Gridlock Sam Offers Four Ideas to Cut Traffic Congestion

In today’s Daily News, former New York City Deputy Traffic Commissioner "Gridlock" Sam Schwartz says congestion pricing should "proceed now" and offers four additional ideas for creating a little breathing room on Manhattan’s streets:

One way to reduce congestion is to reduce the number of taxis –
. I did the math when I was traffic commissioner and found
that the optimum number of taxis was just under 12,000. We now have
more than 13,000. With taxi medallion prices at $400,000, it would be
too heavy a lift to buy back 1,000 medallions all at once. Instead, the
city should purchase 100 medallions a year over 10 years.

There’s a second kind of vehicle that’s overpopulated on our roads,
with more than 40,000 all over the city: black cars, or so-called
limousines. The mayor’s congestion pricing plan excludes them. It’s
time to create a black car medallion to 1) reduce those numbers and 2)
generate the funding to buy back taxi medallions.

The third big troublemaker is the through truck, or trucks with
neither origin nor destination in Manhattan’s central business
district. Our current pricing scheme – double tolls to go out via the
Verrazano Bridge and no tolls to drive through downtown and midtown –
encourages truckers to clog many key arteries inside the city. More
than 10,000 trucks a day are doing this. We must do two things: 1) bring back two-way tolls on the Verrazano
Bridge and 2) charge through trucks $100 for the privilege of using
streets and avenues in central Manhattan.

Finally, we need to curtail "privileged" parkers. I estimate that some
150,000 government workers either park free in reserved spaces or just
plain park illegally. That blocks access to curbs – and causes a chain
reaction of other problems. Privileged parkers contribute to about 8%
of the traffic downtown, and add far more than that share to congestion
because of their "piggish" behavior of blocking bus stops, bus lanes
and even hydrants. I haven’t seen conditions this bad in 25 years.

  • Ian Turner

    Why do we have taxi medallions at all? This city-granted monopoly creates private profit without public benefit. Instead, the city should retire the medallion program through a gradually increasing property tax on medallion ownership. When medallions eventually accede to the city through tax seizure (which should happen eventually), they can be leased by one- or two-year public auction.

    We should certainly not create a new medallion system for black cars or any other kind of vehicle, but rather auction off one- or two-year permits on an ongoing basis. Sadly, we are currently in the process of creating a brand-new medallion system for pedicabs.

  • greg

    great article
    i know the man…he knows transportation..

    perhaps not as progressive as streetsblog readers may like, but very practical

  • vnm

    You mean there is NO CAP ON THE NUMBER OF BLACK CARS out there?? The most aggressive, least courteous drivers around? We have a cap on pedicabs at 325 but 40,000 black cars and no cap? What a screwed up set of priorities.

  • Won’t capping the number of livery/cabs create a shortage which will, at the margins, make more people buy their own cars?

  • d

    The recent strike provides some good examples (and some bad) of what we could do with fewer cabs, sharing being one great example. If more people pooled together at JFK and LaGuardia, we could dramatically decrease the number of cabs coming into the city and limit cabs idling at the airport. Passengers would save money and time as well, as lines would be shorter and fares lower. This happens informally now – people in line sometimes overhear that the person next to them is traveling to the same neighborhood – but should become official policy. Decrease the demand for cabs and fewer cabs will be needed.

  • Chris H


    Interesting point. It really depends though on what the occupancy rate is for livery/cabs at their peak times. If they at capacity, then you have a point (to a degree). If they are not, then it will just mean a higher occupancy rate. If you improve the bus system and the accessibility of the subway system, there is less of a “need” for taxis overall. This is one of the points of C.P. which would also help deter the shifts to private motor vehicles.

  • vnm

    Digamma, I don’t think so. Not with Zipcar around.

  • Jon Graf

    Staten Islanders go absolutely crazy when any politician mentions two-way tolls. There are just so many bad memories of insane traffic jams on the Verrazano. The entire toll plaza needs to be removed and replaced with overhead high speed toll readers. Then it won’t matter if toll collection is two-way or not. I’m not sure why we don’t have this technology already implemented when most other industrialized nations have it on their highways.

  • bill

    Jon Graf – we do, just not on MTA facilities. The NJ Turnpike has high-speed EZ-Pass at many locations, and I think the NY Thruway is starting to do so as well. MTA is way behind the curve.

