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Charles Komanoff

Kheel Planners Detail Free Transit Proposal

Yesterday, Theodore "Ted" Kheel's traffic plan was officially unveiled with a 52-page report (pdf) outlining his proposal to make transit free via a round-the-clock $16 congestion charge for cars ($32 for trucks) entering Manhattan below 60th Street. The report says Kheel's "Bolder Plan" would cut CBD traffic by 25 percent, and traffic citywide by nearly 10 percent, all while increasing mass transit funding and decreasing the number of overcrowded trains and buses.

Skeptical? So was lead author Charles Komanoff, he says, until he delved into the data. Not only do the numbers add up, Komanoff writes, the Kheel plan offers an irresistible political hook:

Don Shoup wrote recently that the dilemma confronting congestion pricing is not that opposition is too high, but that support is too low. Free transit resolves this dilemma by offering as tangible a benefit as one can imagine. As I said last week to a legislator from Central Brooklyn who has lined up against the mayor's congestion pricing plan, "Are you really going to tell your constituents that you walked away from a plan that would let them ride the trains and buses for free?" I wish you'd seen his double-take, followed by: "Um, okay, what's this Kheel Plan again, and how exactly is it going to work?"

A highlight of the Kheel plan is the Balanced Transportation Analyzer, an interactive spreadsheet that lets users compare the different congestion pricing proposals (download it here). "Unlike the opaque 'black box' models used throughout the Transportation-Industrial Complex," writes Komanoff, "the BTA reveals its hundreds of underlying assumptions and their interrelationships. It is a true citizen's tool."

Whether this is all too much, too late, considering the Congestion Mitigation Commission's January 31 deadline, and whether or not it's conceivable that the city and all affected bureaucracies would tolerate such a tectonic shift regardless of potential upsides, by leading with the carrot of free transit and following with the stick of congestion pricing, the Kheel planners have shown how Mayor Bloomberg's proposal could have been promoted from day one. On the other hand, it also makes one wonder what might have been if they had brought that approach to the mayor's plan, and pushed along with everyone else.

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