Congestion Pricing Op-Art: The Joke’s on Whom?


Cartoonist, writer and former Ford Motor Company employee Bruce McCall offers this "Wouldn’t it be funny if.." rendition of post-congestion pricing Manhattan, from Sunday’s New York Times (click here for the full illustration). As with his confounding and flip Atlantic Yards illo from a year ago, it’s hard to discern what McCall is trying to say here.

Or is it? One Streetsblog tipster, referring to the piece as "egregious," wrote of the Times: "They really don’t get it." Yet the NYT has published numerous pro-pricing editorials as well.

What’s your take?

  • gecko

    Transportation engineers gone wild.

  • Dan

    Read the intro to McCall’s futurama book, or whatever its called — the one with all the 60’s style fantasy automobile illustrations. To McCall and plenty of others in his baby boomer cohort, the car still represents freedom, mobility, power, fun, sex, etc.

    These ideas were drilled into our parents hearts and minds for 30 years via jack kerouac novels, beach boys songs, james dean movies and zillions of dollars in ad campaigns. McCall’s cartoon should be read from that perspective. He is the baby boomer who simply can’t grasp that the automobile is no longer a freedom machine. It is unthinkable to many of this generation that we should view the automobile as undesirable and “the open road” as a commodity rather than a birthright.

  • Ask any out-of-towner and they’ll tell you that this is what NYC already looks like. You must pay pay pay. The thing is, it makes it seem like cars are the tip of the iceberg or slippery slope to other forms of congestion pricing. When the point is to make people want to use other mans to get in to town, not charge them too.

    Still, I found “no menus” funny.

    I don’t think this is awful, people will have a lot of emotional issues with congestion pricing. And laughter may help them work those issues out.

  • “Transportation engineers gone wild.”

    Am I the only one who thinks this would make a great show?

  • “He is the baby boomer who simply can’t grasp that the automobile is no longer a freedom machine. It is unthinkable to many of this generation that we should view the automobile as undesirable and “the open road” as a commodity rather than a birthright.”

    Well said. That’s why he can’t see any reason to to charge people on foot or bikes for using the city too. The impact that cars have must be invisible.

  • Well, it sure beats me what could be considered funny about this cartoon. At least Day by Day gives you big boobs, and Mallard Fillmore gives you a duck.

    Not only is it not funny, but the message is totally obscure. A toll booth- so what?

    Come to think of it, it’s kinda like the stuff the Ford design team creates, the Ford factory makes, and the Ford company sells. He should have kept his day job.

  • Anne

    Well, there is a lot less traffic on the other side of that big toll booth! Looks good to me.

  • v

    haha, i think it’s kinda funny. especially the mandatory car wash.

    in other news, i can’t wait for ziploc bag sales at airport security lines.

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    You cut off the bottom part where he says that there will be “stiff tolls” on foot traffic, in addition to the $4 bike toll. Because after all, “everyone” drives everywhere, right? So if “everyone” is being tolled, then “everyone” will soon be tolled on every mode of transportation – cycling, hitchhiking, etc. This shows that McCall, like Brodsky and Weprin, are incapable of understanding that the point of congestion pricing is to prioritize foot, bike and bus traffic over car traffic.

    Speaking of buses, you’ll notice that there are none in McCall’s picture. Or subways or Metro-North. I guess they wouldn’t fit in with his idea of “everyone” being tolled.

  • mork

    It’s an “Op-Art”. Like any “Op-Ed” it has nothing to do with what the editorial page writers think — and is often presented as a counterpoint to that.

  • glennQ

    The congestion tax will do nothing to reduce congestion. The only reduction is in civil liberties. I think the new tax sets a dangerous precedent for America.
    Would someone explain how trucks would use mass-transit (or walk, LOL) instead of paying the tax (and forwarding the cost to everyone)? Logic would dictate that cars would pay the $21.00 fee, and trucks less-to-zero…

  • Chris


    Congestion pricing has a large precedent for success (London, Stockholm, etc.) Why do you say it will not work?

    Truck deliveries have a higher potential for changing their schedules than the (very, very, very few) people that have to drive. They also stand to have some of the highest benefit from reduced congestion. For example, a delivery truck can make more deliveries and be more productive. The extra business that it makes can easily more than make up for the fee. There is setting up the precedent that the more space you use on a road, the more you pay.

  • nick

    “The original concept of congestion pricing, which was held up in Albany, didn’t make stuck-up Manhattan smartypants suffer enough, rural New York politicos explain — so they’ve added new hinderances, extra confusion and more tolls to make Gothamites squirm.”

    That’s the caption at the top, which is cropped out on this page. I thought this was more a jab at the influence rural politicians have over city matters.

  • Classic New York Times – you don’t know what we’re talking about because we don’t know what we’re talking about either, but we sure do use a lot of words…so we must be witty, or anyway, trust us, very smart.

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    That kind of makes sense, Nick, but I’m not aware of any rural politicians that are exerting influence, unless you count Bruno. The opponents have all been from the suburbs or the city. Sheldon Silver’s district is not rural, and neither is David Weprin’s. Elmsford: definitely not rural.

    McCall’s thinking on this, as with the Atlantic Yards cartoon, is just baffling, and not in a wacky R. Crumb kind of way.

  • Eric

    I was one of those (few, apparently) who thought McCall was skewering the phony Atlantic Yards “scaleback,” and I actually think he’s being ironic with this cartoon, too.

    Maybe I have him all wrong, but my take is he’s making fun of the “congestion pricing as the apocalypse” mindset of Weprin, Brodsky and others.

  • Joe Rappaport

    Apocalypse Now: I think you’re on target, Eric, at least with your view of this cartoon. (I haven’t taken a look at the Atlantic Yards cartoon.)

    At least this is how I interpreted it. I think there is a good chance we can get the car-wash thing in the final legislation, too.

  • da

    I still have on my fridge a cartoon McCall did for the NYer purporting to introduce a whole new line of “Hummer Style”:

    Nobody needs it, but everybody wants it: we’re talking that military-industrial mania called HUMMER STYLE: oversize, overweight, way ugly, and way too clunky to do anything well! And now there’s a whole new range of HUMMER STYLE stuff to klutz up your life even more, including:

    o Titanic Hummer Fountain Pen! World’s only 12-lb. pen! 30-second ink supply but keeps writing, even in sandstorms! $780

    o Gargantuan Hummer Cell Phone! Only cell phone that can resist land mines. Heavy static on every call, range is shorter than the length of your arm, recharges in 3 months. $12,000

    o Humongous Hummer Portable HDTV! High price, low quality, Brobdignagian size. And how’s this for irrelevance, Hummer style? Tanks can’t dent that screen. Price doubled, to $62,000

    He continues thru Hummer Suitcase, Hummer Martini Glass, Humbrella, Hummer Wallet, etc.


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