Will the Critics Kill Congestion Pricing?

Representative Anthony Weiner,  New York’s 9th Congressional District

In his latest article for the Gotham Gazette, Bruce Schaller, head of Schaller Consulting, and author of  "CITYinFLUX: Understanding and Untangling Traffic and Transportation in NYC" writes that the the most biting criticism of congestion pricing, mostly coming from representatives of areas outside of Manhattan, is the claim that a fee is an unfair tax on the working person:

U.S. Representative Anthony Weiner, who plans to run for mayor in 2009,
charged that the proposal "creates class conflict" and constitutes a
"regressive tax on working middle-class families and small-business

Yet the fact is that outer borough auto
commuters tend to have higher incomes than subway commuters, so a fee
that improves transit is actually more equitable than the current
system. In fact, auto commuters who use the free bridges are being
subsidized by transit users whose taxes pay for bridge reconstruction
and maintenance. Is that equitable?

Schaller goes on to challenge the skeptics:

Opponents will have to respond to the public’s increasing focus
on environmental aspects of this issue. The mayor pointed out that
childhood asthma rates are four times higher in the city than
nationally. How unfair are steps to reduce vehicle emissions that carry
these severe health effects? Given the public’s desire to see something done about traffic
congestion, opponents will also have to convince people suggest that they have a better idea.

Councilmember Weprin called for "simple traffic mitigation
alternatives to reduce congestion," but the city has made major avenues
one-way, timed signals to maximize traffic flow, restricted turns and
taken numerous other auto-friendly steps. Will the public buy the idea
that a few more tweaks will significantly reduce congestion, especially
in light of the anticipated city’s growth?

Congestion pricing clearly faces an uphill climb. But the more
New Yorkers understand the benefits of the mayor’s entire plan, the
more support congestion pricing is likely to increase.

Photo: smoothdude/Flickr

    The problem with the traffic is that we all want get to where we want to go, and we want every traffic light and intersection we approach to give us a clear run so we don’t have to stop at a single intersection.
    Not possible you say?
    Well you would be wrong!
    The simple solution to traffic jams and congestion is to design a road system that lets you do this.
    Well we have that solution.
    This allows all vehicles that approach any intersection on or to an arterial road to enter the intersection and exit it without stopping. All day, every day, in the worst peak hour traffic and save up to 40per cent on fuel costs and pollution emissions.

    At http://www.ubtsc.com.au are models that allow everyone approaching an intersection to do exactly that!
    People mentioned in this article are invited to visit and prove for themselves that we can design a city traffic infrastructure that eradicates congestion,jams, and gridlock.

    In the response and reply to our initial communication addressed to Secretary of Transportation, Dr Mary E. Peters the DOT states that Liquid Flow Traffic Management addresses “a number of successful practices for addressing traffic congestion related to the infrastructure”.

    Under the section Matter Propulsion there is a Public Transport System that is Zero polluting.
    This is the future!

    Jozef Goj CEO, UBTSC Pty Ltd

  • Happy Camper

    JoZef, dude, this is manhattan , streets not a freeway system …

    this being said, the question is not , how much to pay for less of osmthing but how much ot pay for more of something …

    Hence the question how much drivers woudl pay to reduce their commute by 15 minutes ???

    Try that on Queens ..

  • af

    The problem with your reasoning is that it almost certainly will not significantly reduce car trips if people have no better options, like when gasoline prices rise, demand for driving is inelastic, people drive because they have to. Nothing in Bloomberg’s plan will change that fact.

  • pete

    Kind of twisted logic to say subway users subsidize drivers. When we all know public transportation is well-subsidized.
    Idea of congestion pricing not necessarily bad but need to look at other options and be clearer on objectives.
    I have said before that I don’t believe NYC residents driving to midtown (or Wall St area) is major factor in congestion in the area. I maintain they are few and far between – that cabs, delivery trucks and limos (car service) is by far the vast majority of traffic and limos make congestion worse when they are ‘standing’ -taking up curbside space waiting for next call.
    If want to move traffic faster – reduce # of cabs and limos by taxing the fares extra $5 per ride.
    Also, since TLC regulates the industry – insist on hybrid electric and much smaller vehicles for yellow cabs and limos.
    Reduce by 75% government license plate/vehicles and special parking permits that allow they gross abuse – this includes city and state. Court system and police department are worse offenders.

