sometimes it takes a corporation to look at the little guy and say, “Tough.” However, given the mayor’s success with bike lanes, it’s not out of the realm of the possible.

  • Galls

    Doug,

    That economist, regardless of his profession has either presented only part of the equation for his own benefit, or the reporting media has excluded the rest of what he should have said. You cannot use the Chicago context as an argument against privatization, because the city foolishly used the funds to cover operational expenses, which is why the city lost $670,000,000 worth of revenue at current value of the rates Morgan Stanley is charging. If the city had invested the cash flow rather than covering current obligations with it, the interest saved from withholding Bond Issues would have changed the current value significantly in the city’s favor.

    Making it a much better value than if the politicians had been left to manage the meters on their own, because they would not have had been politically able to.

    So like a circle, here we are arguing the fact that the entire point of privatization is to remove politicians from certain operations, because they will prevent the efficient operation of those assets, neglecting tax payers from a good value.

    This of course brings us back to the MTA, a organization who recently took over private operations from the Buses, the buses ran more efficiently and where less subsidized before the take over. The Subway ran more efficiently, made a profit so it was taxed and had a vastly cheaper fare before the city takeover. I would rest a large portion of the problems with the MTA at its large labor costs, more than half of its expenditures. Politicians are not capable of dealing with labor, for the sole reason that organized labor have strong PACs and voting rates, they will never be able to give us, the tax payers, a good value.

    Furthermore just look at the recent payroll tax returns, they came in far below projections, NYS is already the highest taxed state in the Union, you cannot raise any more revenues. We just passed the point of diminishing returns on taxes, that is very scary. How are the politicians going to cut MTA expenditures? They wont, they are not capable, its operations need to be privatized.

  • Hilary Kitasei

    Charles – You ask for the moral basis for a differential charge for driving into Manhattan. It’s hardly moral. If anything it is a sentimental bias for preserving the privilege of being a citizen of the unified city. Note that I never said the bridges should be free for city residents. Just a token discount (which I’d offset by eliminating the discount for commuters!)

    I am surprised – shocked,in fact – that you ask how many New Yorkers share my goal of reducing VMT citywide! It suggests why CP failed. It was so damn Manhattancentric (and CBD – centric). Northern Manhattan and the Bronx — the areas of the city that are suffer the worst asthma rates by far – never bought the argument that it would reduce congestion in THEIR neighborhoods. And what was with the free bypass?? CP wasn’t about reducing pollution as much as congestion in the business district. It was marketed as a business initiative rather than an environmental one. Environmentalists want less pollution, less pavement, slower traffic. They don’t want bottlenecks because they cause pollution. But congestion is NOT just in the CBD. The Cross Bronx is far worse than the CBD, and for longer periods of the day.
    I do not agree that the goal for traffic pricing should be to raise funds for XY or Z. The goal for pricing should be to MANAGE THE VOLUME AND FLOW to keep pollution at an acceptable level. The funds collected as a result should go to transit. You don’t want to get into a position (like the authorities) of controlling the tap in order to maximize your revenue — even to subsidize transit. We need to determine how much land we want to give over to traffic (e.g., how much of our parks are we willing to give up for parkways, how much of our sidewalks and greenways for streets, etc.), and what speed do we want the traffic move. Using those numbers, we work backwards to price the crossings and the parking to produce the traffic impact we are willing to accept.

    I have no data about users of taxis, but you’re making me think about how I’d collect it. It’s not about the percentage of passengers who are below some income level or above some age, but who use taxis out of necessity (as opposed to a choice to avoid an equally convenient transit option). E.g., who use them once a week to shop for food? Who use them on an occasional late night out? Let’s make the taxis non-polluting, and reduce their cruising and idling, but keep them as this city’s proven success story in keeping car ownership low.

  • Hillary —

    Judging from your comments, especially the latest, I feel you are stuck in a paradigm that no longer applies: that automobiles are a major source of injurious air pollution. That was true in 1970 (when I helped my high school students — I was a teacher then — organize an Earth Day demonstration against polluting autos). And it was true twenty years ago. It’s no longer true, by and large. Asthma is on the decline (thank goodness) and tailpipe exhaust is pretty far down the list of triggers. I don’t know if selling congestion pricing, or road pricing in any form, as a clean-air measure is good marketing. (I happen to think it isn’t.) But it’s not very honest.

    I appreciate your interest in goal-setting and then working backward to the pricing that will reach those goals. I’m not interested in working that way, however, because I don’t believe it will be possible to reach a consensus as to the goals. However, I do think it may be possible to advance pricing as a way to move from the current situation to a different, better one, if we settle on a plan that has many more winners than losers and then work hard at mobilizing the winners to make their voices heard. That’s the angle I choose to work on.

