Weiner’s Congestion Testimony: Anything But Pricing

If nothing else, gridlocked traffic is a good marketing opportunity for Oscar Mayer’s Wienermobile.

US Rep. Anthony Weiner was one of the first voices to speak up against Mayor Bloomberg’s proposal for a three-year congestion pricing pilot project and he remains one of the loudest. In his testimony Oct. 25 before the NYC Traffic Mitigation Congestion Commission, Weiner — who is planning a 2009 mayoral run — consolidated his arguments, starting off with a diplomatic concession: "The Bloomberg administration has begun a very important conversation about what New York will look like in 2030 and how we prepare now for the sustainable and prosperous future." Weiner went on immediately, however, to characterize the mayor’s congestion-pricing plan as "expensive and unfair." Today, an even more boiled down version of Weiner’s proposal can be found on the New York Post op/ed page

In his testimony, Weiner outlined a seven-point alternative that has a little something for everybody. Very roughly, here’s what it boils down to:

  • Improving mass transit, including ferries and buses, before anything else is done. Weiner also outlines a plan to get 1 of 10 New Yorkers on a bike by 2020, with strategies including a pilot bike-sharing program and expanded bike-storage facilities.
  • What he calls "carrot and stick congestion pricing"– a tax credit for companies that schedule truck deliveries in off-peak hours; increased tolls during rush hour; and an increase in metered parking fees during peak hours. Weiner says these last two points "would satisfy the Department of Transportation’s requirement that some element of congestion pricing be part of the City’s plan, and thus make us eligible to collect the federal grant." (Actually, no, those ideas don’t appear to meet the federal government’s definition of "congestion pricing.")
  • Reducing reliance on trucks by building the Cross Harbor Tunnel.
  • Scaling back alternate-side parking and street-cleaning.
  • Avoiding the creation of an expensive infrastructure in order to qualify for the $354.5 million in federal funds.
  • Enforcing existing traffic laws such as "don’t block the box."
  • "Apportioning the benefits and the burden fairly–don’t pit neighbor against neighbor."

Weiner’s proposals prompted a scornful response from Transportation Alternatives. In a letter to the Traffic Mitigation Commission, TA executive director Paul Steely White said: "Congressman Weiner does nothing to help the work of this Commission by presenting an ‘alternative’ plan to mitigate congestion that includes a hypothetical blank check from the federal government to pay for it. Choices the Congressman suggests like eliminating congestion pricing, lowering truck tolls at off-peak times, providing off-hour delivery tax credits to businesses and building a cross-harbor tunnel carry an exceptionally high cost while providing no substantial revenue streams." Here’s the PDF of White’s full letter.

Jeff Zupan, Regional Plan Association’s transportation analyst, has shown why other alternatives to congestion pricing are flawed. Some of those points apply to Weiner’s plan as well.

  • vnm

    Eliminating alternate side of the street regulations will a) make streets dirtier, but more importantly, b) make it easier and more attractive to own an automobile (by removing the huge hassle of alternate-side parking). By making it easier to own a car, the proposal would increase congestion.

    Enforcement of don’t block the box would cost taxpayers more money in police expenses. Where will that money come from?

    It would also cause a predictable firestorm of articles in the media about irate motorists being “unfairly targetted” by the police, who would then be forced to back down on the “ticket blitz.” It’s happened time and time again. So that wouldn’t work at all.

  • Respect the Past

    This might sound strange, but if congestion pricing does not get passed, at least opponents of the legislation are suggesting many positive changes that would improve the quality of life in New York (building bike infrastructure, scaling back alternate side parking, improving mass transit, etc). Even though I am a strong proponent of the mayor’s plan (and the mayor in general), if congestion pricing is not passed, Bloomberg, at the very least, has made this a salient issue when it has been nearly a political non-issue in the past.

  • John Hunka

    Rep. Anthony Weiner, Rep. Yvette Clarke and Lt. Gov. Paterson will be speaking at a rally against global warming at Washington Square Park at noon on Saturday, November 3. It’ll be interesting to see what he has to say.

  • anony

    actually it seems it would qualify – despite your snark. From your copy paste definition of CP:

    “Cordon charges – either variable or fixed charges to drive within or into a congested area within a city”

    that looks like a really loose definition. Seems new bridge taxes on Manhattan bridges would qualify on this since Manhattan is an island.

    Has anyone asserting what does and does not qualify actually SPOKEN to FED DOT about each particular proposal or is this just CP advocate speculation?

