45% of New Yorkers Receptive to a Congestion Charge

The congestion charging policy roll-out is officially on the move. Today the Tri-State Transportation Campaign released the findings of a detailed telephone survey conducted last spring in an effort to learn more about how New Yorkers feel about traffic congestion and the idea of making motorists pay more to drive in to the most gridlocked parts of the city. Download TSTC’s report here (PDF). See an excerpt below.

For a sense of why this issue is so sensitive and why the transportation policy community is rolling it out so carefully, check out the lead of today’s Daily News story:

Traffic is so bad that a lot of New Yorkers think there should be more tolls.

While the rest of the News story covers TSTC’s report in a fairly straightforward way, Pete Donohue (or his editor), chose to lead with the scary and the negative — "more tolls." You can imagine Joe Sixpack coming away from this article with images of tollbooths erected along 59th Street. The trick for advocates is going to be to get New Yorkers to come away from articles like these thinking about a faster drive through Midtown, his children not getting asthma, more money for better transit, and most of all — the idea that New York City’s traffic congestion is not an immutable force of nature — it’s a solvable problem.

It’s going to be a huge challenge to get the city’s tabloid media to control its knee-jerk "More Tolls!!?!" reflex and focus on the benefits that people are clamoring for in neighborhoods across the city — less traffic, improved quality of life, better transit, smarter growth, and a healthier city to live, work and raise children. Perhaps it is a good thing that increasing numbers of New Yorkers are turning to blogs for their news, information and analysis.

From the study:


  • P

    I’m excited- it’s hard to imagine how much greater New York would be with less traffic. I’m also nervous, I hope this TSTC and TA are ready for the attacks.

    Don’t mess this up, Queens! You either, Staten Island!

  • da

    I had a few conversations about CG over the weekend and ran into the “argument on behalf of the struggling little guy who is just barely making it” and for some reason absolutely has to drive into or thru Manhattan. According to this argument, congestion charging is regressive because some can afford it better than others, and it creates “two classes of citizens” depending on how affordable it is. I pointed out that there are already two classes, people who own cars and people who don’t. But there will no doubt be more arguments on behalf of the struggling disadvantaged, which attempts to pin CG proponents in the “out of touch liberal elites” trap. I would be interested to hear responses to this argument.

  • Steve

    The results seem odd, with the relatively even distribution of responses to most of the questions. Even among car owners vs. non-car owners, there was not that great a split in opinion as to whether congestion pricing was a good thing. The apparent lack of polarization is surprising.

    Assuming the survey is accurate, the results are great. In fact, I would change the headline of this post since apparently 44% of New Yorkers are already convinced that congestion pricing is a “good thing” (at least in concept), and 12% (the “undecideds”) are presumably receptive to it.

    Whether the hard-core opposition to congestion pricing (presumably, outer-borough car commuters whose daily routine would be disrupted) is strong enough to veto this is unclear; it may be. However, even if it isn’t, there are other constituencies that may join with them to oppose congestion pricing. The survey suggests latent opposition among current mass transit users, who suspect they will suffer from the external costs of congestion pricing (more crowding on mass transit). In addition, there will be defections among Manhattanites who support congestion pricing as a broad concept, when and if the details begin to be debated. For example, what about people who live in the congestion zone and want to make a trip within the zone–do they have to pay to just drive their car around the block? Would taxis have to pay the charge too? What about liveries? And what about enforcement? London appears to use an “honor method” supplemented with limited video surveillance of license plates. I don’t think that would work in NYC. On the other hand, erecting toll booths at every point of access to Manhattan south of 60th St. does not seem feasible either and would draw a lot of local opposition. Even if the outer-borough car-commuters cannot stop congestion pricing alone, the project may falter based on opposition by mass transit users and Manhattanites.

    Planners will do well to thoroughly address and vet the details of implementation with PR consultants before rolling out their plans.

  • marv

    Hopefully Manhattan Institute’s/Bruce Schaller’s report will address that issue among others, da.

    Schaller cites this report which also addresses that question to some extent:

  • g


    Yes, congestion pricing will create two classes of people – those who can afford the tolls and those who can’t – but there are a couple of simple responses to this, some of which were mentioned in earlier discussions on this topic.