    I don’t understand your latest expression of concern about my medallion taxi surcharge. You now seem to agree with me that the poor use taxis only occasionally. If that’s the case, then the poor will be helped, not harmed, by a taxi surcharge whose revenues are dedicated to improving transit. As for the more-affluent New Yorkers (and tourists) who take the vast majority of medallion taxi rides: they are at least as concerned about time as about money, and may come to accept a congestion pricing plan that, by combining a cordon fee with a taxi surcharge, allows their taxi rides to be accomplished more quickly.

    I invite you to contact me off-line to pursue this conversation further, perhaps by phone or in person.

  • Galls

    I ad this additional evidence that increasing MTA revenue through taxation subsidies is beyond the possibilities of the state.

    http://www.wnyc.org/shows/bl/episodes/2009/12/10/segments/145892

  • Boris

    One thing I would love to see privatized is the BQE. It’s about time we put tolls on it, if for no other reason than because virtually every other highway in the tri-state area with the same function (major regional highway with heavy truck traffic) already has tolls.

  • Hilary Kitasei

    Charles – Sure, automobiles are cleaner and could even one day be negligible. But are you so hopeful about trucks? The best reason to reduce cars is to keep trucks (for whom time really is big $$) moving and on their designated routes.

    My observation about poorer and older users of cabs is that they use them irregularly but for more essential purposes and with less ability to subsitute another method. You are counting on the surcharge to attract exactly the kind of users I want to discourage — the upper east sider commuting to lower Manhattan.

  • J:Lai

    A lot of good points on this thread – it’s encouraging to see so many people thinking rationally about these problems.

    Galls – I agree with your points and I wish people would stop characterizing the Chicago privatization of parking meters as a bad deal for the city. I think it sets a good precedent, and it would be beneficial to privatize parking meters in NYC.

    Charles Komanoff – this is a minor point in the larger issue – but do you really think the elasticity of demand for taxi with respect to time is larger than with respect to price? If anything, I believe it would be smaller.
    During the hours when decreased congestion would significantly improve taxi trip times (mainly during rush hours) it’s hard for me to see how the marginal improvement in time outweighs the marginal increase in cost.

  • Hilary Kitasei

    J Lai – The elasticity re time applies only to the very richest users.

  • J:Lai — I rely for my taxi elasticities on estimates and advice from Bruce Schaller, NYC DOT’s deputy commissioner for policy analysis (or similar title) and, from the mid-1990s until 2006 or 2007, the compiler and author of the authoritative “Taxi Fact Book.” (See Elasticities tab of the BTA.) I’m comfortable w/ the notion that taxi users’ time-elasticity is several times greater than the price-elasticity; that certainly comports w/ the notion of taxi users as being more time-conscious than price-conscious.

    Hilary — Your concern (in #34) about “poorer and older users of cabs [who] use them irregularly but for more essential purposes and with less ability to subs[t]itute another method” is admirable. The next step is to recognize that if taxi service is made more expensive and the revenue is applied to improve transit service and/or reduce transit fares, then people who use transit more and taxis less than average will be made better off via what are essentially transfer payments from those who use transit less and taxis more. Why you’re not advocating for that is a mystery to me. Similarly, your distress over the prospect of wealthy East Siders taking taxis downtown misses the point that they do that now but don’t pay a transit-benefit surcharge. Having them pay more will benefit those who don’t pay cabs! Plus, we’ll need “new” taxi trips to make up for trips that will be discouraged by the higher fare structure. (You did say you want the taxi sector to be kept whole, yes?)

    Your remark (#36) that “The elasticity re time applies only to the very richest users” is, sorry to say, bunk. It’s been disproved in a wide variety of traffic-pricing situations which I’d be happy to describe. And it feels divorced from the reality of “regular people” and their harried, busy, stressed lives.

    I appreciate the back-and-forth we’ve been having here but am troubled by your resistance to traffic pricing. In questioning it, you’ve relied in part on a number of assertions that sound good but don’t stand scrutiny. I can back up pretty much everything I’ve said here. Quantification isn’t everything, but I sometimes feel that you think it’s irrelevant.

  • JK

    Congestion pricing or bridge tolls are inherently “Manhattan centric,” because Manhattan has the CBD and is the regional employment center. It’s the place most people want to travel to. The alternative to pricing the center is to have graduated pricing on all the bridges, tunnels and highways (including BQE)Congested areas would cost more, and still more at peak hours. We have the tech to do it, but nowhere near the will. A certain portion of motorists will always oppose any pricing, regardless of how much others pay. Thus the asinine complaints about it being “unfair” for the motorists who pay $8 to cross the Port Authority bridges being exempt from paying to enter the proposed congestion pricing zone. I don’t think Carl Kruger cares how much taxi users pay, he cares how much his free riding constituents pay.

    Incidentally, congestion pricing based the 51 member City Council, which has 10 members from Manhattan.

  • Barbara Stoddard

    What will it take for New York City citizens to stop tolerating increases in tolls and mass transit? The burden of shrinking budget deficits always falls on ordinary citizens instead of those who have driven us to the financial edge.

    We need to organize!

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