  • anony

    “Enforcement of don’t block the box would cost taxpayers more money in police expenses. Where will that money come from?”

    Maybe the same place they get the money to build and MAINTAIN a multi-million dollar gateway monitoring system.

  • mork

    Ooh, I know. We could seize the cars of anyone caught blocking the box and sell them at auction.

  • “Cordon,” I believe, means a ring around the entire congested area.

    If Weiner is talking about variable tolls on the East River Bridges and pricing along 86th Street or some other boundary, then I think that would qualify.

    It doesn’t look to me like ERB tolls by themselves would qualify. And we already have increased tolls on the Hudson River crossings at rush hour, so that by itself, doesn’t seem to qualify.

    But, hey, he’s a federal government employee. He should ask.

  • Hilary

    I wonder what kind of black market would arise for residential permits. The systems I know of give residents paper placards (uh oh!) or decals that are affixed (not necessarily permanently) to the car. They can be used for guests who are visiting. This seems fair, as why shouldn’t a resident who is visited regularly by someone have as much right to curb space as the resident who owns a car? (Or the right to purchase use of that space). Or the person who rents a car vs. owns a car? So the permit must go with the residency, not the vehicle. (And what is residency – ownership? Tenancy? How many per living unit?)

    As I mull over the various scenarios, I don’t think we can get into privileging any particular use (or person) over another. We can only auction the resource to the highest bidders, or let a secondary market do it.

  • anony

    “‘Cordon,’ I believe, means a ring around the entire congested area.”

    A toll on every bridge would create a ring, no? Given the water and all. The snark in the post seems at least overly assure of itself.

    Weiner or ANYONE else should certainly ask. That Weiner sits on the Transportation committee does likely offer him some insight on all this. I don’t think his credibility can be dismissed out of hand – at least if we are talking about comparing that of a blogger reading a govt website to that of a sitting congressman on the Trans Committee.

    I think the fallacy being pushed here is that the Mayor’s CP plan is the ONLY possible way to qualify for the grant, just as it was a fallacy that there was a deadline to qualify for the grant.

  • Yes, I think if you tolled every entry point into Manhattan it’d be a “cordon” but I doubt that would be the best way to deal with the congestion problem.

    I don’t see that many people pushing the Mayor’s plan as the only way to deal with traffic mitigation or congestion pricing. I see people pushing congestion pricing as the best solution. The Mayor himself has said repeatedly that he is open to variations on his pricing plan and input from communities. I’d take him at his word on that.

    Likewise, my sources say that the USDOT deadline was 100% real. USDOT gave NYC some flexibility because USDOT really wanted to see NYC get a grant because NYC’s proposal was far more innovative than any other city’s. Most of the other grant applications were for high-tech tolled highways. There were a number of cities competing for that grant and the USDOT wanted the money distributed and programs starting quickly. No one who has called the deadline fake or a lie has been able to substantiate that claim.

  • anony

    Likewise, my sources say that the USDOT deadline was 100% real. USDOT gave NYC some flexibility because USDOT really wanted to see NYC get a grant…


  • If the process had stalled or dragged on another week or two, USDOT would have made the Urban Partnership grant announcement without NYC.

    Or that’s what they tell me.

  • vnm

    anony #5 –

    Infrastructure needed to enforce congestion pricing would be paid for by itself.

    Extra police overtime needed for don’t block-the-box enforcement would be paid for by the taxes of New Yorkers, most of whom don’t drive. It’s another subsidy to make it easier to drive at the expense of non-motorists.

  • vnm

    anony #9 –

    Automobiles have access to 10 free bridges between the Bronx and Manhattan. Are you suggesting putting tolls on all of them?

  • JK

    Why are we still discussing bogus alternatives? Read the federal/NYC agreement on the congestion pricing start-up grant. The pricing area has to be roughly the same as the mayor’s plan. Variable tolls on the PATH and MTA crossings cannot be construed as creating a pricing zone when the East and Harlem Bridges are free. Maybe SB should re-run the below piece every other week until this sinks in.

    5. Grant Agreements for Alternative Plan.

    In the event that the New York State legislature enacts and the New York City Council approves an alternative congestion mitigation plan, the Department and the Urban Partner agree to negotiate the funding of such plan if it:

    (a) Is reasonably expected to reduce average vehicle miles traveled by at least 6.3 percent across a geographic area of similar size and travel characteristics to the area proposed for pricing under the Mayor’s Plan;

    (b) Uses pricing as the principal mechanism for achieving this congestion reduction;
    (c) Includes at least an eighteen month operation of congestion pricing;

  • Ian Turner


    There’s no reason to be defeatist about it. You can easily lock the permit to a vehicle by printing the license plate number on it.