  • gecko

    There’s a lot of good stuff the city can move on and hopefully will happen as soon as possible.

  • Dave

    Staten islanders go crazy about two-way tolls because they remember the traffic before EZ-Pass; with it the traffic should be less.

    Furthermore I get frustrated when Manhattanites are called elitisit when we try to address the traffic problems in our borough (and read the blog nd you will see we are called elitist in the congestion pricing, two-way toll and East River bridge toll debates)

    There is a real difference in the traffic in Manhattan versus the other boroughs in that congestion in Manhattan occurs on the surface streets while traffic in the outer boroughs is primarily on expressways. Why don’t we Manhattanites scream about the traffic on Broome, Canal, Hudson Sts (to use the Holland tunnel as an example) more loudly that Staten Islanders scream about Verrazano back-ups? People live on Broome, Canal, etc and no one lives on the Staten Island expressway or on the bridge itself. Let’s talk about asthma rates, emergency vehicle access and pedestrian safety when the back-ups are at our doorstep.

    Gridlock Sam fails to support permit parking which is an idea whose time came to New York about 20 years ago. Why do we give away free curb space to non-residents only encouraging them to drive into the city. Every other large city has this (as well as some smaller ones like New Brunswick, NJ) so why don’t we?

  • fpant78

    instead of permit parking, how about zero street parking? how can you fight to reduce auto traffic and then want a spot all for yourself? thats where terms like “elitist” and “limousine liberal” come from

    and ur also wrong about congestion in outer boroughs…its not restricted to & trucks rumble through my bk neighborhood during rush hours…come take a look one day

  • Dave

    fpant78 I don’t deserve to be called wrong on both spots…sounds like you’ve got a chip on your shoulder because you live in Brooklyn.

    I don’t want a spot for myself…I just don’t want it going to somone who either drives into the city, lives in the city and doesn’t pay city taxes and registers their car elsewhere.

    And permit parking sould be applied to the entire city…not just Manhattan. Might even make parking easier for the residents of Brooklyn as well.

    The streets of Manhattan are much more congested during all hours (not just rush hours) than yours and at least traffic rumbles by you. Here they sit in grilock and sit on their horn.

    I am sick and tired of being called elitist just beacuse I live in Manhattan…I pay more in taxes than just about anyone else in the country; I subsidize NYC public transportation through the unfair single-fae policy that lets you pay the same for a 30 minute ride as I do for a 10 minute one; I suffer from more congestion than anyone in the city; my parking garage costs more….etc etc

  • bill

    telling someone from BK who raises some valid points in a rational way that “may be you’ve got a chip on your shoulder” is what makes people break out terms like “elitist”. pls chill out with the stereotyping on both sides.

  • Niccolo Machiavelli

    VNM – probably you are confusing black cars with car services and gypsy cabs. There is an actual and important legal distinction. Black cars have to book 95% of their trips with credit cards and a voucher system. It is pretty much above board and almost exclusively driven by corporate accounts. The big white shoe law firms and corporate clients like Solomon Bros. frown on dangerous driving. They are only allowed to make those pickups and the accounts are above board.

    The gypsy cabs and car services are black market under the table operations that will do anything for a fare never report their taxes and screw their poorly paid, poor performing drivers. Their vehicles may look like black cars to you but the performance is horrible, the second lowest on the transportation food chain (the dollar vans are worse).

    Ironically, or perhaps by oversite, the car services and gypsy cabs were let off the hook of congestion pricing by an inattentive to detail Bloomberg in the initial proposal. That would have driven the black cars out of business or at least badly damaged their competitiveness vis a vis the other for hire carriers. Hopefully that will be corrected in the new version but who knows.

    The proposal for medallions to limit the number of black cars, further rationing space and access is an excellent proposal. I’m delighted S. Schwartz has apparently come on board. He was on Brian Lehrer show on WNYC in the days after PlaNYC was released with some poorly formulated thoughts about removing the tolls from the TBTA bridges, I’m glad he dropped that. Also, he was on the payroll of the restaurant and garage industry in the days after 911 when single occupancy vehicles were still banned from the city owned bridges. It disappointed me at the time, but after all he is a consultant and needed clients.

  • Smith

    I think you guys are incorrect.

    The mayor’s plan does propose charging the congestion fee to black cars and corporate limos, just not yellow cabs and radio cars.


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