City Issues Call for Pricing Tech Designs


Yesterday, Mayor Bloomberg announced that the city would today issue a Request for Expressions of Interest (RFEI) for firms "with the ability to perform all or most of the services required to design, implement, operate and maintain a congestion pricing program." Though RFEI submissions will not constitute actual bids for contract, the city is hinting that the firm eventually chosen for the job will be selected from the RFEI pool — assuming congestion pricing clears city and state lawmakers, of course.

From the media release:

Respondents to the RFEI will be asked to submit an overall approach to the design, implementation, operation and maintenance of a complex, high volume congestion pricing system. Respondents will be asked to identify the key issues involved in implementing such a system and their ideas for innovative operational and technological solutions. Specifically, they will be asked to address issues related to field equipment, communications, interoperability with E-ZPass, operations, enforcement, maintenance, privacy, urban design and traffic data monitoring.

IBM designed and implemented the Stockholm system, using a combination of lasers and cameras at 18 "roadside control points" (check out this interactive display). Given its success there, with some tweaking, it seems likely IBM could be a front-runner in the eventual bidding for the New York program.

Interestingly, while Stockholm is moving away from vehicle transponders in favor of license plate-reading cameras, London could be going the other direction. Having experimented with "tag and beacon" technology, wherein electronic chips on vehicle windshields transmit signals to roadside receptors, Transport for London may jettison its Automatic Number Plate Recognition cameras once the current contract expires. Singapore also uses tag and beacon, which is thought to be less expensive than cameras.

  • Hilary

    Ughh. This is the first visual image I’ve seen of what CP might LOOK like. All of these overhead structures?? Now I’m praying for two things: (1) the commission in its brilliance comes up with a less intrusive plan, and (2) the firm selected for the design includes landscape architects and is judged for its aesthetic sensitivity.

  • Al Smith

    I think the image is from Stockholm, Hilary. One of the elements of the RFEI is to look into urban design.

  • lee

    will more 7-Eleven’s be included in the plan? the city has far too few of them.

  • Spud Spudly

    Have they talked yet about the part where you’ll have to give a DNA sample to drive into Manhattan?

  • Sproule Love

    Did you give a DNA sample when you signed up for EZ-Pass? Metrocard? Absolute privacy is an illusion. I’m willing to let go of that illusion if it means less traffic.

  • t

    Did you give a DNA sample when you got your license plate in the first place?

    How much blood did they take when you got your ATM card, you know, the one that tracks you every time you make a withdrawal and photographs you with a little camera directly over the ATM? Are you concerned about your credit card? Or the IP address on the computer you’re using?

    At least with the government there will be legislative controls put in place to limit the ways in which congestion pricing data can be used. But each time you swipe your credit card, who knows how securely corporations are storing your personal info?

  • Dave

    Yes these will look ugly across 86th street. Put them instead on the free Harlem and East River bridges where they belong….and while you’re at it use the same devices to put back two-way tolls at all crossings to avoid toll-avoidance.

  • Hilary

    The camera scaffolds won’t just have to be on the perimeter. They’ll have to be erected throughout the zone in order to capture drivers inside it (or else I’ll be able to sneak out of my garage in Battery Park City and onto the West Side Highway?!) I can’t believe there’s not a more efficient way to modify behaviour and reap the same revenue. I hope Google Earth is one of the firms applying..

  • Spud Spudly

    I’m not sure I get your points, #5 and #6. Are you actually saying that because privacy has been compromised in some parts of our lives that we should be complacent when it creeps into other parts?

  • Indeed, Hilary, lots of ugly and unnecessary infrastructure is one side-effect of using ‘dedicated shortrange radio’ (DSRC) technology as was deployed in Stockholm. BUT it is not its worst side-effect (more later). This illustration is from IBM, and I can independently assert that this company executed well in that city – in fact, this system is the best cordon-style, congestion pricing deployment to-date.

    The principle reason that this is unnecessary is that short-range radio, while suitable for a peninsular island such as Stockholm, would not be cost justified in most other places. Stockholm needed only ~18 “gantries” to control entry, but to replace the London congestion system would require in excess of 200. These gantry–mounted systems, also deployed in Singapore cost in excess of $1M each. Cities that use this technology spend between 20-35% of revenue on system operation (including the value of the money) – a terrible overhead robbing motorists of potential value.

    There is an argument for deploying this technology in NYC, since many drovers have EZPass and Manhattan is also a peninsular island. But that unfairly blemishes and punishes Manhattan because of its geomorphology. What will happen when we need to deploy congestion pricing elsewhere? How many gantries will we need in the Greater New York Area. Clearly this approach is a temporary and ugly bandaid.

