De Blasio Is Wrong — There’s a Congestion Pricing Plan That Affects All Boroughs Fairly

The mayor says he's never seen a version of congestion pricing that's fair to the outer boroughs, but the Move NY toll reform plan is specifically designed to distribute costs fairly between different parts of the city.

The mayor hasn't been keeping up with the evolution of congestion pricing plans for NYC.
The mayor hasn't been keeping up with the evolution of congestion pricing plans for NYC.

Over the weekend, Governor Andrew Cuomo told the Times that he’s warming to congestion pricing — a political breakthrough for streets and transit policy in New York City. With Cuomo’s support, there is now a feasible political path for road pricing for the first time since 2009. The potential benefits for transit, biking, and walking are enormous.

But getting a plan enacted won’t be easy. A decade ago, when the Bloomberg administration made a push to enact congestion pricing, the plan was vociferously attacked by representatives from the city’s more car-dependent districts in a campaign bankrolled by the deep-pocketed parking garage industry. One elected official who sided with this anti-congestion pricing coalition was Bill de Blasio, who voted against the Bloomberg proposal as a council member in early 2008.

De Blasio’s stance on toll reform has shifted over the years (he was for a watered-down version of Richard Ravitch’s 2009 bridge toll plan). Now that congestion pricing is gaining momentum, however, he seems to be reverting to his earlier position.

Last week the mayor sidestepped questions on congestion pricing from Fox5 by saying, “I’ve always had a lot of concerns about it, to be honest with you. I’ve never been in favor of those proposals because I haven’t seen one that I thought was fair particularly to folks in the outer boroughs.”

That response might have applied to the 2008 congestion pricing plan, which called for tolling motorists entering Manhattan below 60th Street while leaving other tolls intact and barely charging for-hire vehicles, which are overwhelmingly used by Manhattan residents.

The Bloomberg congestion plan passed the City Council but sank in the State Assembly, weighed down by borough resentment against tolling the entrances to Manhattan while people who lived there accrued the most obvious benefits.

moveny_charges
Under the Move NY plan, Manhattan residents pay the greatest share of new tolls and surcharges.

Ironically, rejecting the Bloomberg plan only compounded outer-borough tolling inequities, when the state legislature later authorized the MTA to shore up its finances by raising tolls every two years on its seven NYC bridges, which largely serve the city’s more car-dependent districts.

To make congestion pricing politically viable, “Gridlock” Sam Schwartz devised a plan that shifts much of the toll burden to Manhattan. The Move NY plan does it via this one-two punch:

Toll swap. Move NY puts a price on driving into Manhattan Central Business District while shaving $2.50 each way off the current E-ZPass $5.76 toll on the four major MTA bridges (Triborough, Whitestone, Throgs Neck, Verrazano); $1.00 each way off the $2.64 toll on the Henry Hudson Bridge; and $1.00 each way off the $2.16 Marine Park and Cross Bay Bridges. The Move NY authorizing legislation locks in the ratio of these tolls to the Manhattan CBD toll, ensuring that the MTA can’t later roll back the outer borough toll swap without upping the congestion charge itself.

For-hire surcharges. Instead of paying the Manhattan CBD tolls, all for-hire vehicles — yellow and green cabs as well as app-based services such as Uber and Lyft — would pay surcharges of $0.60/mile and $0.20/minute for travel in Manhattan’s “taxi exclusion zone” (below 96th Street on the East Side, below 110th Street on the West Side); charges would be halved on weekends.

The toll swap makes Move NY much fairer for car owners from Queens, which has five interborough crossings where tolls would be reduced, and the Bronx, which has four. It’s also central to the logic that undergirds Move NY’s approach to traffic reduction — that tolls should be unavoidable where congestion is most prevalent and transit provision is strongest, and lower where congestion is less prevalent and transit is weaker.

The for-hire surcharges, meanwhile, will raise taxi and ride-service fares by 12 percent, on average, ensuring parity with the private car congestion toll. Disincentivizing for-hire trips will also lead to allow double-digit improvements in vehicle speeds in the Manhattan core — gains that will benefit for-hire drivers by increasing turnover and ridership. Conversely, a surcharge on for-hire trips without concurrently tolling private car and truck trips would stunt those increases in average speeds, removing the carrot but keeping the stick and thus inciting opposition from for-hire vehicle owners, drivers, and passengers.

