Anti-Congestion Pricing Group Suggests Alternatives

While waiting for Walter McCaffrey to send over an official version (he sent it — download it here), we managed to get a hold of a bootleg copy of the executive summary of the Committee to Keep NYC Congestion Tax Free’s new report. Willie Neuman has a write-up of the report in the Times today as well.

The Committee’s report aims to offer up alternatives to Mayor Bloomberg’s congestion pricing proposal, many of which are ideas familiar and appealing to regular readers of Streetsblog. The executive summary itemizes eight specific traffic mitigation ideas and calculates that, together, these could reduce VMT, or vehicle miles traveled, between 7.6 and 11.5 percent south of 86th Street (table above).

New York City’s $354.5 million federal grant is dependent on a plan that reduces VMT by at least 6.3 percent. The grant, however, is also dependent on the City implementing some form of congestion pricing technology as a part of that plan, so it’s not at all clear if any of the suggestions above would allow the city to keep that money.

Hugh O’Neill, the president of Appleseed, the economics consulting firm which wrote the report, acknowledges that his numbers are soft. Neuman reports:

Altogether, the study says, such measures could reduce traffic volume by 7 to 11 percent. Mr. O’Neill said, however, that the estimate was very rough.

"I would fully acknowledge that those numbers are speculative and would need to be subject to further analysis," he said. "I think what the numbers legitimately show is that there are real options, real world alternatives, many of which are much simpler to implement than what the city has proposed."

The report does not include an overall estimate for the cost of putting its proposals in place, but it says it would cost far less than the mayor’s congestion pricing plan.

In addition to a "speculative" analysis, the report offers no price tag for its proposed changes. Some ideas, like increasing the cost of on-street parking and reforming the city’s government employee parking abuse problem, are almost certainly net revenue earners, though come with their own set of costs and political challenges. Other suggestions have a universally appealing but vaguely expensive ring to them; for example, this one: "Major transit improvements."

In addition to the eight congestion pricing alternatives listed in the table above, the executive summary offers these as well:

Options that reduce VMT, congestion or both (2008-2009)

  • Reducing congestion caused by black cars and non-yellow for hire vehicles.
  • More effectively regulating the use of streets for construction projects.
  • Modernizing traffic signal systems.
  • Implementing 511 (A system to notify drivers of real time traffic conditions).

Options for reducing congestion beyond 2010

  • Bus Rapid Transit.
  • Lower Manhattan bus depot.
  • Incentives for off-peak delivery.
  • Increased use of water transportation for movement of freight.
  • Expanding the Lower Manhattan traffic management program to Midtown.
  • Improving the distribution of information to motorists by state of the art technology.
  • Encouraging greater use of bicycle transportation.
  • Gizler

    It looks like it has a lot of filler. Those items targeting cabs, for instance. Cabs are the most efficient cars on the road and are arguably mass transit – it makes no sense to single them out as a matter of policy or practicality.

  • mf

    It’d be nice to have some of this and congestion pricing. That way we can pay for all the transit improvements with the new parking revenue.

  • Brooklyn

    How exactly are yellow cabs — 8-cylinder full size sedans usually carrying no more than 1 passenger at a time; idling and slowly cruising for fares the rest of the time — the most efficient cars on the road?

    Regardless of percentages, if all 8 options were implemented tomorrow, we would see a major improvement in quality of life IMMEDIATELY.

    I’m very skeptical of an untested technology rollout in this city, where drivers are accustomed to anarchy and free rein.

  • Blarg

    I like the smudgy scan, makes it seem like more of a scoop.

    For others, the report can be downloaded at

  • plist

    Cabs are efficient because they serve more than one group of passengers, unlike personal vehicles.

  • Spud Spudly

    Yeah, and they’re inefficient because when they have no passengers they drive around aimlessly. At least a private vehicle is only driving around when it’s actually being used for something.

    I’m not saying to eliminate cabs, but you could require empty cabs to wait in a particular spot for a fare instead of just driving around. And definitely make them smaller and get rid of those Crown Vics.

  • Ace

    Isn’t it a simple fact that nobody needs a private automobile in NYC? Anyone who wants a private automobile should pay dearly for the privilege? If this is somehow unfairly favoring the rich who are willing to pay, well then, welcome to the world.

  • Larry Littlefield

    Not a bad list, but despite their claims the proposal does little to discourage through traffic, especially through truck traffic, from going through Manhattan to take advantage of the free bridge. Or passenger cars detouring through Downtown Brooklyn or Long Island City to avoid paying for the Triboro, Queens Midtown Tunnel, or Brooklyn Battery Tunnel.

    Reintroducing two-way tolls for trucks, but not other vehicles, on the Verranzano (their proposal) won’t do it. The route from geographic Long Island to New Jersey (or New England to North Carolina) via Manhattan is free for those willing to idle over the bridges.

