Bridge Toll Plan Headlines Congestion Commission Report

One of four options presented in the Traffic Mitigation Commission’s Interim Report. Download the report.

When the Traffic Congestion Mitigation Commission meets today, it is
expected to deliberate four proposed alternatives to Mayor Bloomberg’s
original congestion pricing plan. While Chairman Marc Shaw writes that
that the commission "may choose to modify," "combine elements" or "put
forward a wholly different plan," debate has already begun in the
media, focused mostly on the proposal to add tolls to all free bridges
on the East and Harlem Rivers.

Under that plan, a $4 toll would be imposed on all crossings into and out of Manhattan, 24 hours a day, with higher tolls for trucks. The plan would reduce vehicle miles traveled (VMT) by 7 percent — qualifying the city for $354 million in federal funds — while raising an estimated $859 million annually for transit.

Pols including Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz and City Council Member John Liu are adamantly opposed to tolling the remaining bridges. Liu — who chairs the council’s transportation committee — pre-empted today’s TCMC discussion with another salvo, via the Daily News.

"You can’t seal off Manhattan like that," said Liu (D-Queens), who supports congestion pricing. "To think of Manhattan as a castle surrounded by a moat will not get anybody anywhere."

The News points out that in 2006, "Although 557,043 vehicles used the nine free bridges spanning the Harlem River, only 494,576 vehicles crossed the free Brooklyn, Manhattan, Williamsburg and Queensboro bridges."

Another proposal, as outlined with the others in a 72-page commission report (pdf), would operate similarly to the mayor’s plan, but would move the pricing boundary to 60th Street and remove the $4 fee for trips originating within the zone. It would also raise parking meter rates, eliminate the resident parking tax exemption, and impose a $1 surcharge on cab rides that start and/or end within the zone. Estimated annual revenues for the "Alternative Congestion Pricing Plan" are pegged at $520 million.

The other two plans are the "Combination Plan," which would reduce VMTs by just 3.2 percent and is apparently not considered a viable option as written, and the odd-even license plate scheme, which would raise zero dollars for transit and will ideally end up but a gleam in Richard Brodsky’s eye.

Meanwhile, maverick advocate Ted Kheel grabbed some prime op-ed space in today’s Daily News to push his plan to double the $8 congestion charge while making transit free. And a new Quinnipiac Poll — released, true to form, just ahead of the congestion commission meeting — finds that 60 percent of New Yorkers support congestion pricing to improve transit, though you still wouldn’t know it from the headlines.

  • billy bob

    I love it how pandering politicians like Liu make ridiculous statements like the one above. Does he really think it was an arbitrary decision to toll bridges into Manhattan? Is he even aware of the numbers of cars streaming into Manhattan and the terrible impact of them? If Flushing received the amount of traffic that Manhattan does, he’d be trying to toll them too. But of course, Liu is not actually trying to solve the congestion problem, he’s just sticking up for the tiny amount of wealthy constituents who drive.

  • I think Liu is just trying to position his Queens constituents so that they don’t end up paying more to get into Manhattan than Bronx residents.

  • JK

    Why doesnt the mayor do a press event where he announces that all of the pricing money will be used for transit and transportation improvements? He can also call on the pollsters and press to properly frame the congestion pricing question with both a cost and benefit statement. Per ” I pledge that all of the money from congestion pricing will go to transit and transportation improvements. That is the proposal on the table. That is the proposal I urge the public and City Council to support.”

  • This is because Liu didn’t include the Zeroth Right in his Subway Riders’ Bill of Rights

    0. The status of “person,” not to be ignored when things like bridge tolls and congestion pricing come up.

    Liu’s credibility on straphangers’ rights will always be undermined by his willingness to pretend we don’t exist when it suits him. Yes, Councilmember, it’s a castle surrounded by a moat … with subways going under that moat! What a way to seal off a castle!

  • Hilary

    Liu should see that “sealing off Manhattan” is the best way to protect Queens from the onslaught of traffic to the airports and Long Island. The same effect can be achieved by creating a doughnut zone around Manhattan, levying the fee on motorists passing through Queens. Would that make his constituents feel less marginalized?

