Rumor Mill: Sustainability Announcement Tomorrow

Word has it that the Bloomberg Administration’s new Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability will unveil its first work product this coming Wednesday, November 15. It looks like this initial public announcement will be oriented more around the problems that the new office is thinking about and working on rather than the solutions. The solutions, I am told, may start to emerge as a part of the Mayor’s State of the City speech in January.

There are high hopes that tomorrow’s public unveiling, whatever it may show, begins to lay the groundwork for a serious traffic reduction program in New York City, perhaps in the form of London-style congestion charging. With this year’s elections out of the way there is no longer any worry that the inevitably difficult public discussion of congestion charging might force a gubernatorial candidate into a corner. Governor Elect Spitzer’s vow to raise subway fares only as a last resort almost guarantees an MTA fiscal crisis in the coming months. Might a fiscal crisis also serve as the impetus for a congestion charging push? Among political insiders there is a feeling that the only possible way to sell congestion charging to New York is in response to a serious crisis. In other words, the Doctor needs to make it clear that the patient is sick and needs to make dificult, but ultimately fulfilling, lifestyle changes.

janette.jpgWe have heard that the Partnership for New York City’s secretive, years-long congestion charging study is far along in its analysis and modeling. The project is being masterminded by Janette Sadik-Khan at Parsons Brinckerhoff (pictured right). A serious candidate for DOT commissioner when Michael Bloomberg was first elected mayor, Sadik-Khan’s resume includes a stint as the Director of the Mayor’s Office of Transportation for New York City during the Dinkins Administration. Transportation consultant Bruce Schaller is also working on a congestion charging study for the conservative think tank, the Manhattan Institute.

All of which leads us to a more pressing issue: Can anyone out there come up with a better name for it than "congestion charging?"

Traffic Relief Zone, anyone?

  • “Value Pricing” has been used. I’m not sure it’s much better though.

  • how about Destruction Charge

  • P

    Exactly- emphasizing the pain rather than the gain is not a savvy political maneuver. Not only that, it doesn’t reflect the goal of the program- there is not inherent value in charging cars to enter Manhattan, it is the benefit of reducing traffic and improving the quality of life of millions of people that is worth the cost and effort.

  • Clarence

    Make drivers feel like they are getting a bargain:

    Driving Premium

    Vehicle Express Upgrade

    Anti-Gridlock Initiative Fee

    Okay, maybe a little silly, but I think if there is some kind of term that will work better, it will be one emphasizing to drivers that if they pay it they will get to work faster while at the same time making residents feel as if drivers are paying a fair share back to the city that will make our city a more livable place.

    Does that term exist?

  • Super G

    Is there any chance that congestion charging could be branded as part of the E-ZPass system? Most New York drivers are familiar with the concept of E-ZPass and have a favorable opinion of it. (Think about the exhilaration one feels as one zooms past a backup at the toll plaza.) Rather than introducing something new and scary, it could be presented as a logical extension of a system already in place.

  • Call it Congestion Dividend — that’s the per-capita payment every resident gets if road-pricing revenues are divided equally. Annual revenues of, say, $800 million (approx’ly what the City would get from tolling the free East River bridges at the TBTA rate) equate to a Congestion Dividend of $100 per New Yorker.

  • One problem with E-ZPass is that it tends to mask the price signal. You drive thru and pay whatever. That’s not so much a problem where a new toll is implemented at a free facility (that’s a price signal people notice) but more at long-tolled facilities where agencies are now trying to stave off gridlock, like Hudson River crossings where the E-ZPass charge varies by $2 from peak to off-peak. We have tried to talk to the Port Authority about including text on E-ZPass invoices that say “Peak Price!” or “Off-Peak Discount” next to the $6 or $4 charges, but I don’t think that appears on the bill yet.

  • I agree with Super G’s point about EZ-Pass. Maybe CitiPass, to go along with the new CitiField.

    Seriously though, I like the idea of a more positive sounding name. But doesn’t that run the risk of coming off as a cheap euphemism? I can just imagine angry NJ and LI commuters mocking any name that tried to give a positive spin to the toll.

  • That said, I think Super G is on a good track in terms of positioning the issue.

  • I don’t know Clarence, I rather liked the “Driving Premium Vehicle Express Upgrade Anti-Gridlock Initiative Fee.” Sounded like something out of an exciting new Ford commercial!

    We can even shuffle the words around to come up with a catchy acronym, like PEDU-VAGI – sweet!

    But Super G’s idea is really good, too. I nominate EZ-Pass Extreme. Or maybe EZ-Pass Central Business District Edition…

    Seriously, though, EZ-Pass Premium wouldn’t be a bad one.

  • Clarence

    How about one called:

    EZ Pass CCR (EZ Pass Car Commercial Rates)

    This would be a rate you would pay where you could drive like cars do in every commerical in Manhattan, no other cars on the streets, no gridlock, and hardly a pedstrian or biyclist in view. (And of course wet streets, gotta have wet streets so it looks cool!)

    Of course it would be lie, but hey commercials lie all the time.

  • anon42

    Feh. You want acronyms, I’ll give you acronyms:

    Finance-Assisted Relief of Traffic

    Community-Led Initiative for Traffic-Oriented Relief on Inundated Streets

    New Inside Passage Pricing for Land Enhancement

    But the real hotness these days is two words scrunched together (i.e. Vision42, SolarOne or StreetsBlog). So what you really want is:

    CongestionFree (makes people think it’s free)

    StreetPass (evoke EZ-Pass without being it)

    TransitNext (cheesy)

    GoNYC (oops, already taken?)