    That said, I agree that there’s no reason to give special permission to residents. Parking space should be provided based on market willingness to pay, either via a Shoupian 85% or a revenue-driven 100% use goal.

  • Dave

    DC, Philly, Boston, San Francisco even LA all have residential parking permits so why don’t we study their programs to find out the best way to implement it. Residents who pay city taxes and register their cars in the city are given a decal that allows them to park in their neighborhood.

    To discourage driving in the city it should be limited to their own neighborhood and the community boards or voting disctricts are a way to think about this. There is a system in place for parking tax exemptions for city residents in parking garages so we wouldn’t be starting from scratch. And given the higher density of NY there cannot be a provision for visitors…let them park in a garage.

    Why would we complicate the system by trying to put the free market into it? Start at a reasonable price per year and keep raising it until enough people get rid of their cars to have an impact.

    And think of the increased tax receipts from tax cheats who live in the city and pay tax elsewhere. And the proceeds from the permits themselves…put it to the Second Avenue subway.

  • gecko

    Weiner’s plan seems more like a diversion than a responsible effort akin to the oil companies encouraging confusion for many years about climate change and should be called on to explain why it is anything but a diversion in view of the fact that the congestion pricing plan has gotten this far strictly on the idea that it addresses the dire need to start reducing transportation emissions at the same time providing some relatively minor benefits.

    He should explain which part of “the urgent need to act now to mitigate emissions” he does not understand.

    He should explain what scenario would make his plan much more expedient and practical than congestion pricing.

    He should explain why he is not proposing his plan to complement congestion pricing rather than an attempt to derail it.

  • Dave

    The simplest solution to implement CP is to erect a cordon around Manhattan by putting tolls back on the East River bridges (EZ pass readers should do the trick) and putting tolls on the Harlem River bridges where it is easy to do so.

    The system envisioned where there are readers throughout the city sounds ugly and unwieldy…as are the exemptions for tolls already paid and for staying on the FDR or West Side Highway.

    The city is spending hundreds of millions of dollars to maintain the ER bridges and to reconstruct the Harlem River bridges….that is reason enough to charge those who cross them a toll. And people are used to paying to cross a bridge…they’ve gotten away with no toll for long enough.

    Only charging the CP would also eliminate the fee for driving within the zone which as a Manhattan resident I find grossly unfair. Why should I pay to drive a few blocks while residents of the other boroughs do so for free. And I should not be penalized for leaving the zone.

    Implementing residential permit parking along with e CP cordon I describe would eliminate driving within the CP zone for free. If you can’t park without a permit and are faced with a meter fee or parking charge you won’t be tempted to drive around the zone.

    Thought should be given to additional cordons for downtown Brooklyn and Flushing and other areas burdened by traffic. Use Manhattan as a test and then figure out a way to cordon off other areas (not as easy as an island, but there should be a way)

  • Hilary

    Of course you can tie the permit to the vehicle. But why should you? Why privilege car ownership? And dismissing all non-residents to park in a garage isn’t right. Where are all these garages?

  • Jonathan

    Hilary, residential parking permits don’t privilege car ownership, they privilege NYC residents. I wager that 50% of the cars parked right now on my street are registered outside the five boroughs, because auto insurance is so much more expensive for city residents.

    If we can print out movie tickets at home, we can certainly print out parking permits coded with the make, model and license plate of the car, and valid for the zip code in which the car is registered (and let’s just be generous and add in an extra block on all sides, for those people who live on the line between two zip codes).

    Let the visitors park at muni-meters scattered around a little more liberally than at present. There could even be an overnight rate, so they wouldn’t have to go out and feed the meter every half-hour.

  • Dave

    We tie the permit to the car to discourage fraud and to ensure that parking on the street is reserved for those who pay city taxes, NYS registrations, and NYC insurance rates. Car ownership is already a privilege and for those of you without a car maybe a visitor pass could be sold but at a very high price….maybe double the car owners’ rate to reflect its’ flexibility.

    If we are to consider market rates as has been suggested, would the price for this permit vary by neighborhood? The going rate by me is $400/month so what $100/month or $1200 is fair for the permit? What about the neighborhoods where garages are $1000/month…do you charge them $250/month or $3000/year for a permit.