  • rlb

    If Liu had his wits about him, he would point out that the plan is ridiculous because places in Queens like Long Island City, Flushing, and Jamaica have much worse traffic than Inwood or north Harlem.

  • Dave

    I think the solution to Liu’s complaint is to toll the Harlem River bridges as well. How much are we spending to rebuild them? And how easy is it to travel via bus or subway from most of the Bronx to Manhattan?

    I take serious issue with the decision to rescind the parking tax exemption/reduction for residents in the zone. This will increase garage prices by 10% and will lead some to take their car out of the garage and start looking for free on-street parking.

    It is highly preferable to have people put their cars in garages vs trolling for street parking. Raise on-street parking rates via permit parking to motivate people to put their cars into garages.

  • Clarence Eckerson


    I agree. If he did public support would swell.

  • Hilary

    The parking measures are presented as a separate plan, but are sure to be incorporated in the final compromise. If the all-bridge-tolls is selected in combination with the parking pricing reforms, that will yield real $ and real VMT reductions.

  • I wonder how a Bloomberg congestion pricing speech would be spun on DrudgeReport to the national, presidential campaign-watching audience.

  • Dave, why should I be giving other Manhattan residents an abatement on their off-street parking tax? No one’s abating the portion of my taxes devoted to road maintenance because I ride my bike to work everyday. Maintaining a car in Manhattan is an undesirable activity, like smoking; it should be taxed as heavily.

  • Larry Littlefield

    (If the all-bridge-tolls is selected in combination with the parking pricing reforms, that will yield real $ and real VMT reductions.)

    One possible criticism — unless through traffic is exempted if it stays on the highways, you’ll have an empty FDR and an even more jammed BQE in the mid-days. Flip side — people will just use the closest/best bridge or tunnel, rather than jamming their way to the free bridges.

    As for the are north of 60th Street, note that the hospital, museum and university complex on the Upper East Side is a major employment center in its own right — as I recall 200,000 people working in the UES in 1990, probably more today. The upper section if the SAS, if completely built, would allow much better access to those jobs/services via MetroNorth and the 125th Street station transfer, via the LIRR, a walk through the Manhattan Mall, and a ride up on the Q.

  • If Liu had his wits about him, he would point out that the plan is ridiculous because places in Queens like Long Island City, Flushing, and Jamaica have much worse traffic than Inwood or north Harlem.

    Rlb, I don’t think that Liu is responding to the “toll all bridges” aspect so much as to the “toll the 59th Street Bridge” aspect. Tolling the 59th Street Bridge would take a ton of traffic off the streets of LIC.

    It’s true that Flushing is one of the most congested parts of the city. I’m very interested in what Jan Gehl comes up with for it.

  • One possible criticism — unless through traffic is exempted if it stays on the highways, you’ll have an empty FDR and an even more jammed BQE in the mid-days.

    An empty FDR? Great! That solves the East River Greenway connection problem. Just take a couple of FDR lanes and turn them over to the Greenway. Then you have efficient use of that facility.

  • Dave

    While maintaining a car in Manhattan is undesirable to you, a lot of people do so and will continue to do so.
    If you make garages more expensive people will take their cars out of them and try to park on the street, which is a cause of congestion.
    Why do I subsidize people who do not live in Manhattan or register their cars here to have free on-street parking? Charge them for their use of space and leave my taxes alone.
    The whole CP issue is rife with NIMBY attitude and that’s mine.

  • Jonathan

    Dave, if you read the report you will see that the commission found that cutting the parking tax exemption is projected to LOWER vehicle miles traveled (VMT), not raise them through extra cruising as you are arguing. It’s on page 38 of the 72-page PDF file.

  • Dave

    Not having time to read the report I did not see that. But I beg to differ with that conclusion.
    And if that cut that subsidy to me I’d like to cut the subsidies I as a Manhattanite pay to the other boroughs, beyond my thoughts on permit parking.

