Bridge Tolls Not Very Popular, Says Progressive Caucus Survey

Progressive_Caucus_Budget_Graph.pngOf all the revenue options offered by the Progressive Caucus, bridge tolls were the second-least popular. Click here for larger image. Graphic: Progressive Caucus.

The results are in from the City Council Progressive Caucus budget survey, and when it comes to road pricing, they’re telling, if unscientific. Road pricing remains unpopular across a broad swath of New York City, though among proponents, support is intense.

The newly-formed caucus is still in the process of inventing itself. Though the 12 members have signed on to a general statement of principles, precisely what they will advocate for remains to be seen. Two months ago, the caucus released a survey asking New Yorkers how they’d fix the city’s budget gap. That survey included a question about tolling bridges into Manhattan.

The results show just how much organizing remains to be done around tolling. Of all the revenue sources surveyed, bridge tolls were the second-most unpopular. Only a property tax hike fared worse. Bridge tolls still had more supporters than opponents, but since every revenue option did, that’s probably just due to the framing of the question.  

Interestingly, despite the opposition to bridge tolls, when it came to open-ended responses, support for congestion pricing was one of the most common. So was raising revenue through stepped-up enforcement of traffic and parking regulations. 

In other words, support for road pricing is strong — proponents went to the extra trouble of filling in the open-ended questions — but not broadly distributed. And there are a lot of opponents, even among self-selected respondents to a Progressive Caucus survey.

The caucus’s statement of principles calls for "a more sustainable and environmentally just city" and mentions a "sound transportation system" specifically. That should entail strong support for transit, the clean mode choice of most working-class New Yorkers. But if the Progressive Caucus pays attention to these survey results, support for bridge tolls (and presumably congestion pricing as well) may end up pretty low on the agenda. 

  • Larry Littlefield

    Right — paying for things you get is not popular, and this has guided policy for 30 years. But paying for things you don’t get, because of what has been done for 30 years, will be even more unpopular. Particularly among those who didn’t get a particularly large share of the benefits of the national orgy. And particularly since no one was told there would be a price to be paid later.

    So there is no point in polling people about what they want. Because they aren’t going to get it.

  • It’s kind of obvious why tolling the bridges was unpopular. It was one of the FEW choices that really affected people. The other options were too easy to pass over… close hedge fund loophooles, tax aviation fuel and raise bar permits, end insurance industry tax exceptions… duh. If those costs ever get passed onto the consumer that’s at least one or two steps away. A bridge toll effects your wallet immediately. I think the progressive caucus has great potential but if its framing questions in the ‘do you want to pay, or do you want someone else to pay’ for improvements, don’t be surprised by this kind of poll responses.

  • Eric

    The progressive agenda doesn’t necessarily match the agenda of the working class? I’m shocked, shocked!!

  • What would happen if the East River and Harlem River tolls were asked separately? They’re not in competition, so you could meaningfully toll just one of the two, and they serve different types of traffic.The Assembly’s bridge toll proposal would levy higher rates on the East River bridges, so clearly it isn’t unthinkable to separate the two crossings.

  • Glenn

    In other news, smokers are against taxes on cigarettes and bans on smoking in restaurants…but their children who couldn’t afford to develop the same addiction will live longer.

  • Car Free Nation

    I do think there’s some education around the idea that bridge tools are indeed progressive. On the face of it, they appear to affect everyone equally (like the soda tax or the cigarette tax) so they are regressive. Until it’s more widely known that in New York, wealthier people have cars, it sounds like a regressive tax.

  • There are two reasons why bridge tolls aren’t seen as progressive: (1) they’re seen as a burden on “everybody,” even though they only fall on a small, relatively wealthy minority, and (2) they’re seen as funding “transit” instead of funding the billions spent maintaining and widening the bridges and highways. Fix those two things, and the constituency for bridge tolls will magically appear.

  • Bolwerk

    Interestingly, despite the opposition to bridge tolls, when it came to open-ended responses, support for congestion pricing was one of the most common. So was raising revenue through stepped-up enforcement of traffic and parking regulations.

    Tolls are associated with backed up traffic, which probably places even some potential supporters into the opponent side. I’d prefer congestion pricing myself – it’s more equitable. Actually, eliminating tolls and expanding congestion pricing would make much more sense.

  • Tolls are associated with backed up traffic, which probably places even some potential supporters into the opponent side.

    And, incidentally, is not accurate these days. No toll booths were part of the Ravitch plan; all the tolls would be collected by EZ-Pass and license plate cameras.

    No matter how many times you explained that to people, there was always someone who insisted that tolls would add to congestion. Very frustrating.

  • Bolwerk

    Cap’n: Indeed. I bet there’s care to avoid publicizing it too much, because the obvious followup question is, why do we need all these existing toll collectors? We don’t, of course.

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