Rodriguez Champions Toll Reform in Broad Vision for NYC Transportation

Reforming New York’s broken road pricing and parking policies top an extensive list of transportation priorities from City Council Transportation Committee Chair Ydanis Rodriguez, which he unveiled this morning in a speech at New York University’s Rudin Center for Transportation.

City Council Transportation Committee Chair Ydanis Rodriguez outlines his transportation vision this morning. Photo: Stephen Miller
City Council Transportation Committee Chair Ydanis Rodriguez outlines his transportation vision this morning. Photo: Stephen Miller

The most pressing item on Rodriguez’s agenda is the Move New York toll reform proposal, which would put a price on the four East River bridges and a cordon at 60th Street while reducing tolls on outlying crossings. “There is no longer a question of should we pass this plan, but when,” he said. “I will commit myself, over the coming weeks and months, to ensure that my council colleagues get behind this transformative plan.”

If City Hall coalesces behind the road pricing plan as a way to fill the gap in the MTA’s capital budget, it still must gain the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo, who has a famously rocky relationship with Mayor Bill de Blasio. So far, the mayor has indicated that he is open to the idea of toll reform, but has not made it one of his priorities in Albany.

With a champion in Rodriguez, it’s conceivable to see a path forward for Move New York through the City Council. Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito reportedly has a more genial relationship with the governor than de Blasio does.

Rodriguez is seeking to leave his own mark on Move New York, proposing that a portion of toll revenue be set aside in what he’s calling a “Community Transit Fund.” Through a to-be-determined mechanism — Rodriguez has previously suggested community boards or participatory budgeting — neighborhoods would be able to steer funds to local transportation priorities.

Rodriguez laid out ambitious goals for traffic reduction in a plan that goes beyond road pricing. He’d like to cut the number of households in the city that own cars from 1.4 million in 2010 to 1 million in 2030. That would drop New York’s car ownership rate from 45 percent to 30 percent when the city’s projected population increase is taken into account.

By 2030, Rodriguez wants NYC to reach 12 percent bicycle mode share and 2,000 total miles of bike lanes, including 400 miles of protected bikeways. (De Blasio had initially aimed for 6 percent by 2020, then his administration scaled-back its targets.) Rodriguez also called for a car-free Earth Day next year.

Reducing the number of cars in the city will be tough as long as New York requires the construction of parking in new development. The de Blasio administration has proposed eliminating parking mandates for affordable housing near transit, a measure Rodriguez said should also apply to market-rate units. Rodriguez said he’s looking to hold a hearing soon on off-street parking reform.

On-street parking is also on Rodriguez’s radar, but he didn’t mention reviving the pricing reforms that have fallen by the wayside at DOT. As part of a package of legislation, next week he will introduce a bill requiring pay-by-phone technology and real-time availability information for parking meters. Another bill would allow drivers to receive a refund for time they purchased at a meter but did not use.

Other legislation in Rodriguez’s package will include a bill requiring DOT to study citywide transit service every five years and make recommendations for improving access to transit deserts. (Rodriguez lauded Bus Rapid Transit and the mayor’s ferry expansion plan as two ways to extend transit access.) Another bill would require DOT, in consultation with the MTA, to undertake a citywide study of light rail service.

Rodriguez endorsed the Cross-Harbor Freight Tunnel and an integrated, through-running passenger rail network combining Metro-North, Long Island Rail Road, and New Jersey Transit. He sometimes touched on small details, suggesting the MTA amend repeat subway station names — there are five stops named 86th Street — to reduce confusion. (The audience chuckled at the idea.)

One thing Rodriguez’s transportation agenda lacks is any mention of the sky-high construction costs that plague New York’s big-ticket transit expansion projects. After his speech, I asked him about it — but he didn’t have any suggestions for how to begin tackling the problem. “The cost of any project, it is an issue,” he said. “Most of those projects, they are not delivered on time. The [cost] of the projects usually ends up being higher than what they were presenting at the beginning.”