    The MTA could limit their losses by introducing zoned pricing as the subways of Washington, Paris and London do. I pay the same amount to go four stops in Manhattan as someone does to go from Far Rockaway to midtown. Where’s the equality in that?

    Flame away.

  • Dave, the fundamental assumption underlying congestion pricing is that cars in the proposed zone are a bad thing and we need to reduce them. That said, I do not want to give people a motive to park on the street over parking in a private garage. But the differences in cost and convenience between owning an off street space and keeping one’s car parked on the street are so great that I don’t think it would shift a significant portion of the car-owning population from one camp to the other. The people who own cars and garage them off-street while living in Manhattan are the hard-core motoring population and they should be paying through the nose because they either have no excuse to use a car other than mass transit, and/or are using their car for business purposes and therefore are getting privileged tax treatment for their car ownership by other means.

  • rlb

    When Liu refers to Manhattan as a castle with a moat, I interpret that as referring to the entire island. I agree with the 59th st. bridge toll reducing traffic in LIC, but there’s a lot of nasty truck traffic around there that isn’t necessarily going into Manhattan. I think the missing part of the picture is the idea of Congestion Pricing eventually spreading out of Manhattan. In addition to those Queens neighborhoods I mentioned, Downtown Brooklyn could use some, and even Coney Island on the weekends in the summer. Point being that when they say they are going to toll every inch of Manhattan without thinking about traffic in other boroughs, they are confining the notion of what congestion pricing could accomplish.
    On a slightly separate note, the fact that different parts of Manhattan have different levels of traffic implies that there are different levels of demand and hence should be priced accordingly. Slapping a uniform entry fee to get in without considering if someone is going across the 207th st bridge into Inwood for the hospital or going across the brooklyn bridge to park on the street and go to work doesn’t address that basic principle. The uniform price risks being overly prohibitive in the first case or inconsequential in the second.

  • Hilary

    BicyclesOnly, I agree that RIGHT NOW the garaged-car-owners are the hard-core motorists-in-Manhattan. That’s because people who rely on curb spots protect their spots so fiercely. When on and off street parking reach some kind of parity, I think the motorers will prefer the convenience of on-street parking.

  • Niccolo Machiavelli

    Re: the Flushing sneer. Flushing is as crowded as Manhattan, maybe even more so.

    Re: zoning charge. That would be two fare zones, which we moved away from to the applause of the Straphangers, Giuliani and Pataki. The Republicans at the time actually liked the thought of greasing up the many voters of their out in the hinterlands of Brooklyn Queens and SI. It all was washed into a large fare increase for everyone else and disappeared in the fog of metro card. I don’t see us ever backtracking on that though you see where the resistance to CP is now. Those people have largely forgot the end of the two fare zones.

    You can’t save your ass and your face at the same time.

  • Dave

    BikesOnly: In my mind there is a large difference between cars that reside in the CP zone and those that enter it every day that is misunderstood by those looking at CP. I cannot imagine anyone using their car for daily commuting within the CP zone except those that are given placards and we know how tough that will be to change.
    Everyone I know who has a car in the zone uses them for weekends; so your thought they they have no excuse to have a car is not relevant since public transportation is not an option.
    Sure I pay for the privilege of keeping a car but when I see the on-street spaces filled with cars registered elsewhere; when I see the congestion at the tunnels filled with Jersey drivers I have to say enough is enough.
    The preferential tax treatment you speak of is specious given the differences between parking garage rates in Manhattan and the outer boroughs. Let’s make all garage rates equal throughout the city (like subway fares) and then see how the outer boroughs yell about the tax differential.

  • JK

    Bloomberg gave an inspiring speech on Earth Day — that looks good on national TV. His pricing relaunch speech could be much shorter, touch on the same themes and emphasize the laundry list of transit improvements. The press and pollsters have contrived a bizare formulation for pricing: like proposing a national healthcare tax and then not offering a national health benefit. It would very ironic if Bloomberg refused to stump for congestion pricing — and his biggest initiative loses — because he feared losing hypothetical presidential votes. The essence of his appeal is as a no-nonsense, truth telling, can do guy, who doesnt believe in something for nothing.

