What If Pricing Had a Better Name?

A commentator at the Wall Street Journal blog Buzzwatch posits that congestion pricing would have stood a better chance if it had a better name. After asking branding specialists for a more appealing moniker, here’s what rose to the top:

  • StreetSmart – Burt Alper, Catchword Branding
  • FreeFlow and ClearPass – George Frazier, Idiom Brand Identity
  • TrafficEase – Allen Adamson, Landor Associates
  • GreenWay and ClearWay – James Bell, Lippincott
  • EZ-Zone – Upstate NY Dem, commenter

Even if pricing had been called "Puppies for Orphans," however, the big hurdle wasn’t so much popular support. The last Q poll showed public opinion at 2 to 1 in favor, assuming funds went to transit as planned, so it’s hard to see how a name alone could have thwarted the deliberate efforts of politicians to misrepresent the plan as regressive, or their timidity in taking a stand on something seen as controversial. Did Sheldon Silver and Richard Brodsky care what it was called?

I found "congestion pricing" to be an honest and straightforward label. And, as Zubin Jelveh points out at his blog Odd Numbers, other cities that have enacted congestion pricing didn’t exactly opt for a streamlined brand:

  • Congestion Charge – London, U.K.
  • Toll Collect – Germany
  • Electronic Road Pricing – Singapore
  • Valletta Congestion Charge – Valletta, Malta
  • Congestion Tax – Stockholm, Sweden

Jelveh also has an update on the latest city to adopt pricing, Milan, which did go the sexy name route, with "EcoPass": 

  • Traffic was down 22.7%
  • Average speed of vehicles was up 11.3%
  • Subway use was up 9.1%
  • Pm10 (particulates under 10 micrograms) levels were down 26%
  • NOx levels were down 21%
  • Ammonia levels were down by 40%
  • rhubarbpie

    You can do a lot with branding: witness attempts to get rid of the “death tax,” as if anyone but the richest Americans were affected by the estate tax. I always thought “de-congestion pricing” might have worked — with free cough syrup and Sudafed tossed in for everyone!

  • Automobilitussin.

  • whooping cough

    Yes, unfortunately Branding is everything in this 21st Century logo-happy world. Notice how none of the congestion medications out there have the word congestion or runny nose in their name…

    As the first line in a March ’08 NYT article suggested, the CP campaign got off to a bad start…it would have been a lot harder for Albany to talk smack about something called TrafficEase or EcoPass. Is it too late to rebrand and relaunch the in Fall ’08?

    “WHEN Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg proposed a congestion pricing plan last year, some residents of car-averse New York might have thought he was trying to cap the cost of nasal remedies.”


  • gecko

    EcoPass seems to be a great name and Milan should be pleased if we were to appropriate it for similar solutions mitigating car traffic in New York and other American cities.

    Kind of like EZPass.

  • Wow, those Milan numbers are amazing!

  • “devehicularization”?

  • Larry Littlefield

    The Milan numbers are great, but remember Milan had previously made its main shopping street non-motorized.

    What the opponents did successfully, and the proponents failed to do in a different way, is make Congestion Pricing a driver-vs.-driver issue. The placard holders on one hand vs. the limo/black car/$500 per month to park no problem crowd.

    Rather that revist this issue in the short run, let’s move on to Plan B. Drivers of both classes aren’t paying to use their excessive share of scarce street space, relative to pedestrians and bicycle riders, so let’s take some away.

    It was nice for the limosine/black car/taxi crowd to offer to give something to the rest of us in exchange for a faster trip due to less congestion. But now I want my share of the street to be more in keeping with my share of the population or tax revenues.

    How about “equitable streets” to go with “livable streets?”

    And what about the gas tax drivers pay. My view is it goes to limited access highways only they have a right to drive on.

  • vnm

    It absolutely needs a better name! So does the carbon tax.

    When you’re trying to sell something, you don’t focus on the costs, you focus on the benefits. Congestion “pricing” focuses on the costs.

    Call it a transit-enhancement program, and call the carbon tax an income tax relief program.

  • Carbon tax = Freedom fee

  • I don’t think it was the marketing, it was the classic problem of a diffuse benefit and concentrated losses

  • Rhubarpie’s “de-congestion pricing” (#1) is sweet. Still, I think this discussion is a bit of a red herring. With due respect to marketers and marketeering, the framing of c.p. had more to do with its defeat than its name. See this discussion for starters.

    As for the phrase, “carbon tax.” As co-director of the Carbon Tax Center, I constantly ponder that phrase as well as our own name. We even discuss on our Web site. As you’ll see, we’re keeping our name — for now.

  • spk of marketing

    Policy Advisor, Promoting GreeNYC
    NYC Mayor’s Office of Long-Term Planning & Sustainability

    Job Type: Full Time

    On Earth Day, Mayor Bloomberg announced “PlaNYC: A Greener, Greater, New York,” 127 separate initiatives that focus on improving New York City through 2030, including clean air and water, affordable housing, accessible open space, efficient public transit, reduced traffic congestion, and preparing for the impacts of climate change.

    Educating and changing the behavior of New Yorkers is essential to reach the Mayor’s goal of reducing carbon emissions 30 percent by 2030. That is why Mayor Bloomberg launched an integrated marketing and advertising campaign, GreeNYC, as the consumer education component of PlaNYC in June. The initiative, consisting of television, radio, print, online and outdoor advertisements, is designed to educate, engage and mobilize all New Yorkers on the simple steps they can take to reduce energy use and greenhouse gases. The campaign is an evolving endeavor that will eventually grow to include new ads, messages, guidebooks, a school campaign, and other educational resources. GreeNYC will also be the driver for mainstreaming sustainability practices and programs across City agencies.?