Also absent: fiery rhetoric about Uber. The only mention of for-hire vehicles came in a section of the speech where Rodriguez pushed for more accessible for-hire cars, to match the city’s plan to make half its yellow and green taxis accessible by 2020. After Rodriguez finished his remarks, moderator Mitchell Moss asked about the future of for-hire regulations.

“I take the fifth. No comment,” Rodriguez said to laughs from audience, before deferring to the congestion study already underway. “After that… then we will come out and, working together, we should be able to create a win-win situation. I believe that the consumer wants to use technology. But I also believe we need to live in a world where everyone can do well, and everyone follows the same rules and regulations.”

  • J

    Great to hear such good support from Rodriguez. It’s not perfect (I’m not a big believer in ferries), but I’m all in favor of 98% of what he’s saying. It’s about time there was some actual leadership on transportation issues.

  • FLYINGCHOPSTIK

    Ydanis for mayor!!!

  • Joe R.

    It’s good he also mentioned parking. No matter what else NYC does, we’ll make little headway reducing driving without making it much harder to park. We could start by daylighting every intersection in the city (i.e. prohibit parking within 25 to 50 feet of the crosswalk). That alone would reduce the supply of parking by thousands of spots. If anyone objected, they have no valid case because it’s purely for safety. NYC would be correcting something it never should have allowed in the first place.

    And then we can either charge steeply for the remainder of curbside parking, or just ban it in favor of loading zones, bus lanes, bike lanes, etc. People won’t drive if they know they can’t park at their destination, no matter how inconvenient the alternatives. Either people will switch to another mode, or just not bother making the trip at all.

  • Mark Walker

    This is the kind of leadership New York desperately needs — what de Blasio should have been. Is it too early to talk about a mayoral primary challenge?

  • Reader

    Yes, this is a refreshing change from Jimmy Vacca’s Parking Committee.

  • Bob

    Amen! Is this a real-life politician or a transportation-themed episode of the West Wing? The councilman hit all the right notes. I thought MoveNY might have been dead; hopefully this brings it back.

  • bolwerk

    I say make it super easy to park. By charging an arm and a leg for it. 😀

  • Alexander Vucelic

    A Market clearing price for street Parking in most of Mamhattan would be equal to the cost of Off stret garage parking:

    $15 an hour Daytime and $25 to park overnight (8am to 6am)

    Think how Much this would help Delivery trucks off/on loading ! double Parking would cease – Blocked lanes would flow smotthly

  • Alexander Vucelic

    He Is calling for ~20 miles per year of new protected bike lanes vs. 4 Miles per year under Trottenberg

  • JamesR

    This is amazing. He is expending a great deal of political capital on this and we need to support his efforts however we can. This is literally the polar opposite of Christie and Cuomo and the Gateway Tunnel mess.

  • jwalker

    It’s good when trucks double park. When they back up they hit people who aren’t paying attention.

  • MR

    Happy to see Ydanis out on this issue, and I agree with most of what he said. However I found the NYC reduction in car ownership comment to be a bit odd, as most people who own cars live near those transportation desserts…or in far off places. Even If you live in Riverdale in the Bronx, while you can get to work well via public transit as most people do, most people still have cars because to do anything else in the evening or weekends requires a car, as the time savings and convinence is huge versus relying on public transit in the region. I would also add, if this pricing plan really gets traffic moving in the CBD, could we imagine more bus lanes and the potential to make busing in the CBD free? I would imagine this would greatly hinder the need for hired cars, freeing up more traffic as well displacing short distance subway riders to ease overcrowding on the trains. While I realize buses are not as efficient as trains it is a flexible alternative to test the potential need for things like street cars.

  • KeNYC2030

    Finally, a transportation chair for the 21st century!