    The bigger problem is that the collection of a single, daily fixed fee has two bad effects. It unjustly penalizes a motorist going only a short distance and unjustly rewards a motorist who drives in the city all day. In fact, once paid a motorist is actually encouraged to drive more. In contrast a system that charges by time, distance and place rather than for “entering Manhattan” minimizes actual mileage. Such charges should be only a minor fraction of current taxi mileage rates.

    Newer GPS-based technology can provide ANONYMOUS metering and payment services for a fairer, less costly and more flexible system. Toronto’s Skymeter has developed such a system. See skymetercorp[dot]com and grushhour[dot]com

  • Spud Spudly

    Maybe that didn’t come out quite right. I probably should have said “…we should be complacent when it’s compromised in other parts?”

    You probably understood that already, but just clarifying.

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    Not complacent, just suspicious of people who complain about invasions of privacy when it would also impede their motoring.

    Driving around two pounds of steel is not an innocuous act, and I don’t see anything wrong with keeping a close eye on people who are granted that privilege.

    By comparison, in Paris people have actually gotten their transit agency to commit to an anonymous monthly pass (for a 5€ surcharge):

  • Spud: There is NO reason for your privacy to be compromised. You can have an anonymous meter for road use, just as you can purchase an anonymous pre-paid cell phone. Our 407 in Canada provides an anonymous meter at motorist’s election. What you should do, since congestion pricing is unavoidable, is to be sure your payment service provider provides this option. You can protect your privacy and your auto-mobility at the same time. Protecting the environment comes as a nice perk, as well.

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    I meant to say “driving around two tons of steel.” Transporting two pounds of steel is an innocuous act.

  • Angus: in some jurisdictions (e.g. my country) it is illegal to be forced to pay extra for privacy. Hence we could not charge an extra 5 anything for that protection. We don’t think you should pay for privacy. We think it should be guaranteed.

    I used to take your position “what do YOU have to hide”. I abandoned that because a significant portion of people are genuinely concerned. And we need to solve congestion, not people’s distrust of government. The latter being a difficult and often well-placed emotion.

    Pay what you use. Drive private. These are not mutually exclusive.

    (Also, sometimes packing 2 pounds of steel is far worse than piloting two tons…

  • Hilary

    Thanks Bern Grush for the description of alternative systems. I hope all will be well-vetted in the upcoming months. It sounds like the Toronto system could also address the problem of what to do about alternate side of the street parking. What does the GPS technology infrastructure look like?

  • Hilary:
    There is no on-street infrastructure required. There is an EZPass-sized meter on your windscreen. All telecommunication to the pricing center is encrypted and either private (if you opted to save money with pay-as-you-drive insurance) or anonymous (if you opted to pre-pay).

    Enforcement is via random, mobile, moveable, or handheld license plate recognition. If your meter’s green light is on (paid-up and working) your plate number is not required. If not (no meter, not paid, broken), then your plate number is used to bill you (citation) through the mail. Guests (tourists) purchase a guess pass by the day/week so that their plate is passed without citation.

    And, yes, we can park vehicles by the minute and if you overstay an on-street time limit you can pay an escalated per-minute fee RATHER than get a parking ticket. How much nicer is that? IN fact we can GIVE you a parking credit for NOT driving during rush hour. So go earlier, later, car-pool, telework or transit and get free parking to shop on the weekend. Lots of benefits.

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    I used to take your position “what do YOU have to hide”.

    That’s not my position. I have very serious concerns about privacy, but I can’t be moved to fight for motorists’ privacy if they can’t be moved to fight for mine.

    Thanks for the info; I just wanted to make my position clear.

  • Spud Spudly

    I’d probably be willing to fight for your privacy too, Angus, if I just knew what the heck you’re talking about.

    Motorists already have a close eye being kept on them — they’re licensed, their cars are registered and have to display license tags and registration stickers, their cars are inspected annually, and detailed histories of their driving records are maintained by government and insurance companies alike. But that’s a far cry from monitoring their actual whereabouts from minute to minute. I can voluntarily choose to use EZ Pass at a bridge or tunnel knowing that my travel will be recorded in some database somewhere, but I can also choose not to use EZ Pass. But drive into the CP zone and you’re recorded no matter what.

    Bern, congestion pricing is “unavoidable????” HA! That’s funny. Are you familiar with how these things work in New York State?

  • SS: I am not talking about NYC in particular. I am talking about the eventual abandonment of the fuel tax in favor of pay-as-you-go charging. That’s what is unavoidable. NYC’s projected program is a simple waystation on that journey. By 2020 or so, this whole concept will be a distant (and quaint) memory. Your grandchildren will be as surprised by “gas-tax” as you were when you grandfather told you he didn’t have television when he was a kid.