    If you charge enough to discourage ownership in Manhattan you are going to get complaints from the boroughs. $50/month for all boroughs? You have to make the argument that car ownership is not a right but a privilege worth paying for. Permits should not be given away to anyone…and what do you with the projects and their off-street parking? The city would be better off to close the off-street lots and develop them for more subsidized housing…but how do you take away a free parking spot?

    As for what is “right” drive to Boston or Philly and you will park in a garage because there is no parking for more than two hours on any residential street. I assume a two-hour window would be granted for non-residents as in Philly and Boston but beyond that it’s a garage or a meter.

    Which reminds me that we need to fight to get Sunday meters back in effect…their reversal completely distorts any parking remediation efforts and the fact that it was made to allow people to go to church astounds me.

    The mindset in the city re: car ownership needs to change and it needs to come from the top. We have come a long way from the 40’s when, as I understand it, overnight parking was forbidden on any street.

    The city has been at odds with itself as it restricts the construction of off-street parking, yet gives away street parking for free. If parking on the streets had been restricted or permitted all along, we would be better off, wouldn’t we?

  • gecko

    The Queen Mary 2 is so enormous that when it starts to leave the dock in Red Hook, Brooklyn its forward motion is barely perceptible, yet within a few minutes it is way out in the center of New York Harbor.

    Its takeoff is not even close to being scale appropriate to how congestion pricing addresses the enormity of the climate change crisis.

    Yet, congestion pricing is an urgently needed intervention starting the mitigation of one of the major causes of climate change at the same time initiating immediate benefits with no history and minimal potential for doing harm, especially implemented by an administration that has shown a rare competence in dealing with other major emergencies including 9/11 (with a level of complexity dwarfing that of congestion pricing), a major blackout, and a transit strike.

    Weiner’s and other plans are strictly reactive and do nothing to forward the call to action and optimally a relic of antiquated leadership.

  • NixIllegalPermitAbuse_Then let’s talk

    Yes, enforcement of already existing laws is a no cost alternative to CP. NYC has already lost about $300-million to government sector commuters with parking permits, using them illegally on parking meters – Schaller report 2006. This is on Bloomberg’s watch and has occured all during his administration. Before any CP tax – a simple alternative: The City needs to post No Permit Parking signs, at practically no cost, and then thousands of government sector commuter cars would not be coming into Manhattan for the “free” (albeit illegal) parking. Please wake up, NYC!

  • JF

    Nix, since you didn’t read it, I’m reposting, for your benefit, VNM’s paragraph from #13 above:


    Infrastructure needed to enforce congestion pricing would be paid for by itself.

    Extra police overtime needed for don’t block-the-box enforcement would be paid for by the taxes of New Yorkers, most of whom don’t drive. It’s another subsidy to make it easier to drive at the expense of non-motorists.

    Also, please take the “_Then let’s talk” out of your handle. You know very well that Streetsblog is just as committed to permit reform as you are, and if they had the power they would have done it. Plus, when you say things like “a no cost alternative to CP,” you’re essentially saying that there’s nothing to talk about.

    You’re obviously using this as an attempt to stall real discussion about how to get motorists (yes, even the ones who don’t park for free) to pay for hogging the roads and bridges.

  • JK

    On-street parking should accomodate — even reward — non-car owners who rent/share vehicles. RPP should not reward local car owners and punish car “borrowers” by forcing them to buy expensive visitor permits. That’s backwards. In the Manhattan neighborhoods the DOT is looking at for parking reform, 80% of households do not have a car. If RPP is adopted it has to be accompanied by a huge increase in curb metering — including on residential streets — or it is a perverse reward for car ownership.

  • glennQ

    The Mayor’s congestion tax plan doesn’t include the FDR or West Side Highway, so using the bridges as a tolling point is not going to meat with Bloomie’s vision.

  • glennQ

    Manhattan residents who complain about getting smacked with the congestion tax for driving inside the taxed zone are revealing their goal isn’t less vehicles on the road, it is less non residents! Who has more carless options than someone going from 14th Street to 42nd Street!?!
    This elitist, arrogant attitude is disgusting IMO.

  • gecko

    Good point glennQ, though not sure “less non residents” as “me first”.

    If local street space privileges are to be distributed they should be to all equitably including the vast majority of residents who don’t have cars, empowering and encouraging locals to use them for non-car activities such as portable bike parking, mobile dog runs, parks and green spaces, local meetings, school events and sports, etc.

  • gecko

    Congestion pricing starts to provide a venue for environmental equity to enter the equation.


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