Congestion Pricing: The Public Conversation Begins

The New York Sun has the first of what will be a littany of congestion pricing stories coming out in the next few months. Finally, with city and state elections out of the way, New York City is about to embark on a substantive discussion of its transportation, traffic congestion and long-term sustainability issues. Some excerpts below:

While Mayor Bloomberg publicly maintains that the city is not interested in charging drivers a fee to enter Midtown Manhattan’s business district during its busiest hours, four independent groups are quietly conducting studies to determine how imposing such a charge could reduce city traffic and benefit the economy. The studies, set to be released within the next few months, could renew pressure on the mayor to consider instating the fees known as congestion pricing.

The Partnership for New York City, a group of 200 CEOs from New York’s leading investment firms, will release a study in two weeks on the impact of traffic on the city’s economy. "Congestion is a serious problem and other cities are finding solutions," the president and CEO of the partnership, Kathryn Wylde, said. "There’s been a lot of analysis of air pollution, health effects, and fuel costs of congestion, but there really hasn’t been anything on what impact traffic congestion has on the cost of doing business in the city." Congestion pricing, along with greater enforcement of parking regulations and improving mass transit options, is one option the group is studying.

Additional studies are being conducted by Bruce Schaller for the Manhattan Institute, which is hosting a panel discussion on the issue on December 7, the Regional Plan Association, and Transportation Alternatives. The fact that City Council Speaker Christine Quinn was, essentially, given her job by the powerful Queens Democrat machine will be a factor in the conversation about congestion pricing:

City Council Member David Weprin, who represents eastern Queens, has emerged as the leading critic of congestion pricing. "There are people in Eastern Queens and Staten Island and other parts of the city who are not near public transportation. I don’t want to discriminate against those individuals," Mr. Weprin said.


  • Instead of arguing against congestion pricing, which would probably only affect a small minority of his constituents and might reduce pollution from the Long Island Expressway and Grand Central Parkway, which both run through his district, Weprin should consider asking for more bus and train services for his constituents. And where could that money come from.

    Well I dunno, maybe a congestion price on the Manhattan CBD, a good 15 miles from his district.

    And maybe if there was congestion pricing, the small number of people who do drive into the CBD might actually be able to get there quicker.

  • Steve

    Regarding the following statement:

    “There are people in Eastern Queens and Staten Island and other parts of the city who are not near public transportation. I don’t want to discriminate against those individuals,” Mr. Weprin said.

    Discriminate? The notion that congestion pricing “discriminates” against car owners living distant from public transportation ignores that these people can drive their cars to a subway station or bus stop.

    It also presumes that the city should be subsidizing private auto transport for those sections of New York, by providing and maintaining a network of free roadways and parking spaces and accepting an unreasonable burden of pollution and safetey hazards posed by inordinate congestion. It would be unthinkable for the city subsidize travel from Queens and Staten Island to Manhattan by shuttling people between those destinations in livery cabs (think of Hevesi’s wife). The current system of devoting millions in public money to maintaining a system of free roads, bridges and parking spots to invite motorists to come and pollute and congest Manhatan streets is no less a subsidy. Rhetoric of “discrmination” only obscures the underlying reality of who is subsidizing whom.

    The “real” discrimination is the failure to adequately extend public transportation to Eastern Queens and Staten Island. Let’s dedicate the proceeds from the congestion procing in Manhatan to public transportation in the outer boroughs and dispense with rhetoric about “discrimination.”

    For a long time, you might have argued that Manhattanites were “discriminating against” Staten Island by sending all of their garbage there to be landfilled. That system was wrong and it is finally coming to an end, in large part due to the vocal efforts of Staten Island residents. Did anyone worry that Manhattanites would be “discriminated against” if they did not have an equal right to dump their garbage in Fresh Kills?

  • Dave

    I have posted before and am a Manhattan resident and full supporter of congestion pricing; tolls on bridges, etc.–essentailly anything to reduce traffic in Manhattan.

    The one issue that I have yet to hear raised is the impact of congestion on the ability of the police and fire departments to move freely to a crisis; to get ambulances to hospitals; fire trucks to fires and the like.

    One would also think that given the acknowledged terrorist threat in the city, there would be political motivation to reduce traffic to allow the police greater freedom of movement in Manhattan.

    Let’s hope these four reports, in addition to economic impact, also mention health, terrorism and other impacts on the city as a result of too much traffic.

  • That’s very true Dave. In fact the reason given by Ray Kelly for the new police parade rules is exactly that – police, ambulances and fire vehicles need to get around town and any traffic obstruction is a threat, even if they are on bikes. Restrictions on free speech and assembly are currently under consideration and will probably go into effect because the DOT and the Mayor can’t figure out how to tame traffic!

    They already can’t get around town now!

  • Boulder, Colorado just instituted a carbon tax.
    here is the link:
    there is s story in the times from last week buts behind the firewall now

    maybe one way to tax drivers is through their carbon usage…that is if congestion charging doesn’t work with the politicians here. It could have a similar effect as congestion charging but not limited to a specific neighborhood.

  • Yabbut, Jason, the Boulder “carbon” tax only applies to carbon emitted in the home based on the number of kilowatt hours. Cars aren’t included. Which makes it a half-measure, since about half of the carbon released in the U.S. is from cars and “light trucks”.

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