    1. The rich will always have a way to get around such increases, especially in a city with so many ultra-wealthy people. High cigarette taxes don’t make much of a dent on the budgets of people paying $14 for cocktails on the Lower East Side, but it does affect poorer recreational smokers who might enjoy a cigarette once in a while. Nevertheless, most data has shown that higher cigarette taxes have helped reduce smoking rates and even stopped some people from picking up the habit. The analogies to congestion pricing are clear: the inconvenience to a few and the ease of avoidance of another few do not outweigh the benefit to the many.

    2. The key to helping the “struggling disadvantaged” is not to forget about congestion pricing simply because it will burden those who must commute by car. (I would bet that most poor people aren’t driving into Manhattan and paying for parking in Midtown.) That’s a misplaced focus. A higher minimum wage, better health care, sustainable infrastructure…all that will help the poor. Money from congestion pricing could be used to improve public transportation to help those who right now have to drive into the city. Also, given recent studies about asthma rates among poor kids in the Bronx, congestion pricing will lead to less car exhaust polluting the city.

    If we can get beyond the knee-jerk “but this will hurt the little guy” responses that will likely fill the tabloids, the evening news, and the comments sections of other blogs, we can focus on the ways in which congestion pricing will actually help the little guy! Less traffic, less pollution, easier trips around the city for conducting business…the benefits far outweigh the lone disadvantage: having to pay for a valuable commodity that once was free.

  • I was hoping New York would get around to this. Living in London since it has been introduced I can say that it has been one of the best moves the city has made. There was (and is) public opinion against it, but over the past few years people have learned to adapt by taking public transport and (god forbid) cycling. I don’t know the exact figures on the increase in cycling since the congestion charge was introduced, but it is safe to say A LOT.

    I wouldn’t mention about making the congestion charge a bit higher for SUVs.


  • mfs

    I’m totally pro-CG, but there is another challenge that advocates will have to face from the left. The potential for this to increase congestion outside the CG zone will impact those communities negatively in terms of environment.

    While I do get that CG suppresses auto trips overall, the experience of the transit strike showed that any traffic slowdown in the collection of tolls will lead to chokepoints and then gridlock in the areas surrounding the CG zone. CG advocates need to show that this won’t happen.

    Overall, unless this is tied to increasing transit in the outer boroughs, it is a no-go. Therefore, it needs strong buy-in from the state.

    Also the administrative burden of having an EZ-pass needs to be dealt with somehow. it’s still a $1 a month charge, right?

  • To us, the key finding of the study is that in an environment where hardly anyone (18%) is familiar with the concept of congestion pricing, 45% think traffic is a bad enough problem to be ready to try it. That suggests that with some strong leadership, it’s something that can be won here.

  • ddartley

    I’m worried about the speeding that emptier streets foster.

    The speed of a lot of cars, taxis in particular, is one of the major reasons a lot of cyclists feel too scared to ride in the City.

    Whether or not congestion pricing happens, speeding has to be enforced against. Too many motorists treat NYC’s Avenues like highways.

    I’m curious–how many speeding tickets are issued in, say, Manhattan, on streets other than the FDR and Henry Hudson?

  • Rob

    I think red light cameras and automatic speeding enforcement systems need to be implemented.

  • Dave

    What is this talk of tollbooths? All you need are EZ-Pass readers on the bridges and whatever entry point you determine (I personally think it should be all of Manhattan: can you imagine what street parking will be like just outside of the congestion zone….unless you implement permit parkign hand-in-hand) so there is no need for physical structures.

  • Much of the conversation about congestion pricing is as if it is an end in itself, just a way to charge for congestion. It really is a means to an end, and we need to better sell it as such.

    Will traffic relief may be a good impetus for looking at this issue, sold to the public as just traffic relief, is never going to be a compelling enough vision and will only get us so far even if accepted. London, for instance, combined their congestion pricing with their “100 Public Spaces” program.

    Congestion pricing needs to be looked at as a very necessary tool, as part of a larger vision for creating great streets, improved access and safety for all modes, a more efficient and equitable transportation system and maintaining and increasing NYC’s competitiveness in the world.

  • Charles Komanoff of the Bridge Tolls Advocacy Project addressed the economic concerns of tolling just the East River crossings below 60th St. (which is largely relevant in the case of congestion pricing everywhere below 60th St.).