    The Mayor’s Office of Long Term Planning and Sustainability is seeking a Policy Advisor to manage the GreeNYC campaign. The Policy Advisor will be responsible for identifying and creating new opportunities to expand GreeNYC as well as collaborating with various agencies, corporate sponsors, and media companies to develop and implement these initiatives. The Policy Advisor will also work to tie the GreeNYC logo to various other activities, events, and initiatives citywide.?

    Responsibilities: ?Under the direction of a Senior Policy Advisor in the Mayor’s office of Long Term Planning and Sustainability, the Policy Advisor will perform the following functions:?

    -Act as brand manager for the GreeNYC logo
    -Develop a strategic plan to engage New Yorkers in changing their habits to reduce their carbon footprint
    -Implement a marketing and communication strategy to be implemented through television, radio, print, online, and outdoor advertisements
    -Collaborate with various agencies, corporate sponsors, and media companies to implement strategic plan and create, fund, and update ads, banners, and messages Create licensing campaign for GreeNYC products
    -Work with City agencies to best use their expertise to create programs to educate New Yorkers. -Agencies may include the Department of Small Business Services, Department of Consumer Affairs, or the Department of Education. (i.e., a small business guide)
    -Create materials in conjunction with GreeNYC to distribute widely
    -Identify and collaborate with key events and partners that can support the GreeNYC campaign
    -Analyze and measure marketing campaign results
    -Manage the GreeNYC page on nyc.gov


    The Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability is seeking applicants with at least two years experience in brand marketing, issue promotion, and/or advertising who are looking to do something new, different, and exciting.

    Applicants must have a proven record demonstrating communication (speaking and writing), analytical, and leadership skills and must have the ability to organize and manage multiple tasks and meet deadlines in a demanding environment. This job will require work in the evenings and some weekends.?

    A background in environmental issues is not required; however an applicant will likely have a mixture of the following: a general understanding of issues related to sustainability, a marketing and/or communications background with strong creative and analytical capabilities, a working knowledge of strategies to promote or market changes in personal behavior, and experience working with agencies or entities to incorporate new ideas, website design, and/or implementing a strategic work plan.

    NYC residency is required within 90 days of appointment.

  • I agree whole heartedly with Glenn, 11:34. As we continue to explore Congestion Pricing and other Transportation Demand Management strategies here in Chicago, we are ever cognizant of messaging and framing and will continue to take lessons learned elsewhere to heart.

    P.S. What is the source for the Milan numbers? I’d love to get a copy of that study to our researchers.

  • lee

    the city did a terrible job selling congestion pricing to transit riders.

    How bout putting ads on every train that goes over a bridge to the effect of: “You paid $2 to cross the East River, those cars outside the window paid nothing. Charge the problem, not the solution”

  • If I were to get involved I would make it something like the “Pay to Pollute” charge. You don’t have Pay to Pray, but I think you should Pay to Pollute (air, noise, space, etc)

  • gecko

    #6 “devehicularization”? Comment by George Haikalis, has a nice ring about it; something that transportation engineers could embrace as a complicated term for a really simple idea.

    Like “delousing” or “disinfection” with cars as disease infestations and viral contributors to the developed world’s urban dystopias.

  • Clear Streets.

  • Peter

    so the name wouldn’t have made a difference in the case – probably – but it’s a point worth considering. a fair, accurate label is not what gets things passed – names like ‘Clear Skies Initiative’ do.

    not suggesting a Republican strategy of outright deception – just paying attention to accuracy, with an eye towards the positive.

    ‘congestion pricing’ says ‘you will probably pay more’


    ‘TrafficEase’ is exactly accurate and sounds great, too. You could say ‘TrafficEase charge’ if you had to.

  • Paul Harrison

    Glen likely has it absolutely right when he writes: “I don’t think it was the marketing, it was the classic problem of a diffuse benefit and concentrated losses”

    IF we’re willing to accept for a moment that the “regressive” calls were not just venal, but actually represented an emotion about policy (see Nick Kristoff’s amazing great analysis of how people process policy questions in today’s Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/17/opinion/17kristof.html?hp) , you’ll unfortunately see that the laser-beam focus on “improving transit” is what killed congestion pricing in the Assembly. Simply put, state legislators don’t take transit. They don’t foresee that they ever will, under any circumstances. And, like all of us, they think that their perspective represents the majority — at least in their districts. So, how do they see CP? Simply as an additional tax, and we all know how popular tax increases are.

    In any iteration, CP would have enormous benefits for transit riders — increasing bus speeds, increasing fares, and bringing @$400 million for capital improvements that could have, if focused, leveraged further speed and farebox improvements through conversion of regular bus lines to Bus Rapid Transit. But, the temptation to kill five birds with one stone is always too tempting. Instead of offsetting the new “tax” with tax cuts on Glenn’s “concentrated interests” – i.e. property tax cuts that would have been enormously popular among outer boro CP opponents — we aimed to dedicate all the money to transit. “Raise my taxes to give some other relatively un-engaged person a benefit” is a good way to kill any proposal. And, actually killing five birds, or even two, with one stone is very hard. Go outside and try it. It’s hard enough to kill one — they’re fast and not stupid.

    This is the United States, not England, Singapore, or Italy — all very different political and cultural systems much more used to heavy government action and taxes. Maybe next time we try CP, and it will come up again, we’ll focus on what it is that we’re doing — reducing the number of cars on the road for global warming, quality-of-life, and economic development purposes, and leave “how are we going to fund the second avenue subway” for its own discussion. After all, this is where we are now — proposing broad-based, mysterious taxes (what’s this $4.32 charge on my ConEd bill?) to benefit a concentrated interest (upper east side subway riders). It’s how we’ve funded transit in the past, its basic political science theory, and it works.

  • v

    freeflow smells a bit too much like our streets on a hot summer day, non?


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