  • well, first i must say that restricting turns is most definately not car friendly. it was a misguided attempt at reducing car congestion, while pissing off everyone.

    now to address these comments:

    1.we cannot tear down and re-construct our streets to facilitate better traffic, we tried years ago, it was awful, it ruined communities.

    2. we definately should regulate abuse of power in parking

    3. while taxi’s and limos contribute heavily to traffic, they tend to move, all the other vehicles don’t, especially delivery vehicles. We need to re-work the regulations on deliveries. What if all deliveries were made from midnight to 5 in the morning?

    Also, all new medalions being issued are only for hybrids, and handicapped access taxis, and maybe natural gas taxis. within 2 years the ford crown victoria will stop production, and hopefully all taxis will be ford escape hybrids.

  • jr

    Let King Juan Carlos in on the fleecing operation, him and his Cintra LOVE buying up tax funded roadways to use as private for-profit toll roads, lets just give away all of our infrastructure to foreign quasi govermental conglomerates aka public private partnerships, aka fascism. Cant wait to be fleeced.

  • bim

    stretch limos should be outlawed! there is no reason for them. they are long for reasons of vanity. there is no reason for them to be out on the streets – especially on new york city streets.

  • Tin Hat

    Weirdness galore here.

  • ly

    Pete says NYC residents driving into Manhattan are not a significant source of congestion. Research has shown him to be wrong, of course. More than half of the drivers on Manhattan streets come from within the five boroughs.


  • Nicolo Macchiavelli

    This series of comments, in response to the rare piece that directly addresses the politics of the situation just shows how poorly developed a political strategy is the Mayor’s congestion pricing approach. Nice shot of Weiner though, making him appear hysterical. Unfortunately his strategy is not hysterical. Hysterical would be what happens to your reader/responders the minute actual politics are brought up. They all want to do something different. Weiner on the other hand has his finger in the air and has determined, without regard to the policy value, which way the political winds blow. It is sort of an “angry white man” strategy for the next election but he has done well with that in the past. And, there is a clear class character to his jeremiads. Meanwhile all the other politicians, Markowitz, Quinn, Thompson, the whole cast of characters, are still trying to extract promises for the financial proceeds of congestion pricing that they can take credit for before supporting Mayor Mike. Ultimately they will have to distinguish themselves from Bloomberg to give their campaigns a reason for being. Weiner will by then be taking credit among the drivers in the outer boroughs for having stopped the evil rich man Bloomberg from attempting good policy.

    We all know that the majority of New Yorkers do not own cars but do we know what percentage of registered voters do? My guess is that Weiner does.

  • JK

    Niccolo (your “C” seems to have slid from your first name to last. The great republican thinker spelled his name Niccolò Machiavelli.)

    Bloomberg’s timing and political strategy may be imperfect, but this could very well be the best shot at a desperately needed public policy we will have for decades. Politicians are always able to score points for NIMBY or preserving the status quo — especially in New York. So what? When the magnitude of the MTA fiscal crises hits home next year there is going to be a scramble to do something. The mayor, big business the enviros and just about every civic group have laid out their proposal. The political burden will be on the pricing opponents to explain why there will be a $3 base fare and monstrous hikes in the MTA taxes. The people of New York City can decide to support dysfunctional government (they certainly have in the past.)

    In any event, we haven’t seen any of the marketing or advertising buys that pricing supporters supposedly have in the works. That could move the public perception needle.

  • NIccolo’ Machiavelli

    Thank you for the correct observation.

    Unfortunately that is about all I agree with in your post. Though you are hammering the right nails.
    1) Best shot? – sorry, best shot was after 911, since that has passed this could be second best shot or third best shot, but best shot has clearly passed. And Mayor Mike let it pass, with applause from Sam Schwartz. Now we have lame duck time, always a good time to trot out good policy that you failed to push during your time in power. In my book that is not real brave, independent political thinking, recognizing the crisis at hand.
    2)Status Quo scoring? while Mayor Mike let the above moment pass through his fingers he never replace the money the city sucked out of the MTA capital plan giving him substantial responsibility for both the status quo ante and post. So now it is hard for Bloomburg to make promises to the outer borough chieftans for the many worthy outstanding, undone transportation projects when most of the money raised from congestion pricing is only going to replace funds cut earlier by everyone since Koch and Cuomo.
    3) MTA financial crisis? There is plenty of blame to go around for the projected crisis, but the operative word is “projected”. The crisis has never hit home because the Mortgage Recording and Urban Tax revenues have remained high. The MTA cancelled a “projected” fare increase last December.
    Of course in the long run there is a crisis. But I think it was Keynes (check spelling on that one too for me will you) that said “in the long run we are all dead”. But that is the problem with the tax, spend and borrow cycle that drives modern American politics.