  • We must make a car-free Earth Day happen. Even if it was just Manhattan below Canal Street or 14th Street or 34th Street. Earth Day has lacked any sort of energy for nearly a dozen years. But a car-free NYC event would excite and draw intrigue from all over the United States. I am willing to do any Streetfilm and devote any energies towards this.

  • Andrew Lassiter

    Amazing stuff from Ydanis speaking the voice of reason on transportation issues. This is the leadership we need. His goals for mode shift and car ownership by 2030, even if they are to become unrealistic, are necessary in an era where long-term transportation vision is sorely lacking.

  • Andrew Lassiter

    Good point, and I don’t think anyone envisions forcing people to dispossess their car if it’s not socially or economically reasonable to do so. The exciting part about what he’s saying with expansion of transit and bike infrastructure is that it could change that equation for a lot of people (though of course not everyone) by providing better options.

  • Matthias

    So good to read some encouraging news for a change!

  • neroden

    😀 When it costs enough, there are empty spaces.

    There should be drop-off/pick-up/delivery/loading zones, too.

  • everywhere

    Via a New Yorker:

    “Most of the comments on here must be from people living in another city
    or state or better yet another world. Congestion pricing does not work
    to reduce congestion.. Its like saying red light cameras reduce crashes.
    It’s a money grab plain and simple. For one thing… deliveries CANNOT
    be made in off hours. Businesses will not stand for it and residents
    really will not stand for it. Those people paying 1 million dollars and
    up to live in Manhattan are not going to be happy with noise and trucks
    in the early evening hours or early morning hours… trust me i know the
    silly things they complain about. And if you can afford to live in
    Manhattan.. you can withstand the increased cost.. so businesses will
    not care about keeping the current status-quo. As for driving… no one
    will change their driving habits … the people who endure looong drives
    into manhattan arent doing it because its fun… again they will bite
    the bullet and pay. If you live in a two-fare zone or so far out that it
    takes you two + hours to get to work by mass transit or/and costs you
    10 to 20 dollars roundtrip.. why not just drive. Unfortunately, those
    people are the ones who can least afford it which is why it would be a
    tax on the working class and poor. And yes the poor do have cars. So, if
    we eliminate the fact that it will do nothing for congestion… where
    does that leave us?? With a tolling system that has to be built,
    installed and maintained at a cost. I have a real problem with bridges,
    tunnels and tolls. Think about it people… what are you paying for????
    Have you looked at the budgets for the MTA?? Port Authority?? NYCDOT,
    NYSDOT?? Its all online and yet no one bothers to read it. On one bridge
    alone an estimated 280,000 vehicles per day cross. At least 50% trucks
    paying a higher fee than cars. About 3.5 million dollars a day on one
    bridge alone. How many people ride the subway, bus, metronorth and LIRR
    per day at that same time??? Even at 1 million people per day paying 1
    dollar… thats 1 million dollars a day added to the 3.5 giving us lets
    just say 5 million a day. Im being totally conservative here, but we
    havent added the other bridges and tunnels to this intake of serious
    daily cashflow. According to the Dec.2014 budget, the MTA had 7.9
    billion in revenue from fares and tolls. Other revenue of 6.5 billion.
    They took in a total of 14.5 billion last year. Forget the expenses and
    just think about that for a minute. Let it sink in. One year. 15
    billion. Want to know what the expenses were??? look it up. You wont be
    happy. I’ll tell you this much… what they take in from tolls and fares
    goes right back out in salary and benefits. The rabbit hole goes
    deeper. But according to their budget… there is no cure. So THAT is
    why NYC will be paying for congestion pricing.”