  • Angus: thanks for clarification (#18). I also have privacy concerns, hence the design/use of anonymous methods. Thanks also for writing under a real name. I am always amused at the correlation of people who alarmed by privacy re road pricing and the use of apparent pseudonyms. My belief is that more people are concerned about loss of free roads than they are of privacy. When people can have lower insurance rates (which cannot be anonymous), they generally settle for “mere” privacy. It’s all about money.

  • Hilary said (#8): I can’t believe there’s not a more efficient way to modify behaviour and reap the same revenue.

    Flexible carpooling is a way of enabling a behaviour change. It doesn’t raise revenue, but cuts congestion. I doubt it will be seen as an ‘alternative’ to congestion pricing, though the key point of congestion pricing is to get people to do what they could have done anyway: take a different mode. Add flexible carpooling everywhere and you would create an alternative mode that people will feel they can change to.

  • Carolyn Konheim

    An aside to my congestion pricing comments:
    Car pooling is one of those old silver bullets that doesn’t do much in NYC beyond our already high vehicle occupancy rate, because we’re not a big company town with a large pool of people with similar hours, lifestyles and origins. If we’re looking for alternatives, stringent parking controls and parking pricing could probably cut auto use as much as the Mayor’s plan–and, in any case, is a necessaary commapnion.

    The main issue is that the Mayor’s twin goals of reducing congestion and improving transit can best be accomplished by taking advantage (as Stockholm has done) of our limited portals to Manhattan below 60th Street (48 inbound lanes vs 1,020 under the Mayor’s plan). Installing E-ZPass readers on the 16 untolled bridge lanes is a cinch. Limit high tech monitors to the 32 lanes along a 60th Street cordon (river to river). This could be done for less than the $10.1 million in federal funds. The simpler, easy-to-understand system would not only reduce congestion in Manhattan–it would cut wasted travel time citywide by nearly 10%. Most of all, avoiding the high cost of operating and enforcing a system 20 times more complex system would at least double net revenues for transit. We cannot squander this last untapped source of transit funds because the initial lure of keeping up with other cities high tech networks seemed the easy way out of the perceived bridge toll taboo.

  • gecko

    Should have an initiative for tech designs of hybrid human-electric transport and transit.

  • Robert

    I think the idea of congestion pricing is OK.. I think mayor Bloombergs plan is horrible.

    If he wants to eliminate cars during the day.. he should do the following..

    The City sould institute a HOV system like they have on highways.. Either three or four passengers to a car.

    People could buy monthy passes like they do with metro cards or easy pass.

    Violators could be fined anywhere from $250 -1,000. They can post signs prominently on all river crossings… and in the Bronx, Queens & Staten Island… for those coming in from Jersey. .there can be signs by the Holland & Lincoln tunnel..

    I don’t think you should disrupt truck traffic.. we have to have commerce…

  • Ian Turner


    Equalizing and raising bridge tolls may be a more cost-effective congestion measure than congestion pricing, but for better or for worse the question on the table is not so much whether the proposed congestion pricing scheme is the best possible one but rather whether it is better than doing nothing. On this issue I think we can agree: Congestion pricing as proposed is better from the status quo.

    Furthermore, although from a technocratic perspective a bridge-toll approach may be more desirable, from a political perspective it is clearly inferior. A bridge toll approach creates a very distinct borough-versus-borough conflict, whereas even Manhattan residents would need to pay under the proposed scheme.

  • Dave

    Not to mention that I secretly dream it will be possible to expand the congestion-charging zone to include downtown Brooklyn and Atlantic Yards some day. This would also stop the problems with Court, Smith and Henry Streets being used for overflow from the BQE (which would presumably be free).

  • Where is the money going?

    The social democrats said that the money was going to go all to public transit. The moderates talked about using the money to “build more roads”. The moderates, the renamed conservative party, won the national and city council elections so where is the money going in Stockholm? The other thing that pi… me off about the moderates is that now all the musuems charge for admissions when they use to be free.

  • Where is the money going?

    Oh, does this diagram mean that they are going to build more Seven Elevens too?

  • Ian Turner


    Tying prime-time truck deliveries to economic prosperity is the same kind of thinking as saying we shouldn’t regulate smokestack emissions, because after all “we have to have commerce”.

    Trucks contribute quite a bit to New York’s poor air quality and traffic congestion, and should be made to pay their fair share.

    As far as HOV rules go, please have a look at comment 23.

  • gecko

    Hopefully this thing goes through. Hopefully it get old real quick and new initiatives are started.


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