  • Dave, I can say with certainty that exactly 33% of the kids in my son’s fourth grade class are driven to school each morning by their parents who live in the proposed CP zone, to a school within the proposed CP zone. I have no reason to believe it is any different at other schools, public or private, and in fact I am a witness to (and a victim of) car commuting parents at UES and UWS schools every day. Sure, most of those parents also use the cars for weekend travel. Maybe that was the reason they originally bought the car. The point is that once you own the car and garage it off-road in Manhattan, you have every incentive to drive everywhere because there is almost no marginal cost to each additional trip. These intra-zone off-road garagers definitely contribute to congestion. Let them pay.

  • Jonathan

    Dave, since you don’t believe in the commission’s research on the parking garage tax, and you don’t believe that any Manhattanite without a permit uses her car to commute, and you don’t believe that you can leave the city on the weekend using public transportation, can you explain why you are posting on this reality-based thread?

  • evan

    If tolls are imposed the East Side bridges, motorcycles / scooters should be exempt. Bikes are great, but we should be encouraging the use of all two-wheeled vehicles.

    what do you all think?

  • Dave

    I have every right to present a contrarian view and I would call this site idealistic rather than realistic.
    I have the right to complain about raising my parking garage tax that will impact me just like everyone here complains about bridge tolls that will impact them.
    And maybe I get it wrong about people driving within the zone but a $4 charge is not going to discourage the Range-Rover mommies.
    As for the weekend sure you can leave the city using mass transit but what do you do when you get there…take a cab everywhere? And you talk about being realistic.

  • Jonathan

    Dave, I quite enjoy cycling or walking in the countryside on the weekends, or visiting other cities with mass transit. Beats sitting in traffic, and even a lengthy local bus ride is a nice opportunity to see a lot more of the town than I would if I were driving.

    And I support your right to complain about ending the parking garage tax exemption. But as the late Sen. Moynihan said,

    “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.”

  • Vanderwald

    Dave my friend. You don’t need a car to enjoy the area within 50 to 100 miles of New York City. But so long as you choose to have one, how about covering some of the cost you impose on the rest of us? In liu of cutting a very small check to each and everyone of the millions of us without cars, you can start by paying a higher garage tax.

  • Angus Grieve-Smith
  • Dave

    Since I’m being vilified it’s lieu not liu (unless you were making on pun on city council member Liu but I think not)
    And Angus how do I manage my second home without my car? How do I get the bags of groceries to the house and bags of mulch to the garden except by having a car?
    As a relatively successful Manhattan resident with a car and a second home I am talking about fairness. I already pay more to Washington and Albany than I will ever receive in benefits.
    As a single man I subsidize the education, healthcare, municipal services (fire, police,etc), phone service, cable rates, subway fares, etc. of the less fortunate. All of those I can see as being basic rights (well maybe not cable)
    But there is no way I will swallow an increase in my parking tax as a subsidy to those who want to park for free on the streets or in project lots.
    Owning a car in NYC is a privilege not a right. Permit parking for those who pay NYC taxes and register their cars in NYC is a no-brainer. An end to the free off-street parking for projects is another politically unpopular but necessary action.
    In terms y’all can appreciate I pay $400 a month to park my car in a garage and $100 in insurance for a car I drive 8000 miles a year. Compare that to the poor schmo paying nothing to park on the street creating havoc with his double-parking waiting for alternate-side rules and registering his car in PA for cheaper rates. Charge him for the right to park on the street and leave my parking rates alone.

    Rant over.

  • jacknyc


  • Niccolo Machiavelli

    Yes Jack, and the lucky residents of LIC and Astoria get the privilege of having everyone from Douglaston, Bayside and Wantagh clog their streets and air twice a day for three hours a day. LIC and Astoria are so lucky to live near the free “Queensboro” bridge.

  • Jonathan

    Dave, I don’t know where your second home is, but I’m sure the grocery store and nursery that you shop at will deliver your goods to the door. You could always call a taxi, too.