    How about tolling the East River and Harlem River bridges, turning them over the MTA, having the MTA give the Verranzano, Whitestone, Throggs Neck, and Rockaway Bridges to the city, and having the tolls on those facilties cut? Then we’re talking.

    I’ll bet the incomes of those driving between Staten Island and Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx, or Long Island or Westchester across the East River are more “middle class” than those driving to Manhattan. So by cutting the tolls away from transit oriented Manhattan, and not forcing drivers there to carry a share of the transit system, that would give back some of the money to drivers. How about it?

  • The difference between this and congestion pricing is that CP is a long term strategy that is flexible enough to really reduce traffic through the price mechanism – these are just clearing thr road but not really putting up a barrier to a flood of new vehicles. It is one thing to provide alternatives and encourage more efficient use of road space – it is another to have a price set to discourage others from filling in the new space created by that efficiency.

    We need to not only be more efficient, but also capture that efficiency instead of losing it to new users.

  • Larry’s bridges plan seems like a good idea. As do the parking changes/enforcement bullet in the proposal. Let’s leave the cabs alone, then add congestion pricing to the mix to fund building those major transit improvements. A little something for everyone…

  • clipped

    I don’t see how most of the report’s alternatives would be more efficient, considering the costs associated with each, and the lack of infrastructure to support them (ferry landings are still hard to get to).

    Back to cabs: they’re not necessarily winning on fuel efficiency (although they could) but they are more efficient at the regional scale, moving more people per vehicle (and gallon?). And what about inefficient regulations on shared rides and deviated fixed route options? They work in many cities, including parts of this one, but aren’t allowed to compete on the market.

  • JF

    I have to disagree with Glenn, at least in part. Rational parking pricing can discourage new vehicles coming in. He and Larry have a point that it wouldn’t discourage through drivers, but it would still have an effect.

    I’m with Carolyn Konheim and others who have said that a combination of bridge tolls and rational parking pricing would be vastly preferable to the Mayor’s proposal. I’m leaning towards the position that rational parking pricing in combination with the other strategies in this report would also be preferable to the Mayor’s proposal … especially because it could eventually bring about a more favorable climate for bridge tolls.

    Of course, I’m skeptical about the Assembly leadership’s ability and willingness to implement this system. If tomorrow all the pro-congestion pricing people said “Okay!” and the commission voted for this plan, I could imagine Brodsky inserting some kind of poison pill to sabotage this. Something like “value pricing for parking in the CBD … not to exceed fifty cents a day.” His persistent lies about the “driving poor” indicate that he’s not trustworthy.

    There’s one thing that shows that these people aren’t serious about reducing congestion: they discuss increasing tolls with no mention of putting tolls on the “free” DOT bridges. If they added bridge tolls, it would be clear that they recognize that there’s no way to reduce congestion without some sacrifice on the part of motorists.

  • JF

    Also, I wish that these people would spare us the “alternatives” of cracking down on permit abuse and other lawbreaking. These things are already illegal, various politicians have promised to eliminate them, and yet they continue. Without a concrete plan for enforcement, “alternatives” like this are just hot air.

  • rlb

    Listing the percentage decrease VMT of a variety of methods and then adding them up is not realistic.
    For instance, some of that %1.0-1.5 VMT reduction from the increased tolls would already be spoken for with the %1.8-2.4 attributed to the on street parking.
    The numbers are ‘speculative’ nonsense anyway.

  • Spud Spudly

    ALL the numbers are speculative nonsense, including the mayor’s and the CP advocates.

  • Davis

    Not really Spud. There’s a ton of good, applicable, real-world data from London and, increasingly, from Stockholm as well.

  • Spud Spudly

    Virtually all of which mean squat in NYC, where the market dynamics, social dynamics, etc. are all different.

  • If we aren’t allowed to infer from the success of pricing in other cities because New York is so gosh darn special, how can we make any VMT prediction at all–a pricing trial, perhaps? Oh right that’s what we’re going to do.

  • Davis

    London’s a culturally diverse global financial capital with all kinds of market and social dynamics comparable to NYC.

    And a tailpipe’s a tailpipe. If getting x number of cars off the road in London produced y% less particulate matter in the air, that’s entirely relevant to NYC.

    Likewise, the PlaNYC guys didn’t only use London data to make their projections. In fact, my understanding is that they mostly used information that we have from our own variable pricing system on the Pt. Authority facilities across the Hudson.

    I’ve also seen some interesting historic data comparing traffic volumes on the tolled Battery Tunnel (mostly flat over time) to the free East River Bridges (steadily increasing).

    These local examples show that pricing has a tangible impact on driver behavior and provide us with a model for how much price changes impact driver decisions.


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