Here, then, is how the Move NY toll plan tackles the issue of fairness that de Blasio raised last week:

  • Under the 2008 congestion pricing proposal, residents of Manhattan would have borne just 13 percent of all new net tolls and surcharges, and only 22 percent of charges paid by city residents — a toll burden less than that of Queens and Brooklyn.
  • Under the Move NY toll-swap plan, residents of Manhattan will pony up 22 percent of the new net charges and 36 percent of charges paid by city residents — by far the largest toll and surcharge share borne by any borough or county.

If Mayor de Blasio didn’t know that before, he should now.

  • I’m not going to give up on this: Streetsblog’s style should be DEcongestion pricing or ANTI-congestion pricing. The product being purchased is a lack of congestion.

  • redbike

    Absolutely!

    And we support PUBLIC Transit, right?; dunno what mass transit is.

  • Vooch

    BdB just lost his re-election.

  • rao

    How much of that $322 billion is paid by upper Manhattan drivers? The graph seems a bit misleading to me since the congestion charge doesn’t apply to vehicles that only travel within the congestion zone, but does apply to upper Manhattan vehicle owners who cross the cordon. It would seem, therefore, to be putting a huge burden on upper Manhattanite drivers but not on the drivers who reside and operate vehicles within the gilded cage below 60th Street.

  • Larry Littlefield

    To the state legislator from Staten Island or the gadfly for “real New Yorkers” from Bay Ridge?

    Meanwhile, I’m glad the part about how much money could be spread around NOW, before Generation Greed leaves the scene, and paid for later, by poorer younger generations, isn’t being given as a selling point, at least in this post.

    A few decades too late, however.

    And remember that reducing congestion and getting lots of revenues are mutually exclusive. Success means less toll money coming in, and if that has been bonded against, more sucked away from future transportation.

  • Vooch

    Selling the future income stream to Goldman or Blackstone is a perfect parable for our time – Trump & Cumo ‘working across the aisle’

  • rao

    I do find it disturbing that no one, not even the right wing, is saying what somebody should obviously be saying: that since NYC Transit’s costs are higher than anywhere else in the world, yet it delivers the worst service of any major transit system, that it (or its replacement) should have to reengineer within the existing budget.

    And there are at least two other major ways to reduce congestion besides tolls: HOV restrictions and odd-even license plate schemes. It seems to me that both should be tried before tolls are resorted to.

  • JarekFA

    No, tolls should’ve been implemented years ago. There’s limited road space. Driving into the CBD imposes externalities (costs) on everyone else. Paying a toll to enter the road space, that literally has the highest demand in the United States, is appropriate and fair. Otherwise, everyone else ends up bearing that cost in terms of diminished quality of life and congestion (which has massive costs). The people driving into the city should be the ones that bear the cost of congestion.

  • Michael

    DeBlasio is wrong is a pretty evergreen headline

  • Larry Littlefield

    “I do find it disturbing that no one, not even the right wing, is saying what somebody should obviously be saying: that since NYC Transit’s costs are higher than anywhere else in the world.”

    It’s operating costs are among the lowest in the U.S, and the lowest in the metro area.

    As for construction costs, as I’ve pointed out the state is using MTA contracts to subsidize the hole in the multiemployer construction union pension plans. A hole created by retroactive pension increases and underfunding agreed to by construction unions and private contractors, which benefitted them and past private construction. Pillaging a public entity for private benefit is NOT something the right wing objects to in this country, or at least not in this state.

    Private companies are more efficient. At fleecing the government. Although NY’s public unions are giving them a run for our money.

  • rao

    Well, that’s an economic view of things, which is valid, but it shouldn’t and won’t be the last word. There are other values at stake here. “Road space,” a.k.a. public rights of way, should not be casually sold off to the highest bidder except as a last resort. The state has not even bothered to try the alternatives. And it is not at all clear that the proposed wealth transfer from drivers to the MTA is a fair or even effective way of addressing the MTA’s problems.

