Instead of Reforming NYC Tolls, Ruben Diaz, Jr. Proposes Soaking the Bronx

Like the Tea Party adherents who are always going to equate walkability and sustainable transportation with a global UN conspiracy, some New York City electeds are always going to call road pricing “regressive” no matter how much the evidence suggests otherwise.

Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr.

But Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr. really ought to know better. Diaz has a piece in the Daily News attacking the Move New York plan, which would inject some reason into New York’s tolling system by raising rates in the congested heart of the city and lowering rates on less-trafficked crossings farther from the core, yielding significant funds for transit in the process. Not only would Diaz’s counter-proposal do nothing to solve the chronic traffic congestion that makes trips miserable for bus riders — to raise as much revenue as the Move NY plan, his proposal would also end up costing Bronx residents a lot more than toll reform.

Unlike the dyed-in-the-wool road pricing opponents New York got to know so well in 2007 — the Richard Brodskys and Lew Fidlers — Diaz doesn’t represent the region’s car-oriented edges. More than 60 percent of Bronx households don’t own cars, according to the 2000 Census [PDF].  The allegation of a “regressive tax” collapses when you consider that the average car-free household in the Bronx earns less than half as much as the average car-owning household.

Even in terms of the cost to drivers, though, the Diaz approach doesn’t add up. Diaz says it’s a certainty that the Move NY toll discounts on outer borough bridges won’t last. So that’s how he can dismiss the 40 percent or larger drop in rates on all four of the Bronx’s tolled bridges. But the Move NY plan needs enabling legislation from the state to move forward, so the new toll ratios would be enshrined in law.

Taking a page from Fidler, Diaz does float a counterproposal — a weight-based vehicle registration fee — that’s supposed to signal that he really does care about transit, but is destined to go nowhere.

To raise the same amount of money as the Move NY plan, about $1.45 billion per year, the registration fee assessed in the five boroughs would have to be raised by $785 per vehicle, reports Move NY analyst Charles Komanoff. Because car ownership is higher in the Bronx than in Manhattan, the Diaz proposal would actually cost his constituents much more than Move NY.

In the Bronx, the average cost per household would work out to $390, according to Komanoff, but just $187 per household in much wealthier Manhattan.

This is a significantly worse deal for the Bronx than the Move NY plan, which calls for Manhattan residents to shoulder a much greater share of the costs. Probably not what Diaz wants out of a transit funding plan.

  • lop

    Shifting costs to vehicle registration fees from tolls lowers the cost of marginal trips. Merely reducing car usage among existing car owners is a step in the right direction. This does the opposite.

  • One depressing angle: no one in government is willing to analyze the infrastructure costs of any transportation systems at all, so it’s literally impossible for a politician to justify mode shift with entitled voters/consumers

    I’m sure that, if the mismanagement of mode costs were really accounted for in a simple way (not that it’s even possible), voters would be even MORE unhappy with the job that government is doing with transportation systems.

  • Guest

    Wouldn’t this give a big break to out-of-state drivers? NJ would love it. Even if Diaz miraculously got the rest of NY State to hop on his bandwagon, good luck getting NJ to increase their registration fees and gift the money to NYC.

  • AnoNYC

    This alternative plan isn’t about helping the poor, it’s about appeasing the automobile owners in the Bronx (who despite their minority status, are more likely to vote and become involved in community affairs when compared to non-drivers in this borough).

    Politics, plains and simple.

  • vnm

    I actually give Diaz credit for sticking up for low-income New Yorkers most of the time. For example by demanding living wage for Kingsbridge Armory redevelopment. That’s why his stance on this is so baffling and disappointing.

  • AnoNYC

    Please feel free to write Mr. Diaz on the issue:

    http://bronxboropres.nyc.gov/contact.html

  • vnm

    Here’s another thing.

    The Bronx is plagued by motorists from well-off areas to the north of the borough who come in to Manhattan for various reasons. They sit on the Bruckner. They sit on the Deegan. They drive onto local Bronx streets to avoid the existing bridge tolls. They actually do contribute to the Manhattan and overall NYC economy, but for the Bronx, they contribute nothing.

    Actually, that’s not quite right. For the Bronx, they leave a wake of asthma-afflicted kids in places like Hunts Point, Mott Haven, Highbridge, and University Heights. P.S. 154 at 135th & Alexander is right on the route you’d take to avoid the RFK Bridge toll, which is why it sits on a four-lane traffic sewer. I wonder what the asthma rate is like there.