    What congestion pricing does is transfer money from one group to the other. And, the MTA is cut out of part of the money raising (and control) of the entire transportation economy of which it is but one player. Why is that tranfer better than the commuter tax, or real estate taxes, or sales taxes or any other tranfers? You’ve made the case to me but I don’t have a majority of votes on the City Council or the Assembly or the Senate. What is to keep the city from giving the congestion pricing revenues to ferry operations, or dollar vans, or stock car tracks on Staten Island?
    4)Political Burden? – thats the issue and that is why the political moment has passed six years ago. I think it is doing a little consciousness raising but the hope of actually acheiving something is passing us by. Of course, when the bonds have to be paid off and people still want the Second Avenue Subway and a Ferry to the Rockaways maybe then something will happen, maybe they will just borrow more money, or to imitate Jersey, maybe sell the Brooklyn Bridge. That should be an easy way out for a few years.
    5) Advertising and marketing? I guess I’d rather Bloomburg spend his money on this than his next political campaign.

  • JK

    Excellent point, I couldnt agree more that the months after 9/11 were a golden moment of opportunity for congestion pricing, a big hike in the federal gas tax and a lot of other things.

    I have a more positive read on the benefits of the mayor’s plan for the MTA. For instance, PlaNYC P. 161 says:
    The MTA system is still nearly $15 billion away from a state of good repair, only $5.5 billion of which has a dedicated source of funding-leaving a gap of $9.5 billion for work that is to begin after 2010.

    We believe that achieving good repair is as fundamental as expanding the
    system, and will seek to have the SMART Authority provide the MTA with a one-time grant to cover its unfunded need to achieve a full state of good repair.
    Sounds pretty good for the MTA. The mayor of NYC has to have some ownership of the MTA or transit funding if he is to be expected to champion it. SMART creates that ownership.

  • pete

    When I said I didn’t think NYC drivers were major source of the congestion (even though they make up more than 1/2 of people that drive to work) is that congestion in mid-town is taxis, limos, delivery trucks, service vehicles, etc.
    So I’m suggesting attacking real problem of congestion – tax the cab fares and limo fares,
    limit size of these vehicles and insist they switch to hybrids.
    Commuters drive to work and park somewhere. (in midtown in expensive garages). They are not driving around all day for the hell of it.
    I think more analysis is needed on car commuters and why driving. We know gov’t workers have higher % – because of ease of getting ‘parking permits’ That must end…and if Bloomberg were serious he could do that immediately with state approval.
    I would venture that many who drive to work in Manhattan don’t work so close to subway station
    (example all the hospitals along far east side).
    I think the congestion pricing as proposed will be very expensive (little revenue exceeding cost to impliment and run) and not very effective.
    It is easy to be for this – if you have easy access to subway and decent commute time. But for many city residents that is not the case.
    My gut feeling is this is going nowhere because state will not approve.
    (for the record I take subway and sometimes even walk home from Midtown)

  • Sproule Love

    Regarding post no. 12:

    Niccolo, the difference between congestion pricing and the taxes you mention (sales, commuter and real estate) is that we want to reduce congestion, not any of those other things. That’s the purpose of the congestion tax. Yes, it generates revenue, but it’s a transfer from people who choose to drive to the people who suffer from that choice or don’t have a choice to begin with.

    Sure, you can pessimistically challenge government’s ability to handle revenue responsibly, but can you really argue that the free market deals well with traffic? We’ve got an opportunity for real change here, so stop your belly-aching and write your electeds instead of spending so much time on StreetsBlog!

    Regarding post no. 14:

    Pete, Bruce Schaller’s exhaustive research shows that the majority of people in NYC who drive to work within the city DO have public transport options, and are fairly well-off (the two major criticisms of pricing):


    And London’s experience shows that congestion pricing isn’t expensive in the way you mention – it generates revenue, plain and simple. In NYC it would be pretty straight-forward: cameras and EZ-Pass readers. We already have a lot of both around New York, so this does not require a crippling investment in infrastructure.

    We’re at a tipping point here, and Mayor Mike, with almost three years left in his term, is hardly a lame duck. He’s talking the talk, and by contacting our reps in city and state government we can improve his chances of success. The “developing” world is way ahead of us on this one, people…let’s change that! How many international examples do we need until we’re embarrassed into action?


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