  • everywhere

    “Most of the comments on here must be from people living in another city
    or state or better yet another world. Congestion pricing does not work
    to reduce congestion.. Its like saying red light cameras reduce crashes.
    It’s a money grab plain and simple. For one thing… deliveries CANNOT
    be made in off hours. Businesses will not stand for it and residents
    really will not stand for it. Those people paying 1 million dollars and
    up to live in Manhattan are not going to be happy with noise and trucks
    in the early evening hours or early morning hours… trust me i know the
    silly things they complain about. And if you can afford to live in
    Manhattan.. you can withstand the increased cost.. so businesses will
    not care about keeping the current status-quo. As for driving… no one
    will change their driving habits … the people who endure looong drives
    into manhattan arent doing it because its fun… again they will bite
    the bullet and pay. If you live in a two-fare zone or so far out that it
    takes you two + hours to get to work by mass transit or/and costs you
    10 to 20 dollars roundtrip.. why not just drive. Unfortunately, those
    people are the ones who can least afford it which is why it would be a
    tax on the working class and poor. And yes the poor do have cars. So, if
    we eliminate the fact that it will do nothing for congestion… where
    does that leave us?? With a tolling system that has to be built,
    installed and maintained at a cost. I have a real problem with bridges,
    tunnels and tolls. Think about it people… what are you paying for????
    Have you looked at the budgets for the MTA?? Port Authority?? NYCDOT,
    NYSDOT?? Its all online and yet no one bothers to read it. On one bridge
    alone an estimated 280,000 vehicles per day cross. At least 50% trucks
    paying a higher fee than cars. About 3.5 million dollars a day on one
    bridge alone. How many people ride the subway, bus, metronorth and LIRR
    per day at that same time??? Even at 1 million people per day paying 1
    dollar… thats 1 million dollars a day added to the 3.5 giving us lets
    just say 5 million a day. Im being totally conservative here, but we
    havent added the other bridges and tunnels to this intake of serious
    daily cashflow. According to the Dec.2014 budget, the MTA had 7.9
    billion in revenue from fares and tolls. Other revenue of 6.5 billion.
    They took in a total of 14.5 billion last year. Forget the expenses and
    just think about that for a minute. Let it sink in. One year. 15
    billion. Want to know what the expenses were??? look it up. You wont be
    happy. I’ll tell you this much… what they take in from tolls and fares
    goes right back out in salary and benefits. The rabbit hole goes
    deeper. But according to their budget… there is no cure. So THAT is
    why NYC will be paying for congestion pricing.”

  • everywhere

    Some people who have a two hour or more commute have no choice but to drive into work. Others may have to go Borough to Borough for their occupation. No two scenarios are the same. This is a cash grab. It’s also going to create even more traffic at toll crossings and on the FDR and West Side. Can already see how bad the BQE will be backed up 24/7 as a result. The only people benefiting will be those getting the salary upgrades, bonuses and vacations as a result. The city/MTA already make billions a day off tolls and commuters fares and now with these traffic cameras on every corner. Anyone celebrating this burden is clueless of how badly it’s going to effect working class Native New Yorkers who commute from the suburbs. Groceries and other costs are going to rise across the board in general due to this toll burden getting passed back off to consumers. There is no happy ending here.

  • Joe R.

    Repeating the same comment several times in different places doesn’t make it true. Two fare zones haven’t existed in NYC for over 18 years. Whether congestion pricing works or not to actually reduce congestion is moot. The hard fact is motor vehicles cost the city a lot of money which drivers don’t currently pay. Air pollution results in increased medical costs. Collisions result in hospital and emergency service costs. Vehicles wear out roads. Parking spaces use up valuable real estate. Drivers are paying for none of these things now. Congestion pricing just helps the city recover some of the costs it bears due to motor vehicles.

    BTW, truly poor people usually don’t have cars, and they certainly can’t afford to drive into Manhattan daily. I’m tired of the myth being spread that congestion pricing is somehow going to disproportionate affect the poor. It isn’t. The people it will affect are ones who largely can afford to pay. If they can’t, it means their situation was marginal to begin with.

    What the MTA spends it money on is a separate issue entirely. I agree it needs to be looked into, but that has nothing to do with making drivers pay their own way.

  • Alexander Vucelic

    this is a great Idea

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