    PayGo (that too, huh?)

    FunkTown59 (for that retro positive kick)

  • Well that was silly.But
    hey, "StreetPass" actually sounds pretty good…  Maybe then you can
    have a Manhattan StreetPass, a Brooklyn StreetPass, etc. for various
    congestion areas.  Or just one for them all…

  • Sproule

    Sorry to kill the wordsmithing, but why come up with a new name, when EZ-Pass is clearly the easiest way to administer something like this? As was mentioned before, we already have peak pricing in NYC: The toll at the GWB is $2 less at off peak hours with EZ-Pass. The problem is that the price signal is not strong enough. If that is adjusted, everyone will get EZ-Pass and everyone will know when the rates change. The infrastructure is already mostly in place, and EZ-Pass is it, up and down the Eastern seaboard. I think the only valid criticism of congestion pricing is the regressive nature of the charges, and this can be addressed with a subsidy for low-income folks (how can suburban commuters complain while they’ve enjoyed the repeal of the commuter tax?). That wouldn’t be easy to administer, but there’s an equitable solution out there. Hey, a kid can dream. 

  • Anon,

    For the record, it’s "Streetsblog" not "StreetsBlog."

  • jk

    Congestion Relief ZoneCongestion Relief DistrictCongestion Relief AreaOr substitute "traffic" for congestion in any of above.  I agree that the positive should be emphasized, though EZ Pass is the means to the end, not the end. We dont call the George Washington Bride, the EZ Pass Bridge. Why would we call the Congestion Relief Zone/District the EZ Pass District?  

  • Nicolo Macchiavelli

    How bout. Bus, taxi and truck productivity differential.

  • Steve

    I myself am a fan of “CityPass.” It tells drivers that this is something you need if you are going to drive into the City, while also mentally linking up with EZ-Pass. It’s short, sweet, and doesn’t sound negative or wonky, like “congestion charge.”

  • someguy

    CityPass is good except it makes it sound kind of exclusive and authoritarian/big brother-ish.  i also like Congestion Relief Zone or Traffic Relief Zone.  those are good suggestions.  i could talk about the theory and policy road pricing all day, but my creativity in naming it is a bit lacking.

  • Sam

    Why not make it so that each vehicle gets a set number of credits a day, and driving on expressways (this would be harder to implement on regular streets) cost a number of credits based on how congested it is? And they could implement it by putting variable signs near ramps saying "this expressway costs _ credits to drive on", each car would have an EZ-Pass like tag that also shows the number of credits left, and when going on the ramp, a machine on the side would deduct the number of credits.

  • Zach

    "EZPass Central" 

  • ManhattanGuestPass

  • Hey Sproule, Where are all these low-income people who drive?  That’s the argument the Queens Chamber of Commerce is spouting, but looking at car-ownership to income rates, you realize it’s a Paper Tiger extraordinaire.  The Pratt Center for Community Development is doing some great work on Transportation Equity, and one of the things that their data show is just how flimsy this retort about taxing poor people really is. 

  • We could require everyone who passes into the city by car to contribute a small shrubbery……perhaps on Earth Day or Its My Park Day. 

  • DB

    Efficiency Nut – Can you point me to Pratt’s data? Rep. Weiner makes a similar populist, anti-CP argument as the Queens CofC and I’d like to find some counter data.  I can’t find anything about Transportation Equity on Pratt’s website.

  • Someone who knows

    “We could require everyone who passes into the city by car to contribute a small shrubbery…… ”

    Presumably the toll booths would be manned by the knights who say “nee” .

  • someguy

    There’s plenty of data on transportation vs. income out there. Check out previous studies on congestion pricing by Komanoff, Schaller, RPA (Zupan & Perrotta), etc. The NYC Independent Budget Office did a study on bridge tolling a few years ago. Also plain-old census data (long-form) would allow you to cross reference vehicle ownership with income. The Census Transportation Planning Package (available from their website) has more detailed transportation analyses.

  • mfs

    for the “poor people driving problem”, London has ably addressed this by using the money from the congestion charge to expand the capacity of existing transit.

    Similarly, NYC should address this by adding express bus, BRT, and/or heavy rail capacity to the northern bronx, queens, staten island, and outer brooklyn.

  • Clarence

    Speaking about paper tigers: Back when Bloomberg was first mulling over tolls years ago, Marty Markowitz went into a full press frenzy. On one occassion he talked about tolls and how people from Brooklyn would stop going to Broadway shows, and how people from Manhattan would no longer come to BAM for their events because of the added tolls and the burden on drivers.

    Errr…yeah…I guess that $5 toll would be enough to stop people from driving to Times Square. I can see it now…

    Woman: “Honey, should I get those tickets to “Wicked”?”

    Man: “Yes, I can’t wait! I have wanted to see that forever!”

    Woman: “Oh, but…well even though we are going to spend $200 on tickets and probably more on an expensive dinner before hand, we are gonna have to pay that toll to cross the Brooklyn Bridge in our car. That toll is gonna break our wallet, maybe we shouldn’t go?”

    Man: “Yeah I guess we will just sit here and do nothing.”

    When congestion pricing gets closer, we must be prepared for paper tigers….

  • BAM’s position on tolls was dumb for another reason: there’s a lot more drivers in Brooklyn than in Manhattan, so “forcing” motorists to look for entertainment in their home borough would come out as a positive for BAM.


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