    Among other things he found that “East River bridge commuters earn, on average, $14,300 a year more than their neighbors who don’t commute on those bridges”

    The complete study (“East River Bridge Tolls: Who Will Really Pay?”) is at

  • Steve

    I agree with Dave that an EZ-pass system or similar arrangement is definitely the way to go. But you have to have some way to charge the guy with the malfunctioning EZ pass, or who forgets the EZ pass or does not have sufficient value left on it, etc., or else that guy blocks everybody. I suppose you can photo that guy’s license plate and charge by mail (with a surcharge), but such a system would have an error rate and still cause delays, which would become focal points for opposition to congestion charging. Also, my impression is that even the EZ pass alone must be mounted on some type of structure that hangs out into or over traffic in order to work properly. I have enver seen an EZ-pass-like system that did not have an arch over the entire roadway.

    I don’t think any of these details are reasons to oppose congestion charging, but I expect these issues will be at the top of the agenda if and when the congestion charging concept gets real legs. These issues will be raised not only by the auto commuters who have to use the system, but also by the residents of the affected Manhattan neighborhoods who will resent any additional infrastructure or traffic engineering associated with the system (I can already hear the occupants of those homes on Sutton Place in the East 50s with built in garages drawing analogies to Berlin in ’61).

    mfs is right that zone-adjacent congestion will be an issue. During the transit strike a year ago, southbound traffic on Park, Lexington and Second backed up starting at 96th Street for about 5-10 blocks during rush hour. The question is how much worse the congestion could be in the five blocks north of 59th Street than they were during my commute this morning down the East Side. Not much, I would say. Second Avenue is certainly bumpr-to-bumper every morning approaching the bridge. Lexington is only slightly better through 63rd Street due to all the “holiday traffic mitigation” at Bloomies’. Park is similar through 62st, where where triple-parking is the rule in front of the Regency. I can’t speak to the impact on the West side. A comprehensive study of congestion in the five-block swath north of 59th Street and a detailed plan for maintaining or ameliorating it in connection with congestion charging would go a long way to addressing the invetable objections of those living near the dividing line.

    ddartley may be right that speeding would increase due a reduction in congestion within the zone, not only because speeding would become possible but because self-righteous drivers, having paid to get in, may feel entitled to do whatever they want. Offsetting this effect would be the heightened surveillance associated with congestion charging, and the fact that the copes could do a better job of policing less congested roadways. Also, I would anticipate increased aggressiveness of pedestrians and bicyclists who can be every bit as aggressive as drivers in taking over unoccupied roadway. The sum of the roadway encroachments by pedestrians and bicyclists in the post-CG world (along with the fact that drivers “lost” to the CG issue) may bring on a paradigm shift in which dangerous driving is called out more often by cops and civilians. Wishful thinking, I know, but possible.

  • someguy

    I think many of those detailed issues regarding the technology and form of the scheme will be addressed in a forthcoming report from RPA, following up on their 2003 overview study of CP.

  • P

    I think the threat of speeding cars cars can be managed by rededicating road space to other uses. If thousands of fewer cars will be entering Manhattan those drivers will need transportation. This can come in the form of dedicated bus rapid transit lanes shared by bikes. In other places sidewalks could get wider if the need for lane space has diminished.

    Emptier streets should be considered an opportunity not a problem.

  • mfs

    and not just north of 59th. I was actually thinking about the traffic going into downtown brooklyn & LIC. during the strike it was backed up all the way to south williamsburg on surface streets. not that CG would cause that scale of backup, but it represents where the delays will happen.

    looking forward to that RPA study!

  • P

    Why should there be delays, mfs, if there aren’t toll booths?

  • mfs

    as steve said:

    “But you have to have some way to charge the guy with the malfunctioning EZ pass, or who forgets the EZ pass or does not have sufficient value left on it, etc., or else that guy blocks everybody.”

    I would also submit that you have to accomodate tourists (believe it or not, they really do drive into manhattan– i don’t know why), the general public, and long-haul delivery trucks.

    It’s probably a very small percentage (less than 2% is my guess), and there probably is a way to do this without toll booths, but I haven’t heard of a feasible version yet.