  • qrt145

    Mexico City implemented license-plate-based restrictions, and the result was that a huge number of people just kept another car to use on the days where their main car can’t be used. The extra car is usually a clunker, which didn’t help the ostensible goal of reducing pollution, and it exacerbated the (often literal) fights over parking.

  • sbauman

    It’s operating costs are among the lowest in the U.S, and the lowest in the metro area.

    By what measure?

  • sbauman

    There are two sides to any financial transaction: from where the money comes and where the money goes. Mr. Komanoff’s article does not mention what would be done with any money raised.

    The MTA’s presentation at last Tuesday’s City Council hearing demonstrated that it has neither the knowledge nor the desire to find out what’s wrong and what can be done better. Their only plea was to send them more money so that the MTA can continue doing what it has been doing. They provided no accounting where the new funds would be spent or even if they would be spent improving the subway system.

    Until there’s detailed accounting of what is required, how long it would take and how much it would cost, it’s premature to talk about raising equitable or inequitable taxes.

  • spikex

    I see the sense of tolling the bridges, but I suspect the mid-Manhattan (60th) line of death is going to be a real disaster for the people living in those neighborhoods. There will be lots of unexpected consequences. Cars are going to circle through the streets just north of there trying to avoid the toll. What do you do about the Queensboro bridge which is at 59th? You can exit onto either 61 or 58- do you pay the 60th St toll if you exit south, but not North? (I don’t live anywhere near 60th St btw).
    To sell the bridge tolls they should tie the tolls to the RT subway fare so the toll is the same as taking the subway. One strong reason to add tolls to the bridges is all the city employees with free parking (teachers, police, etc) have no incentive to take the subway- its cheaper for them to drive. This would at least make driving the same price.

  • qrt145

    If it actually reduces congestion, I’ll be happy even if they throw the money in the river. 🙂

  • Reader

    People taking the Q’boro would pay the toll regardless of where they exit. Same with people taking the Harlem River bridges, no?

  • Larry Littlefield

    Subway costs per ride, compared with the rest of the country.

    Also subway per vehicle revenue hour and even per passenger mile, compared with other regional railroads, even though their service pattern lends itself to lower per passenger mile costs.

    And that’s after the “non-reimbursable” costs were apparently added back in.’

    https://larrylittlefield.wordpress.com/2017/05/11/metro-ny-transit-costs-data-from-the-2015-national-transit-database/

  • Joe R.

    I kind of feel the same way. Yes, congestion pricing will certainly improve things over the status quo but it annoys me the same way carbon taxes annoy me. It lets the wealthy do things nobody else can provided they pay for them. I’d rather we just ban private automobiles outright from the more congested parts of the city. Rich or poor, you just won’t have the option of driving there any more. When the wealthy have to get around the same way as the masses I can guarantee there will be political pressure to improve public transit, walking, and biking by people whom the legislature might actually listen to. Along the same lines, in lieu of carbon taxes I’d rather we just tell companies they can’t pollute, period.

  • Joe R.

    Exactly. The MTA needs to open its second set of books for public scrutiny. I for one would like to know where all this money is going.

  • Larry Littlefield

    Don’t you know? It’s being sucked into the past. Those who got the money in the past don’t want that discussed until every one of them are dead or in Florida.

  • Joe R.

    So the larger question is what can we do about it? My personal opinion is that these shady retroactive pension increases weren’t bargained in good faith under full public scrutiny. Rather, they were 3AM deals done by a handful of legislators for political favors. As such, they’re invalid, perhaps even illegal.

    I liken the MTA’s situation to owning a company, having retired employees with vested pensions whom you think are already fully paid for, and then having those same employees bill you again for work done in the past. I doubt such a thing would hold up in court. I’d love to see a test case for NYC’s public employee unions.

  • The mighty Komanoff, getting it done.

    Of course, the real challenge here is trying to sell this to a boneheaded segment of the populace which is immune to rational thought, and which will reflexively reject certain policies on purely ideological grounds, even when those policies will benefit them.

  • Nick Ober

    Didn’t the 2009 plan set the toll cordon at 86th street originally?

  • Komanoff

    Harlem River bridges would remain untolled.

