4 Things Tony Avella and David Weprin Get Totally Wrong About Toll Reform

No, the past nine years weren’t just a dream and you didn’t wake up in 2006. State senators David Weprin and Tony Avella, the Queens Civic Congress, and a few other Queens elected officials really did put on a press conference yesterday to guard against the possibility that New York might put a rational price on the East River bridges, cursing the city with less traffic, faster bus service, and the absence of honking.

These guys again. Photo: Stephen Miller

All things considered, it’s a pretty good sign that Weprin, Avella, and company felt compelled to stage this event. If toll reform didn’t have a chance in Albany this winter, there would be no reason for these guys to pose in front of the Queensboro Bridge and scare people. There must still be at least a sliver of hope.

In that spirit, feel free to enjoy this listicle as both an exercise in nostalgia and a forward-looking policy argument. Here are four ways Tony Avella and David Weprin couldn’t be more wrong about NYC toll reform.

Tony Avella: “Nobody drives into Manhattan for the pleasure of it. They drive because they have to.”

Driving into Manhattan is miserable, sure, but a ton of people do it even though they don’t need to. The definitive investigation of this question is Bruce Schaller’s 2006 report, “Necessity or Choice” [PDF], which found that 90 percent of people who car commute to Manhattan below 60th Street live where transit would be a viable option. Free bridges and free parking are a huge inducement for these car commuters, who clog up streets for everyone else — including the few drivers who really don’t have a viable transit option.

Avella: “People in Queens have no mass transit in half the borough.”

This line of attack cleverly sidesteps the issue of who would actually pay the new tolls and shifts into a debate about the quality of transit in Queens. Don’t fall for it. Far less than “half the borough” is driving to work in the Manhattan Central Business District. Take it away, Tri-State Transportation Campaign:

Less than a quarter of the 203,000 workers in Senator Avella’s district work in the Manhattan CBD (48,873). Among those workers, 81.5 percent (38,814) ride transit while 16.7 percent (10,036) drive.

According to Move NY, only 3 percent of trips by Queens residents will involve higher car tolls under the plan, while tolls will be lowered for 2 percent of trips.

David Weprin: “It would be a major financial burden on the many small and medium businesses that rely on the free bridges for multiple trips daily.”

Businesses making multiple trips into the Manhattan CBD each day are already facing a financial burden in the form of time lost to traffic jams. Move NY is projected to increase traffic speeds 15-20 percent inside the toll cordon and 6 percent on the streets approaching the cordon. The tolls will be worth it to any enterprise that can capitalize on spending its time more efficiently.

Toll reform is “an unfair tax on the outer boroughs.”

Repeating this ad nauseam doesn’t make it true. Move NY has been specifically calibrated to achieve “borough equity,” with toll discounts on outlying bridges and more fees targeted at Manhattan residents who use cars. Playing the borough resentment card is no longer grounded in reality.

  • Alexander Vucelic

    i think it depends on the specific highway:

    Elevated Highways that should Be torn down:
    FDR, Henry Hudson, a stretch of BQE in Brooklyn, much of the Bruckner, perhaps Even the Deegen

    Elevated Highway that might Be converted, reduced, or adjusted: Every single elevated highway in 4 Boros, especially those in the Bronx. Its a crime what happened to the Bronx.

  • qrt145

    The Citi Bike data has only origin, destination, and time. It doesn’t have any information about the trajectory. The assumption behind that 6 mph is that the user took the shortest path, which is to magically ride in a straight line, going through buildings in the process. 🙂 If you convert between these straight-line distances and the “Manhattan distance” (going straight on the X axis, and then straight on Y), on average you get a distance that’s about 25% longer. In the real world, people might take even more inefficient routes due to one-way streets, superblocks, and other obstacles. I think it would be fair to guess that the actual average speed of Citi Bike users is closer to 10 mph than it is to 6 mph.

  • Alexander Vucelic

    that Sounds about right. I suspect There Is a bias towards shorter trips Since the marginal cost Is zero for user. Short trips might have a slower average speed simply because of pacing etc.

    In order to have a door to door speed of 8-10 MPH, I figure my ‘peddling speed’ is 10-17MPH

    with typical peddling speed of 12MPH on standard size avenue blocks and 15-17MPH peddling speed dedicated bike paths w/o stops ( Hudson River Greenway )

  • sbauman

    Insofar as I can follow the spreadsheet, the $30M dedicated to City Ticket fare reduction is based on current passenger volumes (Revenues tab rows 237 through 330). It does not account for any increased use of the commuter railroads due to modal shift, e.g. cars to rr or bus/subway to rr.