    Under the Schwartz fair plan, the number of motorists passing through the Bronx and idling in traffic would be reduced. But anyone who wants to continue to drive through the borough would at least be contributing to the underfunded public transit system that Bronx residents rely on to get to work.

    B.P. Diaz should be fighting like hell to overturn the dysfunctional status quo that gives nothing but negatives to the Bronx. Instead, he’s actually defending it!

  • HamTech87

    My guess is that he is in “Driver World,” and seeing everything from the perspective of the put-upon driver. MoveNY is seen through the lens of Bronx Drivers vs. Manhattan Drivers, and he wants to even the score with those drivers in Manhattan with their fancy, and heavy, Range Rovers and chauffeured Suburbans.

    Politicians are now mainly drivers, or driven by chauffeur. Some academic needs to write a paper on how this skews their politics and worldview.

  • sbauman

    “The Bronx is plagued by motorists from well-off areas to the north of
    the borough who come in to Manhattan for various reasons. They sit on
    the Bruckner. They sit on the Deegan. They drive onto local Bronx
    streets to avoid the existing bridge tolls. They actually do contribute
    to the Manhattan and overall NYC economy, but for the Bronx, they
    contribute nothing.”

    That’s not borne out by NYMTC’s 2010-2011 Regional Household Travel Survey.

    42% of unlinked private car trips ending in Manhattan also originate in Manhattan.
    9.5% of unlinked private car trips ending in Manhattan originate in the Bronx.
    5.7% of unlinked private car trips ending in Manhattan originate in Westchester.
    Putnam, Fairfield and New Haven Counties account for less than 1% total.

    The majority of cars sitting on the Deegan and Bruckner on their way to Manhattan, originated in the Bronx.

    Similarly private car congestion in Manhattan is caused by car trips originating in Manhattan. Therefore, any “solution” designed to reduce Manhattan congestion by limiting cars originating from outside Manhattan is avoiding the principal source of congestion.

  • qrt145

    One of the measures being proposed is tolling Manhattan south of 60th St. I wonder what fraction of private car trips in that area originate in that area as opposed to the rest of Manhattan.

    Also, non-private vehicles would also have to pay, and they definitely contribute to congestion too. When I look at the streets of midtown during rush hour, most vehicles on the road seem to be “non-private” (mostly taxis and delivery vehicles). I’m curious what the hard numbers for that are.

  • sbauman

    The only hard numbers I know are NYMTC’s Hub Bound Statistics. It’s a cordon count for Manhattan south of 60th St. All vehicles are included. One measure is the number of accumulated vehicles ( garbage in minus garbage out.)

    One important aspect of this data is that the vehicle accumulation peaked in 1984. It’s down significantly (33% in 2012).

    There’s a lot less agreement on how to measure “congestion.” However, if congestion has persisted despite a 33% drop in vehicle volume, how is congestion pricing supposed to reduce congestion?

  • qrt145

    Maybe there _is_ less congestion than in 1984, but it can still be reduced further? That is a good question.

  • Komanoff

    Uh-uh, Steve. Less than ten percent (I estimate 6-7%) of weekday CBD VMT (Central Business District vehicle miles traveled, i.e., motor traffic) is by cars and trucks that didn’t cross into the CBD on that day. Nearly 45% is yellow cabs (less during a.m. and p.m. peaks, more off-peak). The remaining ~50% is by cars and trucks that did cross into the CBD.

    The upshot is that the Move NY plan will toll well over 90% of the trips that contribute to CBD traffic — the CBD-crossing trips will pay $5.33 (w/ E-ZPass) coming in, and the same leaving; yellow cab trips within the CBD (actually, up to 96 St) will pay a surcharge calibrated to capture their congestion causation, rather than the entry/exit fee. While “free riders” are to be regretted, the 6-7% in this case is small enough to be tolerable.

    These figures are in my BTA spreadsheet model, which you can download (find link by Googling “BTA 1.1”.) In case you were wondering, the model assumes, and reflects, that intra-CBD travel by those free riders will increase somewhat, as those drivers take advantage of the faster speeds resulting from the CBD toll.

    Note that even counting the sizeable (5-10%) drop in CBD entries since 2006-07, the congestion relief (saved travel times) from the Move NY plan will be enormous, for both drivers and straphangers. Please take a look.