  • someguy

    mfs – London’s scheme has no tollboths whatsoever. The only difference between them and us is we have the added complexity of out-of-state cars and trucks, whereas the UK probably has one unified license plate system.

    I don’t know how gov’t license plate databases work in the US, but I assume NY could have access to other state’s registration data, in which case NY’s scheme could work exactly like London’s — those not charged with E-ZPass are charged when their license plate is videotapes. For the few that slip through the cracks, it just needs to be a small enough number that enforcement costs do not substantially detract from the system’s revenues.

  • Mordecai

    My understanding of the London system is that all plates are photographed at entry points to the congestion pricing zone (not “limited surveillance”) and that you have until midnight of the day that you pass into the zone to pay at a website. Otherwise the car owner is billed with a surcharge. Zone residents get special permits to drive without paying the charge. No toll booths, no backups, no honor system, no broken EZ passes. The technology exists and is implemented in a major, cosmopolitan city.

  • mfs

    point taken.

    but expect *some* resistance on the photographing of license plates and the kind of payment system that it’s tied to.

  • Steve

    Mordecai, thanks for the info on London’s system. Do the cars have to slow down in order to have the plates photo’d?

  • Cars do not have to slow down in London.

    There are fixed and mobile cameras both around the boundary and within the charging zone which capture images of the vehicle registration marks (number plates) that have been used in the zone. These images are matched to the database of payments and exemptions and where no match is found a Penalty Charge Notice is issued to the registered keeper.

    Source: This awful URL

    Regarding residents of London:

    If you live in the Congestion Charging
    zone, you can register one private vehicle
    for a 90% discount from the Congestion
    Charge. This is known as a ‘Residents’
    discount’. You must prove that you live
    in the Congestion Charging zone and that
    you own the vehicle.
    The Residents’ discount is only available
    to people who live in properties that are
    mainly used for residential purposes and
    if this is your main or permanent home.
    If you live in the Congestion Charging zone
    you can park off the public roads or, if you
    have an on-street Residents’ parking
    permit, in a Residents’ parking bay within
    your local parking zone, without paying the
    Congestion Charge, as long as you do not
    move the vehicle during the hours of the
    scheme (7am to 6.30pm Monday to

    Source: http://www.cclondon.com/downloads/ResidentsLiving.pdf

  • someguy

    Steve – no. They don’t even know where the cameras are. And the cameras are not just at the entries to the zone – they are throughout the zone.

  • Why does everyone talk about all the poor people who will be so adversely affected by CP? By and large, poor people in NYC do not own cars, or if they do (family cars, etc), those vehicles are not often used to commute in the CBD. Look at income to car-ownership numbers in NYC and you’ll see this is a paper tiger that Weprin/Queens Chamber of Commerce keep feeding.

  • I’ll never understand why the Queens Chamber of Commerce opposes congestion charging…. If people are driving into Manhattan less frequently, won’t they be spending more money shopping locally in Queens?

  • CHG

    The city would also need to get serious about city employees getting a free pass on parking as they now do. Expect that any resident discount will go to numerous city employees who do not actually live in the congestion charging zone.

  • Issues raised by Steve in #3 about reasons for opposition to c.p., among both auto and transit users, will be addressed in my report being released by the Manhattan Institute next week. It’s important to understand the varied reasons that people oppose c.p. to design a program that can gain public support.
    I’d also like to underline the points made by Orcutt in #8 — the Tri-State poll is encouraging in the level of support given the low level of awareness — and Ethan in #132 — c.p. should be part of a larger vision. My report will have more to say about both.
    Meanwhile, I recommend Mike Flynn’s excellent review of the issues and the literature, noted in #4, and Jeff Zupan’s 2003 RPA report (http://rpa.org/projects/transportation/congestion.html).
    For an international overview of the literature on public acceptance of road pricing, see Urban Road Pricing Acceptance – http://www.imprint-eu.org/public/BJORN.pdf

  • Mordecai

    Somewhat tangential, but responding to CHG (28): I got an email from the Mayor’s office responding to some TA form letter I sent in about parking passes, in which they made the point that the city has been cutting back, but the state and feds are continuing to issue passes with abandon, with no accountability to the city.


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