  • Komanoff

    I beg to differ, Larry. Materially improving traffic flow requires that traffic volumes drop only around 15 percent. The remaining 85 percent will constitute a robust revenue stream. Any mis-estimation isn’t really a problem (up to a point), since it means either more revenue (though a somewhat lesser traffic improvement) or more traffic improvement (though somewhat less revenue). It’s a problem we’ll want to have.

  • Komanoff

    Not only that, but neither of @rao’s preferred measure generates a dime of revenue. Indeed, they cost money to implement (and, yes, MNY’s implementation costs are reflected in my net revenue estimate of around $1.5B/y).

  • Komanoff

    Even if congestion tolls are construed as “selling off road space to the highest bidder” (a construction I reject), that would still be preferable to the current system of giving it away for nothing.

  • 1ifbyrain2ifbytrain

    “First, I believe that this city should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of halving the number of cars on our streets”

  • Larry Littlefield

    But remember, transit workers only benefitted from the big one in 2000. They went on strike for 20/50, but didn’t get it, and they don’t have the disability fraud issues of the LIRR/NYPD/NYFD.

    So its mostly debt. And money shifted to the pension issues on the commuter railroads, and former private bus lines.

  • sbauman

    We’ve been looking at the same data source but my analysis differs from yours.

    First, I’m looking only at heavy rail systems. I believe railroads have FRA-related cost factors that make them more costly.

    Second, my efficiency metric is the number of employees per scheduled train trip. This metric is derived by taking the number of employee hours and dividing it by the number of scheduled train hours.

    NYCT comes out dead last (highest in employee count) with 28.77 employees per scheduled train trip. Close behind are: Washington – 27.36; PATH – 26.54; Atlanta – 25.91; BART – 24.12; and Baltimore – 23.21. On the low side are: Cleveland – 9.55; Chicago – 12.47; Staten Island –
    13.64; Los Angeles – 17.01; Philadelphia – 17.85; Boston – 19.08; and Lindelwold 19.71.

    Given Chicago’s low number of employees per scheduled train, I guess Rahm Emmanuel should have some advice to give NYC.

  • Greg Costikyan

    Actually, the PATH is even less efficient.

  • abienyc

    Let’s see: Taxis .50 cents each trip for MTA 30 cents per trip for accessibility and now they want 12% fare increase for congestion pricing. Am I reading this correctly?
    When do the taxi drivers and owners get a fare increase to pay for raises in the cost of living that have risen since the last fare increase in 2012?

  • Tesser

    I don’t know what’s worse: the half-baked congestion pricing, the half-baked Triboro RPA fantasies (20+ years of pitching and going strong!), the half-baked Sandy stuff, or the half-baked Penn Station flops. The Princeton, Columbia, and Yale SoA’s should be cited each time their junk proposals crash and burn

  • Yesi

    Double yes. And calling PATH a subway is laughable

  • Yesi

    Yes, but its more than wording at play. The tech isn’t there. That’s the answer. The tech isn’t there to give each community a fair toll. Instead, its a blanket toll that’s good and bad for a wide swath. In 5 years, the tech will be there. Until then, just DE/ANTI/LESS congestion articles

  • Yesi

    MoNY’s congestion material is good. I wouldn’t put it with the rest. The feds should pull funding if a university scams a community with fable. Alan Plattus and his Yale urban crew left a mountain of unexplained debt in Bridgeport, Conn. Now his workshop is on to the next Yale “brand scam” in Gothenburg. No repercussions.

  • Marci

    The Feds do crack down; it just takes time. Look at Sanders and Burlington College. Plattus will be brought in on charges at some point, but don’t hold your breath. I predict 15 additional Penn Station proposals and 10 additional Triboro proposals until anything happens. Until then, Bridgeport, Groton, Pawtucket, and others should lock up their accounts

  • yourmother

    are you smoking crack Komanoff??? Yellows pay the MTA tax, and yellows paid millions for medallions, why should they pay again now? What a joke

  • Utin

    The F.B.I. should open the books on Alan Plattus. I met him in New York: what a snake oil salesman. And to top things off, Diana Balmori would always take a mental beating from him.

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