  • vnm

    Thanks for the actual data. So let’s estimate 6.5% of unlinked private car trips ending in Manhattan originate in Westchester, Putnam, Fairfield & New Haven counties. What percentage of Manhattan-bound traffic through the Bronx does that comprise? Granted, it’s probably less than 50%. But it’s certainly way higher than 6.5%.

    I think my point still stands that the Move NY plan would have a non-trivial reduction of traffic through the hard-hit South Bronx communities. And those still causing the traffic would at least be contributing to the solution.

  • sbauman

    ” Less than ten percent (I estimate 6-7%) of weekday CBD VMT (Central
    Business District vehicle miles traveled, i.e., motor traffic) is by
    cars and trucks that didn’t cross into the CBD on that day. Nearly 45%
    is yellow cabs (less during a.m. and p.m. peaks, more off-peak). The
    remaining ~50% is by cars and trucks that did cross into the CBD.”

    That appears to be at variance with the vehicle accumulation data in NYMTC’s Hub Bound Survey. The numbers of maximum accumulation for 2012 are:
    81,359 accumulated; 75,404 CBD Based; 156,762 Total; 1pm hour of max accumulation. That’s 48% of the maximum accumulated traffic. Percentage-wise that’s also the minimum of total accumulated vehicles within the CBD. Table 4 of the report has yearly max accumulation data going back to 1971. The percentage of CBD-Based Vehicles has not varied much.

    The caveat for CBD-Based Vehicles is:

    “CBD resident and vehicle figures for 2004-2012 are estimated based on the most current data available.”

    I also ran a trip count on NYMTC ‘s 2010-2011 Regional Household Travel Survey. Only unlinked trips to the CBD were included. I did add taxis and limos to private vehicles. The percentage of unlinked trips that originated in Manhattan rose to 50%. Of those that originated in Manhattan, 70% originated within the CBD.

  • sbauman

    ” What percentage of Manhattan-bound traffic through the Bronx does that[Westchester et al]
    comprise? Granted, it’s probably less than 50%. But it’s certainly way
    higher than 6.5%.”

    You can derive that directly from the data I stated. The answer is 40%.

    Another question is what percentage of Bronx trips originated in Westchester? I believe that number is around 10%. I’m too lazy to run a query. That’s the impact of Westchester traffic on the Bronx.

    There are limits to the data I’m using. It gives only trip start and destination. It’s also only trips by interviewed households. There’s a lot of inference needed to use this data to answer route specific questions. That’s assuming the respondents answered the queries honestly.

  • Komanoff

    Your max accumulation metric leaves me cold. I don’t see why a stat consisting of 156K vehicles which are somehow (how, exactly?) split between CBD-based and not, should trump a painstaking set of calc’s based on the Hub-Bound’s ~750K entries. Maybe you should follow my invite to walk through my numbers?

    Btw, elsewhere you say that your max accum metric is now 33% below its 1984 peak. Check your math: it’s 23% off. And you sure cherry-picked your 1984 figure.

    Steve, IIRC, you were caviling over CBD tolling in 2007-08. What’s your beef, really? And could you take a moment to explain why you seem unmoved by the many features of the MNY plan intended to make it more equitable and efficient? (Feel free to contact off-line. Thx.)

  • sbauman

    The accumulation metric consists of the hourly difference between vehicles entering the CBD less those leaving the CBD. It consists of a total of 1,496,388 total vehicle movements across the CBD limits during a 24 hour period. It’s hard data – gathered by cars actuating a DOT tape on a typical October day.

    This approach appeals to my electrical engineering background. The CBD is a black box. I’m measuring accumulation in it by monitoring garbage in and garbage out.

    I don’t know how NYMTC estimated the initial amount of garbage within the black box. Their figure does not seem unreasonable. I tried to do a sanity check by the best method at my disposal – NYMTC’s 2010-2011 Regional Household Travel Survey. It’s a different metric. 35% (70% of 50%) of all unlinked motor vehicle trips ending within the CBD originate within the CBD.

  • valar84

    Politicians have been drivers or chauffeured around since WWII and before that. Why do you think they put 90+% of transport investments into building highways in the 50s and 60s when 30-50% of households still didn’t have cars?

    But you’re absolutely right that this skews their worldview.

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