    The reason to consider raising parking taxes is this: as Hilary notes, Manhattanites like yourself who pay to park are the hard-core motorists in the discussion, because you don’t have to worry about losing your on-street space when you move your car. That’s the benefit you get from garaging: that you can take the car out and drive to the uptown Fairway, do your shopping, and come home without worrying about finding a space. So obviously your garage buddies are using their cars more than the on-street parkers.

    If raising parking taxes forces people like yourself to consider using a rental car instead of owning a personal vehicle, that not only reduces the total auto population in Manhattan but reduces the number of those noncommuting shopping trips you take.

    So don’t think of a tax hike as a subsidy to onstreet parkers, think of it as paying your fair share for the opportunity you have to use your car whenever you want.

    If you’re serious about not using the car at your convenience, but don’t want to rent a car, you could always garage the whip somewhere cheaper. The big indoor garage on 184th and Broadway charges about $250 a month and is close to both the 1 and A trains.

    And as for “news you can use,” may I suggest shopping around for car insurance? If you paid what I do (for a Manhattan-registered vehicle, natch) instead of your inflated rate, you would be saving more than you’d spend on that increased parking tax on your car’s $400/month home.

  • Uh, Jack … I live in Queens. I call it “the 59th Street Bridge” because it goes to 59th Street. That’s what many of the people in my part of Queens say. They don’t seem very elite to me.

    If I’d called it “the Queensborough Bridge,” would you have called me elitist for taking a Manhattan perspective about where the bridge goes?

  • Enough chit-chat about Dave’s monthly parking costs.

    Let’s talk relative merits.

    I think the commission process (which many were so terrified of several months ago) has given us a much, much better program.

    And that is the bridge tolling plan. WAY more money for transit, far less startup cost, and much less intrusive (fewer cameras).

  • Larry Littlefield

    They’ll have to overcome a couple of problems with bridge tolling.

    The tolls will encourage people to cram on the BQE rather than using the FDR, although the increased capacity as a result of people not going out of their way to the free bridges and backing up exits might offset that entirely.

    And there is no peak hour pricing, although there certainly could be.

    Meanwhile, if the money is supposed to go to the MTA, the question is how to get it there. I still like my “bridge swap” idea, with the city trading bridges to Manhattan to the MTA (three of which also carry trains) for the other TBTA bridges. In the end, the city does get a revenue boost from that plan, while the MTA gets a way to manage overall traffic in its primary market.

  • Hilary

    Before we abandon the chit chat about Dave’s parking costs, let me share the cost of parking a (small) car in my garage in lower Manhattan: $750/month (plus tips). Dave should know that his parking costs have a long way to rise before they reach what is considered market rate in a not-so-distant neighborhood. From my point of view, your fee is like rent-controlled housing. Don’t expect it to last.

  • Dave says: “As a relatively successful Manhattan resident with a car and a second home I am talking about fairness. I already pay more to Washington and Albany than I will ever receive in benefits. As a single man I subsidize the education, healthcare, municipal services (fire, police,etc), phone service, cable rates, subway fares, etc. of the less fortunate.”

    The theory of progressive taxation is that it is fair for taxes to involve equal sacrifices from everyone – which is not the same as equal payment from everyone.

    If you had to pay an extra $1000 a year in taxes, you might have to make the sacrifice of having to buy a smaller second home. If someone at the poverty level had to pay an extra $1000 a year in taxes, they might become homeless because they could not afford their rent – a much greater sacrifice than you would have to make to pay that amount. Your complaint is just based on self-interest, not on fairness.

    The theory of public funding for education is that everyone benefits when the population is better educated. Imagine how much less prosperous the economy as a whole (including you) would be if, say, we had one-half or one-tenth as many college graduates as we currently have.

    If everyone were single and childless like you, there would me no one to work after you retire. People who have children are not only paying tax for education but are also making the personal effort to raise their children. They are doing much more than you are to produce the next generation of workers who will keep the economy going after your generation retires. You are not subsidizing them; they are subsidizing you.

  • WoodyinNYC

    We got enuff dead bikers without encouraging more deaths.


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